Packers, like many teams that play in cold weather, continue to pass the ball
As certain as the sun rises in the east, around this time of year some naïve football pundit will talk about how much more important it is to run the ball in December and January.
It happens every year. As Thanksgiving and autumn give way to the holidays and winter, conversation turns to the cold weather and how it will affect the Green Bay Packers.
It’s not as if cold weather has zero impact on the sport, but it has far less of a bearing than many are inclined to believe, especially in the passing game.
Before the Packers’ most recent game against the San Francisco 49ers played out in the elements at Lambeau Field, coach Mike McCarthy discussed the influence of weather on spreading out his offense and passing.
“When you say bad weather, there are different levels, as we know playing in Green Bay, Wisconsin,” said McCarthy. “But in the coldest games, you go back to the NFC Championship Game, I didn’t think the ability to throw was a factor that day. So if you can throw the ball on that evening, I think you can throw it at any time outside of the wind games.”
McCarthy was referring to the NFC Championship Game after the 2007 regular season when the Packers hosted the New York Giants in a minus-3 degree environment with a wind chill of minus-24.
Brett Favre dropped back to pass 35 times that day, Eli Manning 40 times. Both threw for more than 230 yards. Obviously the cold
didn’t cause either team to throw any less than usual.
Like McCarthy said, there’s different levels of bad weather. Wet, sloppy weather that can re-create the Packers’ 1997 “Mud Bowl” divisional playoff victory over the 49ers certainly can affect a team’s game plan.
That day, Favre only attempted 15 passes, while Packers’ running backs combined to run for 130 yards and two touchdowns. But cold weather didn’t really play a part, but the rain and field conditions did. The temperature was 35 degrees, above freezing.
Wind also can be a factor in how a game plays out. Think back to the 2007 season when the Packers lost at Chicago in Week 16, when Jon Ryan had two punts blocked, dropped a snap and booted another for a total of nine yards with wind gusts from 30 to 40 mph.
Yes, it also happened to be cold that day, but the game was affected more by wind than by the chill.
When the Packers took on the 49ers this past Sunday, it was feared that that it would be another windy day. But with winds only traveling northwest at 16 mph, they had far more bark than bite.
“I thought I would have to (change the play-calling) when I got up this morning,” McCarthy said after the game. “Going outside, the gusts were going up to supposedly between 25 to 30 miles an hour, but it didn’t feel that way today. It didn’t factor.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers agreed.
“It wasn’t a huge factor out there,” Rodgers said of the wind.
With three games left in the cold—at the Patriots and then at home against the Giants and Bears—the Packers’ shouldn’t change the way they play as long as they’re prepared, and there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be.
Former Packers wide receiver Bill Schroeder–a 1,000 receiver in 1999–said cold weather absolutely has impact on the passing game, illustrating how the ball gets rock-hard and a receiver’s hands aren’t as dexterous as in warm weather.
But he also says the passing game can be just as effective in cold weather, too.
“It can as long you have the people that have practiced in it, and they don’t think about it as much,” said Schroeder. “You look at teams like Chicago and Green Bay and New England, the teams that practice and play in it.
“They’re typically not affected by it because they’re walking into practice every day, they’re going to get the groceries or picking up their kids from school, and they’re used to that cold weather.”
The Packers are used to it. There’s a reason McCarthy actually uses footballs from a freezer during practices.
And barring extreme rain or wet conditions that seem to come along once a decade, there should be no extra emphasis on running the ball.