For example, the last time the Packers were the defending champs the Broncos were the ones who stripped them of their title. While Kyle Orton is no John Elway, the Broncos are a significant underdog like they were in Super Bowl XXXII when they upset the Brett Favre-led Packers.
At the same time, the Packers need to win this game to keep pace with the Detroit Lions in the NFC North (you have no clue how strange it is to type that). While some have gone so far as to say the Packers are in control of the division despite being tied with another team, the Packers know firsthand the Lions are not to be taken lightly.
Last week in review
The Packers beat their archrival Chicago Bears 27-17 at Soldier Field. Jermichael Finley made his presence known by catching three touchdown passes and the defense, though sluggish at times, shut down the Bears offense and the Packers moved to 3-0.
The Broncos meanwhile lost a close game to the Tennessee Titans in Tennessee 17-14. Orton struggled again throwing two interceptions and for only 173 yards to only increase the cry from Bronco fans for Orton to be benched and let second year quarterback Tim Tebow into the lineup. The Broncos are 1-2 on the season, but have been competitive in both their losses.
Breaking down the Broncos
Despite this being his first season as coach, John Fox truly has built the Broncos the same way he built his teams in Carolina.
Fox expects a strong rushing attack from his offense. While Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee are definitely not DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, there is enough potential there. McGahee has clearly been the stronger back this season as Moreno can’t seem to stay healthy and is a question mark for the game vs the Packers.
Orton is no stranger to the Packers from his years in Chicago before being sent to Denver that brought the self-giving gift known as Jay Cutler to Chicago. Orton won’t beat you deep nor will he beat you with his athleticism. He truly is a game manager quarterback. He doesn’t strike fear in the heart of a defense late in a game, and that’s why Broncos fans are screaming for Tebow.
Still, he has his strengths. He is surrounded by a decent cast of receivers including the dangerous Brandon Lloyd and the emerging star Eric Decker. Orton also is normally smart with the football, though his volley of turnovers to begin the season give worry.
Still, two weeks ago during the game against the Bengals the Broncos at one point had only TWO wide receivers and had to line Tebow up in the slot in a couple plays. A leaky offensive line also isn’t helping Orton any.
On defense, the Broncos made a change this season from the 3-4 to the 4-3 that Fox employed at Carolina. This meant that dangerous linebacker Elvis Dumervil would move to defensive end and the Broncos in turn drafted linebacker Von Miller out of Texas A&M. Miller has all the potential to be the next star linebacker in the league and has already shown great speed and ability to cover both sides of the field. Dumervil, who missed all of last season with an injury, is questionable for the Packers game as well with a bum shoulder.
The secondary is led by veteran cornerback Champ Bailey. He hasn’t been as dangerous as in past years, but he is still one of the best corners in the league. Former Eagle Brian Dawkins also brings great fire to the defense as can be witnessed in any of his pregame speeches to the team on the field. Other than these two veterans the Broncos are thin in the secondary with Andre Goodman the other corner and the inexperienced yet hard hitting Rahim Moore the other safety.
When the Packers have the ball….
For those of you hoping for a stronger rushing attack out of the Packers, you may have to wait another week.
Last week in the loss to Tennessee, the Broncos held Chris Johnson to 21 yards on 13 carries. Johnson has gotten off to a slow start this season, but it’s still an impressive feat nonetheless.
With James Starks struggling against the Bears but with Ryan Grant finding holes, look for the Packers to continue to rely on the right arm of Aaron Rodgers. The reigning Super Bowl MVP should be able to find plenty of openings in the Broncos secondary with his plethora of weapons. This could be another big day for Finley as there is no one on the Broncos defense that can matchup with him.
This is the James Starks show this week with Grant nursing a bruised kidney. Starks will be looking to redeem himself after his play against the Bears. The Packers could still struggle to get yards so it will be interesting to see how much McCarthy could abandon the run.
When the Broncos have the ball….
The Broncos will do what they have done all year.
They will try and get McGahee and Moreno (if healthy) going early and allow Orton to dink and dunk to try to open up the running game even and then continue to run. The Packers faced John Fox before in Carolina so they are familiar with what brand of football he likes to play.
Orton will still take his shots with Lloyd down the field. While Orton by no means has the strongest deep ball in the league, with a weapon like Lloyd you have to be prepared for the deep ball at any given point. Decker can play on the sidelines or in the slot, so he can be a target in the middle of the field as well.
The Packers defense needs to be stronger against the passing game. They played well against Cutler last week, but Orton’s style is nowhere near as reckless so there won’t be as many “gimmie” plays as we saw last week. They have to get pressure on Orton and force him into bad throws.
The wild card here is Tebow. Buried beneath all the injury news for the Broncos, was a nugget that Tebow was seeing some action under center in certain packages in preparation for the Packers. Watch Tebow’s highlights from last year and you will see how lethal he can be in the red zone. The Packers have to take him playing into consideration.
Three Keys to the game
1. The Tebow Factor I can’t stress this enough. Tebow has seen little to no playing time so far this season, and everyone keeps expecting him to be used in some sort of package. I think this could be the week. With Tebow, you are either a buyer or a seller and I am a definite buyer. Look at the comeback against the Houston Texans last year and the way Mile High rocked with energy and tell me he can’t play in this league.
I realize his skillset is not that of a typical NFL QB, but he has obvious athletic gifts that so far have been proven to be tough to stop. Don’t mold him to the game, mold your game to him and he can be a winner. I hope John Elway is listening. He of all people should know better.
2. Get Clay Matthews going We all have been waiting patiently for Matthews to have that breakout game of the season that gets him rolling for the remainder of the 2011 campaign, but it hasn’t happened yet. My only guess is that Matthews has to be injured more than is being let on by McCarthy.
With a weak Denver offensive line, this is as good of a chance as any for Matthews to get going. He faced double teams last week against Chicago, but still struggled in one-on-one battles. Here’s his chance to get his feet planted for another strong season.
3. Stop the stupid penalties I am looking you, offensive lineman. The Packers had so many drives stall last week against the Bears to penalties that the final margin of victory could have at least doubled. It’s a disturbing trend and one the Packers need to end before the season reaches the critical months of November and December.
It wasn’t as bad of a performance as was Week 3 in 2010, but it still induced a fair amount of indigestion among the Packer faithful. McCarthy likes to say they will “clean things up” when it comes to penalties. Hope you have a big mop, Coach.
Packers 31, Broncos 17
This is one of those games that I am glad is earlier on the schedule instead of later. The Broncos look like a much improved team over a year ago and they should gel more as the season goes on. The Packers right now simply have too many weapons for the Broncos to stop and Orton will not be able to carry this team to victory on his shoulders.
Last year, the Packers earned a reputation as coach killers. Perhaps they could be “QB killers” this season with them perhaps inserting the dagger into the career of Orton in Denver.
Warning to Fox and Elway: the cries for Tebow are about to get louder. Good luck.
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke