Three things, quarterback Aaron Rodgers says.
No wind, a good grip on the ball and comfortable footing.
That’s Rodgers’ explanation for his success in domes over the course of his career, which moves indoors for the first time in 2011 at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night.
After lighting up the Falcons in the NFC playoffs last year in Atlanta and then capping the Packers’ championship run with a nearly flawless performance inside Cowboys Stadium in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers has been careful not to say the Packers are a dome team.
Lambeau Field will never have a dome and the Packers are supposed to embrace the elements and tout the cold-field advantage late in the season.
So Rodgers has joked about getting to wear his favorite shoes inside, and with weather not a factor, there’s simply one less distraction or obstacle.
But there is something to how the Packers play that makes domes ideal. Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s spread-’em-out, up-tempo attack has an edge as long as the offense can manage the reverberating crowd noise.
“I think we’re a team that has a lot of speed,” Rodgers said in his weekly briefing with reporters on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say we’re built for an indoor team, because we play outdoors, but we have a lot of speed at our skill positions and we have a lot of success inside.”
The Packers also have the right arm of Rodgers, whose career indoor passer rating of 111.5 is 11 points higher than his overall career rating (100.5), which is already tops in NFL history for any passer with at least 1,500 attempts.
In 13 career dome starts, including playoffs, Rodgers has posted eight 300-yard games, completed 68 percent of his passes, and thrown 28 touchdowns against just six interceptions.
Interestingly, that has translated into just a 7-6 record inside, though one of those losses was last season in Detroit when Rodgers was knocked from the game in the first half with a concussion.
Still, that record illustrates that for all of Rodgers’ efficiency inside, he’s not likely to win the game alone.
Cornerback Tramon Williams’ two interceptions in the playoff game in Atlanta last season, one of which he returned for a score, were as big as any plays Rodgers made in that game, and the Green Bay defense will be facing the same high-powered Atlanta attack that features quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, plus rookie first-round draft pick and dynamic receiver Julio Jones.
“He’s definitely given them another playmaker,” McCarthy said of Jones, who leads the Falcons with 342 receiving yards and with 24 catches is just two behind veteran teammate Roddy White. “They’ve definitely pressed the envelope more as far as the way they’re attacking you (compared) to last year. They do have an excellent run-pass mix, but he definitely gives them another big weapon.”
The Packers have not been happy with the number of yards their defense has allowed thus far – 28th most in the league – and the unit still isn’t totally healthy.
Linebacker Clay Matthews (quad) and cornerback Charles Woodson (foot/knee) missed practice on Wednesday, as has become their habit in healing their banged-up bodies to play each week. Williams remains limited in practice with his shoulder injury that cost him one game already. That’s arguably the three biggest playmakers on defense all less than full-go.
McCarthy suggested that those absences in practice could be affecting the continuity of the defensive unit, even if those players individually are still performing well in the games.
“There are no excuses and we’re not going to make any,” McCarthy said, “but young players need to practice every day and more importantly they need to be practicing with the players they’re going to be playing with.”
Atlanta’s offense on paper looks like the most explosive group the Packers have faced since the opener against the Saints, and the defense would like to use the prime-time national TV spotlight to show that what it’s done is not where it’s headed.
“This is a great opportunity,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “If we can get on track against an offense like this, it’s going to build up our confidence and our mojo for the rest of the year. We feel good about it. We feel like we’re going to come out and play our best game this week.”
Injury update – Zombo returns: For the first time since fracturing his shoulder blade in the second preseason game back on Aug. 19, outside linebacker Frank Zombo returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.
Zombo said he’s feeling no pain in his shoulder and he expects to practice at least some on Thursday, the lone full-pads practice of the week. Zombo was wearing his pads as protection for his shoulder on Wednesday, while the rest of the team was without pads.
“The doc said even if I get hit in the area, it would be a fluke deal if it broke again,” Zombo said. “But it seems like fluke deals are the things holding me back, so we’re just taking extra precaution.”
How soon Zombo would be ready to play in a game after being sidelined six weeks is hard to say. He feels good strength-wise and conditioning-wise, and he’s trying to steal as many reps as he can in practice, whether they’re on special teams, defense or the scout team.
Erik Walden has been the starting outside linebacker opposite Matthews since Zombo’s injury, but before Zombo was hurt the coaching staff indicated in training camp the plan was to rotate the two on defense based on situations.
“The whole camp, I was competing for that starting spot, and when I got hurt, it wasn’t just getting hurt that I was mad about, I was mad because I kind of lost that competition in a way, I felt,” Zombo said. “Hopefully I can get back in the swing of things and get back in that competition. I’m just excited to be back and be part of the team again.”
Nelson talks contract: Wide receiver Jordy Nelson spoke to reporters about his new contract extension for the first time on Wednesday.
He said his agent began negotiations with the Packers about a month ago, when the regular season began, but he was never overly worried about it. The deal was completed last Saturday, and Nelson signed it about 24 hours before the kickoff of the Denver game.
“I’m thankful to be here,” said Nelson, who was willing to play out the final year of his rookie contract and become a free agent if it came to that, but was glad it didn’t. “It’s an honor to be here, an honor to get another contract.”
With Nelson and Jones getting new deals this year and Greg Jennings and Donald Driver both under contract beyond 2011, the Packers now have most of their pass-catchers in place for a while, with the exception of tight end Jermichael Finley, a 2008 draft pick and who is in the final year of his rookie deal.
“We want everyone back, especially after the run we went on last year,” Nelson said. “We know what we can do. The longer we can stay together as a core, all that time we put in with Aaron just continues to build.
“It’s not just the playbook, it’s all the fine details that you know how to run what he wants. It’s great to keep the core intact and, hopefully, we can be here for a long time.” Additional coverage - Oct. 5