For Rams, cold weather in Green Bay playoff game presents degrees of difficulty
The conditions were freezing — eight degrees with a wind-chill factor of minus-15 — the last time the Los Angeles Rams
played a cold-weather game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
It was December 20, 1992, and offensive lineman Jackie Slater thought he was prepared. For warmups, he put on layers that made him look like “the Michelin Man,” he said. But after discovering he could barely move, he decided to forsake the extra gear.
During the 28-13 defeat, Slater learned something new about playing in the cold.
“I scraped the back of my hand and the skin rolled up like a chunk,” Slater said Monday during a phone interview. “Usually that would have been an abrasion. You just can’t be alarmed by those kinds of things.”
It will not be as cold Saturday when the Rams play the Packers in an NFC divisional-round playoff game, but the forecast in Green Bay, Wis., calls for temperatures of 30 degrees or below.
That’s relatively warm compared to the 1992 game Slater played in. And it’s downright cozy compared to the infamous “Ice Bowl,” the coldest game in NFL history. The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL championship game that featured a minus-13 temperature and a wind-chill factor of minus-36.
Both are a marked contrast to conditions in Thousand Oaks, where the Rams will be preparing this week in temperatures ranging from the low 70s to the mid 80s.
“We’ve got to be able to handle it, especially with just the limited opportunities we’ve had to play in those settings,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Sunday in a videoconference.
Preparing for that change would be a challenge for a completely healthy team. But the Rams have several key players nursing injuries that could be exacerbated by the cold, including quarterbacks Jared Goff and John Wolford.
Goff has a right thumb that still is healing from surgery. Last Saturday, Goff came off the bench after Wolford suffered a neck injury and helped lead the Rams to a 30-20 wild-card victory in Seattle, where the temperature was 39 degrees.
McVay has not said who will start at quarterback against the Packers.
After the victory over the Seahawks, Goff said his thumb was fine. But, McVay indicated this week that the weather could factor into his decision.
“It makes it a little bit more difficult to grip the football just in general,” McVay said. “But if he’s not having any issues with it, everything that we’re going to do leading up to this week, we will take a lot of things into consideration to try to make the best decisions.”
Two Rams stars were forced out of last weekend’s game: Defensive lineman Aaron Donald suffered a rib injury, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp left in the fourth quarter because of bursitis in his right knee. McVay on Sunday declined to specify the severity of Donald’s injury, but he’s expected to play. The Rams will attempt to manage Kupp’s issue so he can play too, McVay said.
Goff has struggled in games played in temperatures below 30 degrees. Both were during the 2018 season, when the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl.
In 25-degree weather at Denver, Goff completed 14 of 28 passes for 201 yards with an interception. The Rams got 208 yards rushing from former Rams running back Todd Gurley in a 23-20 victory. Later in the season at Chicago’s Soldier Field, with the temperature 29 degrees at kickoff, Goff completed 20 of 44 passes with four interceptions in a 15-6 defeat.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in his 16th season, is accustomed to playing in the cold. Rodgers has passed for 48 touchdowns with five interceptions. The Packers have given up 21 sacks, tied for second fewest in the NFL. His favorite target is receiver Davante Adams, who has 115 catches, 18 for touchdowns.
Donald had 13½ sacks this season and two last Saturday before he was injured in the third quarter while pressuring quarterback Russell Wilson. The Rams had 53 sacks during the season — second in the league — and added five more against the Seahawks.
Both teams could turn to their rushing attacks if passing is adversely affected by the defenses or weather.
Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown Saturday against the Seahawks. The Packers averaged 132.4 yards rushing this season, which ranked eighth.
“Playoff football is about more than all of the fantasy things that you see in the regular season,” Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said after the victory over the Seahawks. “It’s going to be about imposing your will on each other.”
Slater, who played 20 seasons for the Rams and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, said Rams linemen would be wise to watch Whitworth’s every move. Whitworth, a 15th-year pro, played in numerous cold-weather games during 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“He knows that, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to stay warm, but I have to be able to move,’ ” Slater said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.