The Green Bay Packers (3-3) finish up a rare three-game road trip Sunday in St. Louis with an ever rarer task historically.
For the first time in franchise history, Green Bay will play indoors for a third-straight week. The Rams (3-3) host the Packers inside the Edward Jones Dome Sunday.
Both Indianapolis and Houston had its retractable roofs closed while welcoming the Packers over the last two weeks.
It's also been 14 years since the Packers had a road trip of this length, with the last three-week stint away from Lambeau Field coming back in 1998. Green Bay went 1-2 in '98, and are currently 1-1 on this trip.
Recent history favors Green Bay inside domes.
Under head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have won 16 of 23 games indoors and six of the last seven. A loss to the Colts in Week 5 represents McCarthy's single blemish over the last seven, and only the New York Jets and New York Giants have been better indoors since McCarthy was hired in 2006.
The odds-makers in Vegas agree, pitting the Packers as five-point road favorites Sunday.
All figures used courtesy of the Week 7 Dope Sheet.
Here are some other things you could watch Sunday:
The Packers have been successful indoors under McCarthy because of an offense that has thrived on a fast track and in controllable conditions. Since 2006, the Packers have averaged 382.8 yards and 30.7 points in 23 games indoors. Green Bay's numbers for average yards, points and passing yards are all up when playing indoors compared to outdoor contests.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the obvious catalyst, having the NFL's No. 1 passer rating indoors since taking over as the Packers starter in 2008. In 15 career games inside domes, Rodgers has 34 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Also, two of Rodgers' career-best games, Sunday in Houston (338 yards, six touchdowns) and in Atlanta during the 2011 NFC divisional round (366 yards, four total touchdowns), came while the Packers were playing indoors.
If history holds, Green Bay's offense should stay hot in St. Louis.
The Rams have an underrated front-four that can get after opposing quarterbacks, while the Packers have been one of the NFL's more inconsistent teams in protecting their own. The 23 sacks allowed by Green Bay this season ranks second-worst, with only the Arizona Cardinals' 28 besting the Packers.
Green Bay's maligned offensive line took a big step forward Sunday in Houston, allowing just two sacks against the NFL's most effective front-four pass rush. However, left defensive end Chris Long (four sacks) and right defensive end Robert Quinn (six sacks) represent a strong pass-rushing duo on the edge, and defensive tackles Kendall Langford and rookie Michael Brockers are both strong at the point. With Gregg Williams' son, linebacker coach Blake Williams, calling the defensive plays, expect a few blitzes thrown into the mix as well.
There's no doubting that Rodgers can rip apart any secondary when allowed the time. Whether that time is granted or not has been a telling question mark for the Packers throughout this season. Green Bay needs another strong performance across the front five to win on the road Sunday.
Cobb's next challenge
Randall Cobb's prowess in the slot this season has been no secret here at CheeseheadTV. Statistically, few in the NFL have been better than Cobb. However, he faces possibly his toughest challenge inside Sunday.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan has played roughly a third of his overall snaps against the slot. Only Antoine Winfield of the Minnesota Vikings has lined up inside more than Finnegan this season, meaning Cobb will see plenty of the former Pro Bowl cornerback Sunday.
Finnegan has been productive there, too. Over his 129 snaps from the slot, Finnegan has intercepted two passes and allowed just a 53.5 passer rating. Opposing receivers are also averaging just over three yards after the catch against him inside.
With Greg Jennings (groin) unlikely to play again Sunday, Rodgers and the Packers offense will once again be counting on Cobb's production inside. Beating Finnegan would represent another step forward for the Packers' emerging star.
Rattling and turning over Bradford
Along the offensive line, St. Louis has three players (left tackle Wayne Hunter, right tackle Barry Richardson and left guard Quinn Ojinnaka) who have allowed three or more sacks. Robert Turner, taking over for former Packer Scott Wells at center, has been a bright spot, as has right guard Harvey Dahl. But as a group, this has been a poor pass-protecting offensive line (18 sacks allowed total). Hunter especially has been a turnstile.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is coming off one of the best individual games of his 2012 season in Miami, where he completed two-thirds of his 39 attempts and threw for 315 yards as St. Louis nearly eclipsed 600 total yards. Keeping Bradford uncomfortable in the pocket will erase the chances of a duplicate performance, while increasing the chances of Green Bay getting back on track in the turnover category.
After racking up an NFL-high 38 turnovers a season ago, the Packers have just eight in 2012—good for seventh in the NFC. Four came in one Jay Cutler interception-fest. Keeping pressure on Bradford Sunday should mean Green Bay adds to their uncharacteristically-low total this season.
Warning: Those who have followed this weekly preview column know my history of picking games in 2012. Feel free to disregard anything you read below.
The Packers have yet to win back-to-back games in 2012 after winning 19 in a row from 2010-11. It's time for this team to start "stacking successes," as McCarthy likes to say. I think that process begins Sunday.
Rodgers follows up a six-touchdown effort with five Sunday, the Packers grab hold of a lead early and the Green Bay pass-rushers proceed to bruise and batter Bradford, who has to lead a one-dimensional offense.
Also, two betting trends end: The Packers being 0-2 as the road favorite, and the Rams being 3-0 as the home underdog.
The Packers cover the five-point spread and build on the momentum secured during one of McCarthy and Rodgers' signature season-changing wins in Houston. Green Bay wins big in St. Louis.
Packers 38, Rams 17 (Season record: 1-5)
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