GREEN BAY—The Packers practiced in cold and snowy conditions similar to what they expect to see on Sunday at Lambeau Field, when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game of critical importance in the Packers’ pursuit of a third consecutive NFC North title.
“It’s different. That’s why you want to practice outside, so it’s not a shock when you have to do it on Sunday,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said.
Capers is concerned about how snow might affect his defensive players’ pursuit of the Steelers’ elusive wide receivers, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers love to throw the ball to Brown and Sanders on wide receiver screen plays that showcase their run-after-the-catch ability.
“You’ve got to play your leverage. You don’t want one-on-one, especially with the conditions we have out there today,” Capers said on Friday. “Ben (Roethlisberger) audibles to that any time he has a one-on-one.”
Brown has caught 95 passes for 1,307 yards and eight touchdowns, replacing Mike Wallace as the team’s premier receiver. Sanders has 63 catches for 707 yards and five touchdowns.
“Roethlisberger is playing very well right now,” Capers said of the Steelers quarterback, who’s thrown for 3,915 yards, 25 touchdowns and a 94.3 passer rating.
Pass protection has been the weakness in the Steelers offense. Roethlisberger has been sacked 40 times and hurries are an expectation for a quarterback who extends plays as well as any passer in the league.
The Steelers are not running the ball with their usual aplomb. They are a lowly 31st in the league and rookie running back Le’Veon Bell is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, but Capers cautioned a reporter when he made reference to that stat.
“That’s deceiving. This running back is a really good player. They’ll try to get him isolated and matched up one-on-one. They’re running the ball better than they have all year,” Capers said.
Fueling his concern for stopping the run is the loss of Johnny Jolly this week to a shoulder and neck injury that has effectively ended his season. Rookie defensive lineman Josh Boyd will likely inherit Jolly’s playing time.
Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum is also monitoring the weather, the forecast of which for Sunday is calling for wind and significant snow fall.
“We’re prepared to play in any weather conditions. You have poor footing. The ball doesn’t travel as far. I think the advantage is with the guy with the ball in his hand because he knows where he’s going,” Slocum said.
Brown returned a punt for a touchdown last week against the Bengals.
“He’s one of the best. He puts his foot in the ground and he’s a good north-south runner,” Slocum said of Brown.
Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements has the perfect answer to Brown, rookie running back Eddie Lacy, a power runner built for bad conditions. Lacy topped the 1,000-yard mark last Sunday and has given the Packers a running game the likes of which they haven’t enjoyed in a long time.
“He gives us the ability to get hard runs, short-yardage runs, run it in from the red zone. In past years, we haven’t always had that,” Clements said.
Snow was dominating final preparations for Sunday’s game on Friday. Additional coverage - Dec. 20