Say what you want about the Lambeau Field mystique, but the Green Bay Packers under Mike McCarthy absolutely, positively love playing indoors.
While many NFL teams dread the thought of performing in a raucous, noisy, hostile environment, the Packers embrace the idea.
They are heading to Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday with a decided dome-field advantage.
In McCarthy’s 6½ seasons as head coach, the Packers’ winning percentage indoors (17-7, .708) is almost identical to their Lambeau Field record (40-16, .714).
Conventional wisdom says an NFL team shouldn’t fare nearly as well on the road, but when it comes to playing indoors, the Packers blow the roof off that theory.
“I think it’s great playing at Lambeau, playing in our home stadium,” said receiver Greg Jennings, who was drafted the same year McCarthy took over as coach. “But it’s one thing to play in a controlled environment, and for us, we thrive on that. There’s no outside element that can come into play. It’s an even playing field, for a receiver especially. Specifically, your mind is clear. Everything is clear. You don’t have to block out mentally any other distractions as far as climate. That’s one of the things that plays into it. You just execute a lot better.”
During the Packers’ run of success in the 1990s, which included a pair of Super Bowl appearances, they were a lousy indoor team. Coach Mike Holmgren’s record in domes from 1992 to 1998 was 10-13, and he was an abysmal 1-6 against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.
Times have changed, to the point that McCarthy practically owns the Lions at Ford Field (5-1) and the Vikings at the Metrodome (4-2).
It doesn’t hurt McCarthy that he has Aaron Rodgers on his side, statistically the greatest indoor quarterback in NFL history. Rodgers’ 117.0 indoor passer rating ranks No. 1 all-time.
“I think it might be a reflection of him,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said of Rodgers’ role in the Packers’ indoor success. “He loves the challenge, people all against you, he just goes in their house and hushes ’em up. That’s the great thing.”
Rodgers has 47 touchdown passes indoors compared to just seven interceptions. He has posted a passer rating of 103.0 or higher in 16 of 19 career games indoors. In his three sub-par games, two came during his first season as a starter in 2008 and the other occurred when he sustained a concussion in the first half against the Lions in 2010.
In the eight dome games since that concussion, Rodgers has produced a 127.9 passer rating, 71.0 completion percentage, 25 touchdown passes and just one interception.
When asked recently about the secret to his indoor success, Rodgers replied: “Great consistent weather, probably. I used to say my shoes, my special shoes I get to wear. We’ve had success in various places inside with controlled weather. We’re a team that has made a lot of plays in the passing game over my time here. We seem to play really well on a fast surface.”
It would be hard to find a Packers receiver that would disagree with Rodgers.
“It’s nice and warm,” James Jones said. “It’s a fast track with a fast offense. I guess we’re moving a lot faster inside, getting on a good pace, scoring some points.”
Since 2006 the Packers offense has performed better indoors in scoring (30.7 points per game compared to 26.0 outdoors), total yards (383.6 to 362.0) and passing yards (298.4 to 251.1).
The noise and general commotion created by opposing fans doesn’t seem to affect the Packers’ offensive production in the least.
“I think they play better when there’s noise ... the offense loves it,” Pickett said. “It’s loud, everybody’s yelling at them, they always perform. I think it works to our advantage.”
Not every Packers offensive player likes the indoor atmosphere.
“Offensive linemen, we like playing outdoors in cold, rain, snow,” guard Josh Sitton said. “It slows down D-linemen. When you’re inside, with all that noise, they play a little bit faster. But as long as Aaron makes up for it.”
It’s hard to argue with Rodgers’ stunning indoor success, so Sitton gladly will defer to his quarterback.
Instead of viewing their game at Ford Field as a daunting prospect, the Packers seem to be looking forward to the trip.
“You don’t have to worry about what clothes you wear, what cleats you wear, you already know before the game,” Jones said.
“It ain’t going to rain. It ain’t going to do none of that. You don’t have to factor in none of that. Just go play.”
If their track record under McCarthy is any indication, the Packers will play well.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.