Packers vs. Broncos: Saturday Scoop

It.  Is.  Time.  Thank God the bye week, or as I like to call it, hell week, is over!  Back to Green Bay Packers football again and this week comes with no gentle ease back into the action for the Pack.  They're headed to Denver to face the Broncos.  Both teams are coming off their bye weeks and have yet to lose this season.  This game supports the growing narrative that Sunday Night Football has overtaken Monday Night Football as the marquis matchup of the week.  

Some, including our own Jayme Snowden, even suggest that this game could be a preview of Super Bowl 50.  That might be a tough argument to make with the way the New England Patriots are playing and with the Cincinnati Bengals yet to have their say as well.  Still, it's a stiff test for a Packers team that has risen to challenge after challenge thus far.  As of writing time, Green Bay is favored by 2.5 points.  Given that the home team generally gets three points for that alone, the Packers are essentially favored to win by nearly a touchdown.  That they're facing one of the league's best defenses at a very tough venue speaks volume about how well the Packers are playing.

The narratives and storylines are plenty for this game:  The Packers have only lost once under head coach Mike McCarthy coming off of the bye week, they're getting several injured players back, they have the NFL's top scoring defense, Aaron Rodgers vs. Peyton Manning, Manning's slipping level of play, the Packers defense coming off giving up 500 yards to the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos lights-out defense.  There are many others, but you get the idea.  There are a zillion permutations of how this game can go and that's what adds to the excitement of it.  

Manning has had a subpar season thus far, by his career standards.  It's no secret that age is creeping up on him and along with the neck injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season, he's not the same player he was six years ago when he guided the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl appearance.  There has been talk about the Denver offensive line having its struggles and a big opportunity for the Packers pass rush to get to Manning and cause major issues.  I'd like to think that it's that simple, especially as much as Green Bay's rush has improved this season.  But after watching the Chargers find a way to mitigate major losses on their line to keep Philip Rivers clean for most of the game, I'm certain that the Broncos used their bye week to conjure up a safe haven for Manning.  

It's not as if Manning needs a ton of help.  He's as savvy as they come and arguably the most prepared quarterback in the game.  Manning hasn't managed to play all of these years by running around and taking a ton of huge blows.  And consider that Manning played quite a few seasons before they implemented the current rules designed to add extra protection to passers.  Manning will surely be looking to get the ball out quick and use the size and speed of his receivers to his advantage.  And trust that if a Packers defensive back slips up or falls even a half-step behind in coverage, Manning will sniff it out in a heartbeat and have the ball floating towards his target.

One of the big changes this season, compared to many others in Denver, is the lack of a true rushing threat.  C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman have split carries straight down the middle this season, with Hillman racking up nearly 150 more yards after Anderson had established himself as the Broncos go-to guy last season.  Still, Denver ranks 31st in the league in rushing with 85 yards per game.  And trust that Manning isn't contributing to that total.  He was never very mobile early in his career and he most certainly isn't now unless you count that nice touchdown run he had in Dallas last season (it's still fun to poke fun at Jerrah, isn't it?).  

With the Packers getting defensive tackle B.J. Raji back this week, they should be able to limit Denver's rushing opportunities.  Counterparts Mike Daniels and Datone Jones have also played some of their best football in recent weeks.  It's allowed the pass rush to get home and the Packers have 23 sacks on the season.  Their opponent leads the league with 26.  Needless to say, each team is working feverishly on a way to keep their quarterback on two feet Sunday night.  

One way the Packers might get some help is to get running back Eddie Lacy going early on.  Lacy has battled an ankle injury most of this season and has been a mere shell of himself.  He carried just four times against the Chargers and, as it seems to every year, questions about Lacy's weight surfaced during the bye week.  Some question his conditioning and even McCarthy admitted Lacy is bigger than he was his rookie season.  Lacy is a tough gamer and is at least saying the right things about wanting to be out there.  If he can break off a few tough runs early on, the Broncos will have to loosen up a bit in coverage and focus more towards the line of scrimmage.  Whenever that happens, Rodgers seems to have the most fun with his toys, otherwise known as receivers.  The Denver pass rush is likely to be getting back DeMarcus Ware to complement linebacker Von Miller, who are both historically disruptive.  If Packers fans are pining for Ware to sit out this week, be careful what you wish for.  Backup Shaquil Barrett provides some very solid depth behind Ware and there isn't much drop off between the two.  As with other good defenses who have given Rodgers a hard time, if Denver can generate pressure without sending an extra man, and with as good as the Broncos secondary is, it could translate to a long day for #12.

