After two intense divisional games to open the season, and with playoff contenders Philadelphia and Dallas on deck, the Pack get their one potential breather on Sunday as Joe Flacco and the winless Broncos come to town.
But despite the fact that Denver is winless in six trips to Lambeau, the Pack will need to avoid looking ahead to their Thursday night showdown with the Eagles. The Broncos were one ridiculous roughing the passer penalty away from knocking off the Bears last week and head coach Vic Fangio has bedeviled the Pack’s offense in recent years.
His defense is a sleeping giant, sackless and without a takeaway through two games, despite being led by elite pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Not only have they not registered a sack, they’ve racked up a grand total of two QB hits so far this season. Both Derek Carr and Mitch Trubisky kept the defense off balance by getting rid of the ball quickly. Aaron Rodgers will likely give them a chance, as he surveys the field looking for big plays. If linebacker Todd Scott remains out, the defense will continue to suffer in the run game and in the middle of the field.
With Flacco brought in as a stop-gap solution at quarterback, the Broncos offense has been stuck in neutral–though they do rank 14th in the league so far. He has a decent pair of receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton, but the tight ends have struggled in the passing game and as blockers, which has stymied the running game, with their two-headed attack, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, yet to bust loose. Freeman has been the more dangerous runner, averaging more than five yards per carry.
The Pack’s defense has the definitive edge in this matchup–they have an almost unfair advantage when Za’Darius Smith lines up across from left tackle Garrett Bolles. The one-time first round pick has struggled his entire career and probably wouldn’t be playing, if not for his draft capital. He was flagged for holding four times last week and has been caught 14 times over the last two seasons. Smith should have a field day, as should emerging superstar Kenny Clark, who seems poised to finally get the national attention he richly deserves. The Pack’s CBs should be able to handle the receivers one on one and with Flacco’s inability to move around much, the defense should have the upper hand.
Denver has moved the ball pretty well between the 20s to open the season, but their red zone play has been awful and the Pack’s D has been the best in the league in the red zone so far, helped in part by the fact that they’ve faced Trubisky and Cousins to kick off the season.
The most interesting thing to watch will be how the Packers’ offense responds to being shut out over the last three quarters against the Vikings. The 21 point first quarter start was so surprising that we almost had to pinch ourselves, but the quick three and outs that followed reminded us that this offense still has a long way to go.
Aaron Jones comes off his most productive day, with 23 attempts, and hopefully that’s a trend that will continue. I expect Davante Adams to finally get his first touchdown and Lambeau Leap of the season, but it would be nice to see MVS or Geronimo Allison come up with a big day. With Davis traded (more on this in a moment) and Kumerow and Shepherd dealing with injuries, we might get our first glimpse of Allen Lazard this week.
This might be the week Robert Tonyan breaks out. Jimmy Graham is not practicing with a groin injury and Denver allowed a lot of tight end yards in week one to Darren Waller of the Raiders. I’ve been on the Tonyan bandwagon for a while and believe he will be the starter next season. This might be his coming out party.
The return game brings the biggest mystery with the surprise trade of Trevor Davis to Oakland this week. The oft-injured Davis didn’t figure into the team’s long-term plans, because they like their three undrafted receivers and want to see what they can do. To replace him on special teams, the Pack added former Chief Tremon Smith, who will likely handle kickoff returns (and joins a crowded secondary at CB). He ranked fourth in the league last season, averaging 26.8 per return. As for punt returns, rookie Darrius Shepherd gets his chance to make his mark, as he is healed from his hamstring injury.
On paper, this should be one of the four games on the schedule that you look at and say ‘win’ (along with home games against the Raiders, Panthers and Redskins). The biggest danger is looking ahead to the big prime time test coming four days later against Carson Wentz. But this team appears to be built to handle mediocre quarterbacks and history tells us the Broncos can’t win at Lambeau, where they’re 0-5-1.