No Place Like Dome? A Sack Full of Trouble

Inside the Packers' prolific numbers in domed stadiums lies a troublesome truth for Green Bay's offense. We have the numbers that are making the Packers' coaches sweat ... and you haven't seen anywhere else.

Aaron Rodgers gets to wear his favorite shoes and the football will spin unfettered off his right hand. Greg Jennings and the wide receivers will be able to unleash their speed and catch a warm, dry ball.

Those are major advantages for the Green Bay Packers entering Sunday's Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Where the FieldTurf of Cowboys Stadium could hurt the Packers is in pass protection, specifically on the edges. The Steelers, who led the NFL with 48 sacks, have the best outside linebacker tandem in the NFL with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Harrison (10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles) and Woodley (10.0 sacks, three forced fumbles) combined for 20.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles during the regular season. In the playoffs, Harrison has three sacks and Woodley two.

The seemingly ageless Chad Clifton will be charged with blocking Harrison, who finished third in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. The rookie Bryan Bulaga will match up against Woodley.

"He's right up near the top (of concerns)," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said of Harrison. "Obviously an impact player, very explosive player that makes big plays that can change the game. He is very physical obviously, so you have to be concerned about that. Sometimes on a board, you can draw with your magic marker and say, this guy is blocking him and he is blocking him but you better make sure that the guy who is the magic marker has the physical capability of blocking him."

The worrisome thing for the Packers is how they protected Rodgers in the game at Detroit on Dec. 12. Despite the Packers' prolific track record in domed stadiums, they managed just a field goal in a 7-3 loss to the lowly Lions. Detroit, which finished sixth in the NFL with 44 sacks, recorded four sacks in the game and swarmed Rodgers and Matt Flynn throughout, with the quarterbacks combining for five scrambles.

Green Bay allowed 38 sacks, tied for the 19th-most in the league this season, even though it played only five games (including Detroit twice) against teams that finished in the top 12 in sacks. Two of those games were played on FieldTurf, with the other game being at the Jets. The Packers won 9-0 but Rodgers completed just 15-of-34 passes and was sacked twice as they were held without a touchdown.

In domes, Rodgers and the Packers' offense have posted fabulous numbers, which explains the smiles from Rodgers and Jennings in the days following their NFC Championship Game at cold and slick Soldier Field.

In 12 career starts in domes, Rodgers has a 111.5 passer rating with 25 touchdowns, six interceptions and 68.6 percent accuracy. His rating and yards per passing attempt (8.92) are tops in the league and his interception percentage (1.6) ranks second. He's topped 300 passing yards in seven of those games.

"We like the dome simply because it's a controlled environment," Jennings said. "We don't have to worry about the wind and things like that. When the ball is in the air, we're not worried if it is getting worked on by the wind or moved around by the wind and things like that. It allows us to have a free mind and then the footing. The footing is something that we look at because we are a good team when it comes to getting the ball in our hands and making plays after we make the catch. We thrive on YAC yards, as we call them, run after the catch ability. When we're able to get on a field that has this type of surface, we are pretty much a good team."

Beyond those gaudy numbers is a troublesome truth.

Of Rodgers' 12 dome starts, he's faced a top-10 pass rush in five games:

-- 2010: Lost 7-3 to Detroit, which finished sixth in sacks. Rodgers had no touchdowns and one interception.

-- 2009: Lost 38-26 to Minnesota, which finished first in sacks. Rodgers had two touchdowns and one interception.

-- 2009: Beat Arizona 33-7, which finished sixth in sacks but treated this game as a meaningless exhibition. Rodgers had one touchdown and no interceptions.

-- 2009: Lost 51-45 in wild-card game to Arizona, which finished sixth in sacks. Rodgers threw four touchdowns and one interception.

-- 2008: Lost 28-17 to Minnesota, which finished fourth in sacks. Rodgers had no touchdowns or interceptions.

Added together, that's a 1-4 record – with that win coming with an asterisk because of the Cardinals' approach.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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