Over the years, the Packers have used the wintry conditions at Lambeau Field to their advantage.
*(In his weekly column on NFL.com, former head coach and GM Bill Parcells details how teams practice for and play in adverse weather conditions, and how the elements can affect coaching decisions.) *
I always felt when I was coaching that the elements were one of the great equalizers in football. It was very important for your team to be instructed as to the type of plan that was going to be used to combat the elements.
If properly coached on how to play in poor weather conditions, it could represent a distinct advantage for your team against an opponent that was not as well-schooled or was not as used to combating some of the weather factors.
I worked in the Northeastern part of the country for most of my pro coaching career, and once November came around, periodic rain during the course of a ballgame was common.
When I was a young coach, I went to a clinic and the speaker was Paul "Bear" Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach. He talked to us about how you had to prepare your team for everything. Even in the middle of the summer when the weather was good, he would do wet-ball drills at least once a week with his quarterbacks, centers, running backs, field-goal snappers, holders, punt snappers and kickers in order to insure at least some type of familiarity with dealing with a wet ball.
When I was coaching, I tried to do that at least a couple of times during summer camp, regardless of what the weather was. I'd repeat it at least once or twice a month during the season. Any week where the forecast called for rain, I would make sure to expose the players to the wet-ball drill.
A couple of things we emphasized when preparing for wet and or icy conditions were wearing the proper gloves and getting the proper footing. The most successful gloves we used early on were the scuba gloves. Today there are different types of gloves that allow the players to function in cold weather.
If you look closely at the league, there are even quarterbacks playing with gloves in the cold weather. Jim McMahon was a big proponent of that when he was playing for the Chicago Bears. He felt like he threw the ball better with gloves on and now we see quarterbacks like New England's Tom Brady using them.
The next element we prepared for was cold weather. When we played on surfaces that were frozen or had patches of ice, I'd send my players out to the field two hours before a game to test different pairs of shoes until they found ones that they felt comfortable with. My players were responsible for making sure they had the right footwear so that slipping on the field was not a factor for our team during the game. I used to kid my defensive backs by telling them they were not allowed to slip.
The last element, and the most common one teams need to concern themselves with, is the wind. You have to educate your team on how you want to play when it's windy. When you are pinned back on your side of the field, you try to accentuate the point of making a couple of first downs so that you're not punting from your end zone into the wind. If you do end up punting from your own end zone into the wind, you are conceding at least a field goal to your opponent.
When we were going into the wind, and it was restricting our passing game, we would try to manage the clock as if it were the last part of the game and we had a lead. We would try to use as much time as possible so there were actually fewer plays run into the wind if we happened to be on offense. We would play a much more methodical and conservative game going into the wind.
In the passing game, we would play it safe so the ball had less of a chance to misdirect itself because of the wind. We used screen passes and shorter, quicker throws as opposed to throwing the ball down the field, where the wind could be a factor and the receiver could misjudge the ball.
It has been proven the running game is effective in controlling the ball in windy stadiums, but I feel it's also important to have a quarterback who is weatherproof. Some guys just can't throw in windy conditions. The guys who don't throw tight spirals do not play effectively in windy conditions. It's more important to have a weatherproof quarterback than it is to have a running game.
With the wind, you could make a much more aggressive stance, knowing full well with the wind the ball could sail on the quarterback, so your passer needs to be acclimated to those conditions. I never took my team inside to practice when I had an opportunity to have them work in windy conditions, particularly when the wind was blowing for the first time in the season. I wanted them to be able to function in those conditions so the weather could become their ally rather than their adversary.
The other in-game factor during windy conditions is you need to make judicious use of your timeouts so that it affords you the opportunity to punt with the wind, or it forces an opponent to punt against the wind. Only one play like that involving a punt can create a field-position advantage for a whole quarter.
When the elements are in play, as they are going to be late in the season, it puts much more emphasis on field position in the game. The better you control the field position, the more opportunity you create for your own team, and the better chance you have of forcing your opponents to make mistakes on their own side of the field. That plays a big factor in determining who wins and loses when dealing with the elements.