Since 2008, Atlanta has a 20-4 mark (.833) mark at home, No. 2 in the NFL over that span behind only the New England Patriots’ 21-3 record (.875). The Falcons’ lone loss this season came to New Orleans in Week 16, a 17-14 defeat that snapped their seven-game winning streak at the Georgia Dome.
Green Bay has been solid in dome games under McCarthy, evidenced by its 10-5 regular-season record (.667) during his tenure that is tied for No. 1 in the NFL among teams with at least eight road dome contests since 2006. The Packers haven’t been short on experience either, with Saturday night’s game the ninth one indoors over the past two seasons including playoffs.
“I don’t think (the Georgia Dome) is any different than playing in the Metrodome,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “It’s one of those places (where) it’s extremely loud, it’s a good crowd and it’s a road game. So for us we’re treating it no different than we would if we had to go to Minnesota.”
The Packers offense has been productive in domes, averaging 370.2 yards of offense and 28.5 points in those 15 games compared to averages of 357.7 yards and 24.2 points in outdoor contests over that span. In 10 of the indoor games, the offense registered at least 370 yards.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been very efficient in domes in his three seasons as a starter, with his 106.4 passer rating ranked No. 1 in the NFL since 2008. He leads the league in yards per attempt (8.62), ranks No. 2 in interception percentage (1.6), and has eclipsed 300 yards passing in four of his 10 regular-season starts indoors.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that comes with the dome environment is the crowd noise, but McCarthy feels the ability to manage that has become one of his offense’s biggest strengths.
“I think we’re exceptional with the communication,” McCarthy said. “That’s something we spend a lot of time at as an offense. I think Aaron (Rodgers) and Scott Wells deserve a ton of credit for that. We’ve been able to handle the noise very well, and that will be one of the top factors in the outcome of our offensive production going into this game.
“Communication is going to be key, that we’re able to stay in favorable play selections at the line of scrimmage, even on the road, and (Rodgers is) a talented passer. We have a talented perimeter group, and our pass-protection unit is very good, so when you’re playing in a dome you’re able to take advantage of that environment.”
The Packers typically pipe in crowd noise during practices leading up to road games, but the offense can also lean on the communication work they do throughout the year.
“We made a point (Tuesday) when we installed the game plan in terms of our protections,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “We’re going to be in a loud place. They have done some things in the last six or seven weeks that they have changed up and added to their package. Our ability to recognize and communicate is going to be a critical factor.
“The point we made is, ‘Guys, we’re not doing something we haven’t done. We’ve been doing this stuff since May. You know what we are doing. We’re not creating new things.’"
The veteran Wells will be making his 33rd straight start at center, including playoffs, on Saturday night. That stability is a plus considering he is the chief communicator offensively, identifying where blitzes could be coming from and making the necessary pre-snap adjustments.
“Scott Wells has been excellent with that all season,” Rodgers said. “I think he deserves a lot of the credit in our pass protection and really in the run game as well. He does a great job of making sure we know where we are going to and who I’ve got to be worried about.
“It also helps to have a guy that has played 80 games next to you at left guard (Colledge) who is one of the smartest guys on the team, and then Josh Sitton and the way he prepares. It really starts with those three guys and myself.”
The three interior spots on the line haven’t changed all season, a first during McCarthy’s five-year tenure, with Colledge, Wells and Sitton lining up at the same spot every week. The only position that saw any movement was at right tackle, where rookie Bryan Bulaga started the final 12 games in place of veteran Mark Tauscher after he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
“That helps out,” Colledge said. “When you don’t have guys shuffling around and guys trying to play new spots, then everybody kind of slides into their rhythm. I know what Scott is going to do, I know what Chad (Clifton) is going to do, I know what the other guys on the other side are going to do. It helps with those things.
“When Scott makes an ID and something happens, one of us can make an adjustment and everybody knows what is going on.”
The other issue the crowd noise can present is penalties, with Atlanta’s opponents averaging more than seven a game at the Georgia Dome this season. The Packers were whistled for eight in their 20-17 loss at Atlanta in Week 12, but only two of those were on the offense with Colledge and Bulaga flagged for false starts in the fourth quarter. At Minnesota the week before in a similarly tough environment, Green Bay’s offense didn’t commit a penalty all afternoon.
As the No. 6 seed in the NFC, the Packers knew the task ahead was an imposing one and the statistics bear that out. Since 1990, the No. 1 seeds in the NFC are 18-2 in the Divisional round, with only one No. 6 seed knocking off a top seed over that span (Philadelphia over the N.Y. Giants during the 2008 season). The players may be aware of what appear to be long odds, but they are embracing the challenge in front of them.
“It’s probably the path you don’t want to take,” Colledge said. “It’s the path least traveled for a championship, but we know where we are. We put ourselves in this position and we’re excited to have the opportunity to continue playing each weekend.
“For us we can’t ask for anything more than just another chance to play, and if that’s at their place, our place, we don’t care. There is something special about going on the road with your guys and going into a hostile place and trying to flip the crowd and get a win.”
Additional coverage - Jan. 12