Insider: Packers thrive on the road since 2010 playoffs
By Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette
Playing on the road doesn’t seem to bother the Green Bay Packers.
They might be better suited to play road playoff games, depending on the location, given that their pass-heavy offense could be hindered by unfavorable weather conditions that often hit this part of the country at this time of year.
Their road record would support that. Since the start of the 2010 playoffs, the Packers have a 14-5 road record. Their winning percentage of .737 over that stretch ranks second in the NFL behind only the New England Patriots (12-4, .750).
“I think our record at Lambeau Field in December and January speaks for itself, just the success that we have here at home and the ability to play in front of your home fans,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But playing on the road and just the way we’re built and the design of the way we operate, we feel we’re very prepared to go on the road. I think as an individual, there’s a little bit of that kinship that goes on more on the road than you’re able to do at home.
“One thing about playing in Green Bay, Wisconsin, everybody wants to come to Lambeau Field, and it can be a distraction, particularly for your younger players, when you do have home playoff games. So that part of it is eliminated. So there are definitely positives of going on the road.”
Depending on the environment and weather conditions, playing on the road has its disadvantages. But it never seems to bother Aaron Rodgers, who since taking over as the starting quarterback in 2008 has the NFL’s highest passer rating (103.0) in road games during that stretch. He also has the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in road games (81-to-23) during the same period. In four playoff road games, Rodgers has a 3-1 record and has thrown 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Third-and-1 has become anything but a guarantee for the Packers, especially running the ball.
They have tried 19 rushes on third-and-1 this season and have converted just 11 of them, including one failed attempt by fullback John Kuhn on third-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter of last Saturday’s playoff game against Minnesota. Their 57.9 percent conversion rate running on third-and-1 is well below their goal of 80 percent.
Kuhn used to be near automatic in those situations. In 2010, he converted 9-of-10 third-and-1s during the regular season. Perhaps that fullback dive play isn’t catching teams off guard like it used to. Kuhn got stuffed on the third-and-goal at the 1 against the Vikings. Running back Alex Green, who hasn’t carried the ball the last three games has the highest conversion rate among Packers running backs at 4-of-7 (57.1 percent). Rodgers has converted all five of his third-and-1 rushes.
“We’ve struggled this year with short-yardage runs,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “You can’t pinpoint (one thing) — scheme, personnel, matchups inside, reading it right for the back, did we hit the right hole? It’s been a combination of everything. It’s not where we want it to be.”
Perhaps because of their low conversion rate running the ball, they have turned to the passing game 18 times on third-and-1. They have converted eight times in 16 passes, and Rodgers got two others on scrambles. They failed on a third-and-1 pass on the opening series last week against the Vikings because running back DuJuan Harrisdropped a short pass over the middle.
Packers defense vs. 49ers tight end Vernon Davis
Compared to past seasons, Vernon Davis did not have the same kind of impact. Despite playing in all 16 games, he caught the fewest passes (41) for the lowest yardage (548) and the least number of touchdowns (five) than he has since 2008. Still, the Packers view the 6-foot-3, 250-pound seventh-year veteran as dangerous. Davis caught three passes for 43 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown, in the Week 1 meeting against the Packers.
“Davis is one of the real rare tight ends because I think he’s probably the fastest guy on the team,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “So that’s always something, from a matchup standpoint, you’re always concerned about.”
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