So much so that part of the offense doesn’t even know the plan – a plan that revolves around, in part, surviving the deafening crowd noise at Seattle in Week 1.
“We’ve obviously got 90 guys on the roster, 53 when we’re done,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “People are going to be leaving that you don’t want to give out all the secrets.”
Coach Mike McCarthy estimated the team has pumped up the volume for an extra period every day at training camp. When the offense is indoors, it’s with canned crowd noise blaring through speakers. When the entire team is practicing outside, the environment sounds like a rock concert (or a country concert).
“It helps everybody,” McCarthy said. “It helps your defense at home. We did it for the defense (Tuesday) because we’re going to be playing at home. I think anytime you stress the environment for communication, it’s good training for your whole football team.”
The ultimate focus is on the season-opening game at Seattle, which has the loudest fans in the league. Since CenturyLink Field opened in 2005, opposing teams have been guilty of 2.36 false-start penalties in the game. That’s tops in the league, according to the Seahawks’ Web site. While the Packers remarkably weren’t penalized for any false starts in their infamous 2012 loss at Seattle, Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half alone.
To combat the kind of noise that makes it practically impossible for the offensive players to communicate verbally, the Packers – like every other team – resort to sign language. Hence, the top-secret stuff is explained on a need-to-know basis, while the players who the team apparently doesn’t think will stick around to make that trip to Seattle are relegated to jogging through plays against the defense on Ray Nitschke Field.
So, when you see Rodgers using hand signals when the Packers host the Raiders on Friday night, don’t worry about the Seahawks studying those signals and using them to their advantage on Sept. 4. Those signals are locked behind the closed doors of the Hutson Center.
“You try to have the second group of signals ready to go,” Van Pelt said. “Use the ones we use in camp then say, ‘All right, guys, let’s wipe the slate and here’s the new set.’ That’s part of dealing with crowd noise is having the ability to change signals. Maybe one week the signal is ‘this,’ and the next week the same signal becomes the double move off of that. Just try to keep the defense guessing.”
Van Pelt, a former NFL quarterback, knows what it takes to succeed on the road. Beyond hand signals, a premium is put on preparation. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who was a member of the Seahawks, called the training camp-long work against crowd noise a “necessity.” In the huddle, Flynn said it’s imperative that he speaks authoritatively. Even then, there’s a chance the whole play won’t be heard by the other 10 players in the huddle.
“As a player in the huddle, you’ve almost got to be able to read lips,” Van Pelt said. “You may only hear a clip of a play but you have to be well-versed in your game plan so you know this formation, ‘Hey, this is the only play we have out of this formation.’ You have to study. You have to have an understanding of what’s going to get called, when it’s going to get called, even if you may only get a clip of it. At the same time, you have to be focused on Aaron’s mouth and try to read lips in the huddle. At the line of scrimmage, signals are important. Having the signals that we use for the preseason that we don’t show for the in-season and things like that, that’s part of the process of getting ready to defeat crowd noise.”
Under McCarthy, Green Bay has been one of the top road teams in the NFL. Since he took over as coach in 2006, the Packers are 36-28 on the road, good for a fifth-ranked winning percentage of .563.
“I think Mike does a good job of piping in the crowd noise, so we're working in that environment often,” Rodgers said. “When you get in those situations, it's about execution, it's about nonverbal communication. The defense is stressed, as well, because they have to get the call in the midst of the noise. So, the defense is in a stressed position and, offensively, we have to be very good with our nonverbal communication. I think Mike's always done a good job of keeping us focused on the fact that it's a trip to go down there with one purpose and that's to win a game. We've done a pretty good job indoors and in loud environments.”
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.