Rodgers, cold-weather Pack right at home with indoors Super Bowl
NFL officials have decided to close the retractable roof for Super Bowl XLV
Aaron Rodgers loves the idea of his fast receivers playing on a quick surface
The Packers are the first team in history to score 45-plus in consecutive playoffs
DALLAS -- The early morning ice storm that hit North Texas with a vengeance on Tuesday, just hours before most Green Bay players got their first-ever look at Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl media day, no doubt gave the Packers even more reason to count the roof over their heads as a great blessing.
The stadium's retractable roof will be closed on game day against the Steelers, and you just know that means Green Bay's passing offense will be open -- full throttle. Can you say, advantage, Packers?
"I love it, man,'' said Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, speaking of the climate-controlled environment that will await the Packers offense on Sunday night. "It's kind of sacrilegious to say when you play in Green Bay, but I love playing indoors. I like the fact we've got a lot of speed on offense. If I can just get the ball to those guys (his receivers) and let them work.''
Rodgers isn't just blowing hot air when he talks about how well a lack of weather has worked for Green Bay's passing attack. The Packers have played one game in a dome in each of the past two postseasons, and the results have been historic. Green Bay put up 45 points in a 51-45 overtime loss at Arizona in 2009's first round, and 48 in that 48-21 destruction of the top-seeded Falcons in this year's divisional round. Green Bay is the first team in league history to post 45-point-plus showings in consecutive postseasons.
And no wonder Rodgers loves that dome-field advantage, even if he plays for an NFL team known for its local frozen tundra. He threw for 789 yards and seven touchdowns in those two playoff games, completing 75.6 percent of his passes. All told, Rodgers has started indoors 12 times in his three-year tenure as Green Bay's No. 1 quarterback. His tally? Twenty-six touchdown passes, five interceptions and 111.1 passer rating -- the league's best indoor rating since 2008. The Packers have averaged 31.8 points per game in the 12 indoor contests. Take out this season's 7-3 loss at Detroit -- when Rodgers left the game with a concussion in the second quarter -- and Green Bay averaged 33.7 points in the other 11 dome games.
"All I can do is smile,'' said No. 1 Packers receiver Greg Jennings, at the thought of playing indoors against Pittsburgh. "I mean, you go from playing in Chicago in January, late January, to Dallas and they close you inside a dome. You can't do anything but smile. Obviously, the surface is going to be perfect. The atmosphere is going to be unmatched. It's going to be exciting. Obviously, we play well inside.''
Rodgers actually gets giddy thinking about playing inside, in part because he loves the way his arm feels indoors, and because of what he gets to wear on his feet: His favorite pair of Nike "Destroyers,'' that he always plays in on turf.
"I get to wear my favorite shoes,'' Rodgers said. "My feet won't hurt, and that's nice. They're just real comfortable. I'm a Nike guy. I have been my entire career. And these shoes, I've really worn them my entire career.
"I'm glad we're indoors. I don't want to make too much of it, but Nike makes a great shoe that I'm actually wearing at the moment. It's super comfortable, and I love wearing it on this turf.''
Cowboys Stadium is considered to have a notably fast track, and that's only going to accentuate the Packers' athleticism, their precision and timing-based passing attack, and their surplus of speed and receivers who generate plenty of yards after the catch.
"I look at this Packers team, and you talk about athleticism,'' said former Cowboys safety and current ESPN analyst Darren Woodson. "I know they're in Lambeau Field and it's freezing cold, and the frozen tundra and they're on that grass and all, but they are at their best when they're on this type of track.
"And it's simply because the quarterback is a great athlete. He's probably second only to Michael Vick in terms of athleticism at quarterback. He's got great footwork, and he can really get out of the pocket and run straight ahead. He has all that, and a big arm to boot. And this team is so athletic at the receiver position, you line them up four or five deep, and they'll burn you.''
Most observers expect the Packers to try to beat the Steelers' vaunted defense by spreading Pittsburgh out, and flooding the field with as many as five receivers. Green Bay's efforts to do so will be aided greatly by the perfect conditions, with Rodgers so adept at hitting his receivers in stride and heading upfield.
"They just get you in so many mismatches,'' Woodson said of the Packers. "Their third receiver, Jordy Nelson or James Jones, whoever you want to put out there, is better than your third cornerback. He's better than your second cornerback. So they get you in a situation where your third-best guy has to actually cover someone who's very talented, and that's how they win those matchups.
"The mismatch I see this week is (safety) Troy Polamalu can't be Polamalu in this game, because now they're going to put him in coverage situations. They can't blitz him and leave the rest of their guys out there with four or five receivers. You can't do it. But now you're having Polamalu do what he does best, and impacting the game while playing closer to the line of scrimmage.''
The Steelers, of course, probably aren't panicking about the prospects of facing the Packers' passing game. Pittsburgh did finish tops in the NFL in scoring defense during the regular season (just 232 points allowed), and while the Steelers' 12th-ranked pass defense surrendered 15 touchdowns, their two playoff opponents threw for only 207 yards per game.
Still, Green Bay no doubt has studied what New England's Tom Brady-led passing game did to the Steelers at Heinz Field in mid-November, and must be licking its chops to get some of that. The Patriots spread the Steelers out and threw the ball at will against them. Brady finished 30 of 43 for 350 yards passing and three touchdowns in New England's 39-26 win.
"If the Packers spread you out, and the Steelers can't blitz and bring the pressure they want to bring, they're going to have all day to throw the ball,'' Woodson said. "If you can get LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison blocked, and you can hold up, I don't care what defense you have -- and this is a great defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers -- you can't match up with this group if you give Aaron Rodgers time to throw the football.''
Talking to Steelers defensive backs at Super Bowl media day, they're very much aware of what Rodgers can do to a secondary, and that's not even building perfect game-day conditions into the equation. After all, Green Bay hung up 36 points on the Steelers defense in December 2009, in that 37-36 shootout loss at Heinz Field.
"Those boys are going to put up points regardless, whether they're on grass or turf,'' Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. "It's just like Mike (Michael Jordan). You knew M.J. was going to put up points, you just didn't know how many? Same way with the Green Bay Packers. You know they're going to put up points, you just don't know how many. We've got to just try and do the best we can. But from a defensive standpoint, they can cause a lot of problems.''
In Rodgers' 12 career dome starts, the Packers are only a modest 6-6, but that's somewhat misleading. Green Bay has totaled 27 or more points in nine of the 12 games, so the offense deserved a better fate than the defense delivered. In his five seasons as Packers head coach, Mike McCarthy is 11-6 indoors (.647), putting up more than 30 points per game (as opposed to roughly 23 points per outdoor game).
"It's going to be a big challenge, because most offenses have two or three key guys, while this offense has anywhere from four to five guys that can make big plays,'' Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "You have an enormous amount of guys who can hurt you.
"But I think if it was outdoors, indoors, Alaska, Hawaii, anywhere, you know you're going to get their best effort, and their best style of football this week. It's the Super Bowl. Everybody's going to come out swinging.''
But not slipping or sliding, like the rest of us are doing so far this week in the icy Metroplex. For a first-time Super Bowl team like the Packers, that welcomed lack of game-day weather might just put them on equal footing with the Steelers. Or maybe even a crucial step ahead.
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