Three advantages for dome teams
Especially early in games, home teams feed of crowd's energy
Audibling out of plays is next to impossible for away quarterbacks
Offenses that use shotgun formation a lot struggle with silent counts
Even though dome teams historically don't fare all that well in the postseason, they still possess a significant advantage. The reason playoff home games are coveted is not because of travel or the familiarity of the field, as some would have you believe. It is all about the noise. And the noise level is more pronounced in domes, and in particular the Superdome and Metrodome, than any of the other venues in the NFL.
But why exactly is the noise such a problem for certain players and a factor in the outcome of games? Let's examine the three big advantages that the noise should give to the home dome teams this weekend -- the Saints, Vikings and to a lesser extent the Colts (Lucas Oil Stadium is not nearly as deafening as the RCA Dome used to be).
1. Feed off the energy of the home crowd.
This is most pronounced at the start of the game and a reason road teams talk about withstanding the first five minutes of an important game. I truly believe the electric atmosphere can enable players on the kickoff team to run just a little faster and pound into the blocker or runner just a little harder.
When the crowd is going bonkers, the home team players, mainly on defense and special teams because of the nature of what they do, look like they're flying around with a renewed vigor. Probably because they are. It is especially critical for the away teams heading into these domes -- the Cardinals, Ravens and Cowboys -- to have success early to quiet the crowd a bit. If they don't, the decibel level will only increase.
2. Make it very difficult for the opposing team to audible.
That increased decibel level can make communication on offense extremely difficult -- and not just at the line of scrimmage.
"I played at the Metrodome last year when I was with the Texans," Vikings backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels told me recently on Sirius NFL Radio, "and some of the guys told me they had a hard time hearing me call the plays in the huddle. They said they were just reading my lips."
That's pretty amazing when you consider that was just a regular season game against a nondescript team like Houston. This is the divisional playoffs against the love 'em or hate 'em Cowboys. Even after the Cowboys hear the play call in the huddle, there is more work to do.
"We have to get up to the line of scrimmage early so that Tony [Romo] can go down the line and change a play if necessary," said Cowboys wideout Patrick Crayton.
That's really the biggest schematic advantage to having a home crowd capable of generating ear-splitting noise. Most teams in the NFL package plays and go to the line of scrimmage with either a run/pass audible or a run left/run right check based upon the defense. If the crowd is loud enough, the option of changing the play at the line may have to be eliminated.
3. Completely eliminate the opposing offense's snap count advantage.
The most noticeable impact to the casual fan when watching a game in which noise is a factor is the amount of false starts an offensive tackle from the away team may have.
If the offense is using a lot of shotgun it will have to snap the ball using a silent cadence in which all of the offensive linemen time the snap by moving a full count after the center bobs his head. The major problems that arise from this are that sometimes the timing of one of the linemen may be off and he could end up being either a hair early or a split second too late. The first one is a penalty while the second one is probably a sack or worse. Also, the defensive linemen can usually start to time up that center's head as well, completely negating the snap count anticipation that is typically a part of an offensive lineman's arsenal. As a result, teams tend to go with a standard cadence throughout the game and guys like the Williams boys in Minnesota and Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in Indy start to anticipate and time up the count.
The bottom line is that it is not fun at all for away teams in hostile environments in general but that disadvantage is magnified once they have to venture indoors where the noise can no longer escape. How the Cardinals, Cowboys and Ravens handle that noise could tell the tale of whether or not they can escape with a victory.
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