He'll get Davante Adams back at receiver, but could be without Ty Montgomery, who is still nursing an ankle injury and hasn't practiced at all this week.  Adams is a sight for sore eyes, as he was one of those who had established a nice chemistry with Rodgers.  Judging by the comments Rodgers made the last few weeks, he's glad to have Adams back on the field.  Many will say that Adams adds in a legitimate deep threat and the Packers desperately need that.  But that hasn't proven to be true so far.  It's hard to argue with six wins and zero losses.  Sure, the deep ball is fun to watch, much like a windmill dunk in basketball, but regardless of how a guy crosses the goal line with the ball, it's all worth six points.  In tight coverage, having a guy like James Jones could come in very handy.  He's got the smarts to get open and find little areas for Rodgers to exploit.  As he does seemingly every week, it wouldn't hurt for Jones to add another touchdown to his totals this season.

Back to that Broncos secondary, they feature two very good cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr.  They're both excellent in coverage and leave little margin for error.  Rodgers pinpoint accuracy will be tested this week.  Denver has nine interceptions on the season.  If that description sounds familiar, it's because Green Bay's own secondary isn't much different.  They have eight picks on the year and should have several others that were dropped.  With corners Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and rookie Damarious Randall, the Packers have ball hawking corners who are always looking for a game-changing play.  As of writing time, Randall hasn't practiced yet this week and may be challenged to play this week.  In that case, the Packers will likely insert another rookie in Quinten Rollins, to help outside when they move Hayward into the slot.  The Packers will get safety Morgan Burnett back along with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and this is where the Packers secondary may have the edge among the two units.  In my prediction, I cited turnovers as the difference in this game so one or a few of these guys will likely be putting their stamp on this one before it's over.

As far as special teams, we can't neglect the fact that the thin air could benefit kicker Mason Crosby, who has been an asset thus far.  I have this game ending with a one-point differential so a kick figures to be a key piece of the puzzle.  Punter Tim Masthay hasn't been as bad as the masses seem to say he's been, but he's not having his best season.  With two solid defenses, neither offense wants to be in the shadow of its own end zone.  Field position is key.  The coverage units will need to be their usual selves this season, and boy does it feel good to be saying that with confidence!  If Montgomery can't do, expect Jared Abbrederis to handle the kickoff duties.  

It's put up or shut up time.  And even if the Packers don't get the win on Sunday, they have another crack at a quality win the following week.  It's hard to imagine any team going 16-0 and this game is one that many had circled as a realistic chance for the Packers to drop one when the schedules came out.  The come in as favorites.  How will they leave?  

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Comments (6)

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Bearmeat's picture

October 31, 2015 at 04:31 pm

Win both and homefield is all but ours. Win one - and it's going to the wire. While I believe both games will be touch, I actually think the Carolina game will be a harder test. Even though he has only 1 receiving target, Cam can still play. Peyton can't.

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MarkinMadison's picture

October 31, 2015 at 04:38 pm

I see a defensive struggle. #12 doesn't force things too much, so I don't see a ton of points against this Denver defense. On the flip side, Manning can be had, and he's getting a little ducky. I'm thinking the Packers will pick him off 2-3 times. Packers 20-9.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 31, 2015 at 05:11 pm

Agreed. Packers score at most 24 pts and Denver 16 at most. Get Matthews, Peppers and Datone in Mannings face a lot and the turnovers will come.

3 to 1 or none advantage in takeaways for the Pack.

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PETER MAIZ's picture

October 31, 2015 at 06:35 pm

Denver has the advantage in star advantage, with two very impressive wide receivers and an incredible defense. Manning may not have the arm he once had, but he still has the brain smarts when it comes to football. The real weakness Denver has is it's "O" line. Could that be decisive? I'm not sure. But Capers may have a different idea.
Last but not least is whether Lacy can get the running game going. It would be so important if he could....

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Tundraboy's picture

October 31, 2015 at 07:40 pm

Hell week is over!

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EdsLaces's picture

October 31, 2015 at 11:08 pm

Gonna be one of those games that makes my stomach hurt for 3+ hours. Two good teams. Two good defenses. We have the advantage at qb and I think they do at WR. Does the Lacy/Starks combo win us this game? Perhaps...

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