Pass Rush Kills On Turf, Too

The Green Bay Packers have revved it up indoors of late, but they haven't done it against a pass rush like Pittsburgh's.

DALLAS – Green Bay's best and most explosive wide receiver was asked last week about playing the Super Bowl in a dome. Greg Jennings' response provided insight into why the Packers are favored to beat the Steelers on Sunday.

"All I can do is smile," Jennings said. "You can't do anything but smile."

Jennings should smile. In the 12 games the Packers have played in domes since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008, Jennings has seven 100-yard games. And Rodgers has a 111.1 passer rating. And the Packers average 31.8 points in those games.

But the W-L record is less impressive. In those 12 dome games, the Packers are 6-6.

They're 3-1 this year, with the loss coming at Detroit, 7-3. It's the game Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin cited when asked about the Packers' prolific offense in domes.

"The worst game we've probably played in my four years as coordinator was in Detroit," Philbin said.

In fact, that was the only indoor game of the four this season in which the Packers went up against a pass rush that finished among the top 20 in sacks. The Lions finished sixth in sacks.

It's an area Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians touched upon when asked if his improving speed receivers might also fare well in the dome on Sunday.

"I've heard a couple people in our organization talking about going to turf because we're getting a little faster and quicker," Arians started.

"Yeah, I think it really helps us in that phase of it. I don't mind it at all. I like a fast track. The only thing I don't like about a fast track is the pass rush. I was not a proponent of putting down turf at Heinz Field for Terrell Suggs to get good footing on."

Arians stopped to chuckle a bit before continuing.

"It does help Rashard [Mendenhall], who's a quick, fast back. It helps our young wide receivers. I think it helps Heath Miller. So, yeah, I think it enhances both offenses. But it does help the pass rush on both sides, too."

Not that either pass rush needs much help. The Steelers finished first in the NFL with 48 sacks, one ahead of the runner-up Packers. And the numbers do back Arians up.

Of the Packers' six indoor wins the last three seasons, only one was against a defense that ranked in the top 19 in sacks that season. And that win, against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 regular-season finale, was avenged by the Cardinals the following week in the playoffs.

The Steelers during that same time span have played only three indoor games (2-1). Over the last four years they are 3-2 in domes. The team averaged 24 points in those games and Ben Roethlisberger's passer rating was 101.3.

Even in this small sampling, the Steelers didn't have the playmakers they're taking into Sunday's game. Rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are just now emerging, and their most explosive player, Mike Wallace, only became a starter this season.

The Steelers lost their only dome game this season, 20-10, at New Orleans (18th in sacks) but the young receivers believe they can flip the script on the Packers with their own work on the fast track.

"I think so," said Sanders. "We're really not getting the respect we should because we really haven't proven ourselves yet. We have a long way to go and I hope, God-willing, we have a long career. But I'm looking forward to it. We have no weather conditions and we'll have a fast turf in that stadium. And you know as well as I know that we've got speed in Mike Wallace Antonio Brown, myself and Antwaan Randle El. It's going to be exciting."

Apparently, it's going to be exciting for the pass-rushers as well.


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