So they might as well start the adjustment in probably the loudest and most difficult dome to play in, the Metrodome in Minneapolis, site of this Sunday’s NFC North matchup.
“It’s tough because of the kind of crowd they have in the Metrodome and the way the sound echoes off the roof I think,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s probably the loudest dome that I’ve played in. So the key is, anytime you play on the road, whether you’re outside or inside, is to start fast. Hopefully take the crowd out of it a little bit.
“But it’s easier said than done up there, because we’ve played some tight games up there, and the noise is definitely a factor.”
It’s a factor primarily in the battle between the visiting team’s offensive line and the home team’s defensive line. With the ear-splitting noise forcing most visiting teams to use a silent snap count, defensive linemen sometimes can get a head start on the offensive linemen if the timing is even slightly off.
The Packers battled that at the Metrodome last year when their offensive line, which had been reshuffled due to injuries, struggled and allowed eight sacks. The hope is that the continuity established with the current starting five – from left to right Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga, who have started the last five games together – will work in their favor this year.
All of those linemen have experience playing against the Vikings in their dome except for the rookie Bulaga, who has heard all kinds of stories from his linemates about how the noise can produce headaches and even make players feel sick after the game. Head Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged on Wednesday the need to prepare Bulaga in particular, and the team will practice inside the Don Hutson Center on Thursday and Friday with crowd noise piped in over the stereo system.
“You can’t let that stuff rattle you is really what it comes down to,” said Bulaga, who laughed off the notion that his college experience as an Iowa Hawkeye playing in that same building against the Minnesota Gophers is even a valid reference point.
“You just really have to be mentally ready to go, getting that nervous system ready to go and timing up the snap of the count and getting going, because they’re going to be jumping the count. They’re very good at home when they can jump the count and get upfield.”
Indeed, for all of Minnesota’s troubles at 3-6 this season, the Vikings are 3-1 at home and have won 17 of their last 20 regular-season home games. They’re in a win-or-else mode at this point, but with four of their next five games at home, they have a chance to get right back into the playoff race by continuing their strong play at home.
“It’s a home-field advantage not unlike Lambeau is,” Vikings head coach Brad Childress said. “It’s noise. It’s Astroturf, so your line is able to get off a little bit quicker. Offensive lines get off a little bit slower, and just like it’s a game of inches, it’s a game of split seconds too.”
In addition, the Metrodome crowd is known for seizing the momentum in a game at any time. Two weeks ago when the Vikings were hosting Arizona, the Cardinals led by two touchdowns with four minutes to play and couldn’t have asked to be in better position to win. But on the Cardinals’ final two offensive possessions of the fourth quarter, and an additional one in overtime, they couldn’t pick up a single first down, allowing the Vikings to rally and pull off a stunning comeback.
“I can say that from being on the other side of the fence – it’s just a tough place to come in and function with the noise as loud as it is,” said Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, Green Bay’s former placekicker. “When you get into those tight games at the end, when our crowd gets amped up even more, like Arizona a couple weeks ago, it’s tough to function as an offense, and it just feeds our defensive guys to be able to get off the ball a little quicker.
“We’re comfortable playing in the dome and we’re comfortable on that field.”
Fortunately, the Packers’ offense has some of its own indoor success to draw upon. Last year, including playoffs, Rodgers led the offense to more than 400 total yards in four of five dome games. One of those was a 424-yard effort at the Metrodome, one of only two times in Minnesota’s current 17-3 home stretch that the Vikings have given up more than 400 yards to a visiting team.
Overall, McCarthy is 9-4 in domes, including that prolific offensive performance in the postseason loss at Arizona last season, when the Packers put up a franchise playoff-record 493 total yards and 45 points.
So if the crowd noise can be managed effectively, there’s something to be said for a rhythm-and-timing passing offense like McCarthy’s playing in controlled conditions. Only once in eight dome games with Rodgers at the helm have the Packers gained fewer than 340 yards, and that was Rodgers’ first start at the Metrodome in 2008.
“I like it because the ball is consistent and you’re not dealing with any slickness or any weather, wind,” said Rodgers, whose indoor passer rating is 106.2, including playoffs. “That makes it easier for the passing game. But I think also we’ve been behind in some games in some of these domes and had to throw the ball, and we’ve put up some pretty good numbers. We’re going to find out what’s working on Sunday, and hopefully be able to stay balanced and come away with a ‘W.’”
If Green Bay can do that, it will bode well for the next two road games in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome and Detroit’s Ford Field. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is now 18-1 in home games in his young career, while all of Detroit’s wins over the past two seasons have come at home. So more indoor, noisy challenges await.
All the extra details the offense is working on this week – silent counts, hand signals to replace verbal communication, crowd noise in practice – will carry over to these ensuing games. The sooner the Packers can get their offensive rhythm and timing down for the domes, the better off they’ll be.
“It can be a real big disadvantage,” Sitton said of what the linemen must deal with indoors, particularly in pass protection. “It’s just a fraction of a second, but that’s what the game is in the NFL, fractions of seconds. One extra half step and they get there and swat the ball or whatever. So we have to come out, start fast and hopefully get the crowd out of it.”
Additional coverage – Nov. 17