It's 6-0 vs. 6-0. To of the most storried franchises in the NFL will meet on Sunday Night Football in what could be the game of this young season. Both the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers are fresh, coming off of a bye.
Emotions will be running high. I sat down this week with Bill Huber, the Publisher of Packer Report and a veritable Green Bay insider. Find Bill on Twitter @Packer Report. Catch him as a guest on this week's episode of the In the Huddle podcast in the player below.
MHH: Aaron Rodgers has played phenomenal football through six games. At 6-0, only two of the Packers’ wins have come on the road. It was recently pointed out to me that Rodgers hasn't won a road game vs. a winning team since 2012. Could that be true? And if so, what do you attribute that to?
Huber: Yes, that is true, as I turn to Pro Football Reference to refresh my memory on the standings. The last win at a team that finished with a winning record was in Week 15 of the 2012 season at Chicago. They followed that game with losses at Minnesota and the 49ers (playoffs).
In 2013, the Packers lost at the 49ers and Bengals before Aaron Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone. In 2014, the Packers lost to the Seahawks, Lions, Bills and Seahawks (playoffs). That’s an eight-game losing streak.
I’m not sure there’s any big story here. In 2013, in Rodgers’ first game back in the lineup, the Packers won at Chicago in Week 17 to win the NFC North; the Bears were 8-7 before that game. Earlier that season, the Packers won at Baltimore; the defending Super Bowl champions finished 8-8. Last year, Green Bay won at Miami and Minnesota; the Dolphins finished 8-8 and the Vikings 7-9. In 2010, the Packers won three consecutive road games en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Quarterbacks get paid big bucks to win games, so Rodgers isn’t immune to blame here. Wounded or not, he didn’t make enough plays to knock out the Seahawks in last year’s NFC Championship Game. Still, this Packers team looks like a vastly more complete outfit than the ones that faltered on the road against good teams the past couple seasons.
MHH: The Packers have dealt with a multitude of injuries at wide receiver, and yet, Rodgers continues to overcome and put up ridiculous numbers. All things considered, what must the Broncos defense do to limit the Packers passing attack?
Huber: This is a huge game for Green Bay’s offense. The first three weeks, Green Bay’s offense stormed up and down the field en route to scoring about 32 points per game. The next three games, Green Bay’s offense really struggled, managing 22.7 points per game.
You mentioned the injuries and there’s no doubt those have had a dramatic impact. Jordy Nelson is out for the season with a torn ACL sustained in the preseason. He had more 60-yard touchdown catches last season than 30 of the other 31 teams had total 60-yard receptions (touchdown or non-touchdown). That’s a remarkable statistic that shows his impact on the game. Without that stretch-the-field threat, defenses have focused successfully on taking away the underneath stuff.
Randall Cobb is Green Bay’s best receiver. He didn’t have much of an impact in the final three games before the bye. While it’s true defenses have a bull’s-eye on him, it’s not as if he’s being doubled on every play. The larger issue, in my mind, is the shoulder injury sustained during the preseason that’s impacted his ability to beat press coverage.
Davante Adams, who had a couple huge games last season as a rookie, sprained an ankle in the first half of the Week 2 game vs. Seattle, aggravated it on the first series of the Week 3 game vs. Kansas City and hasn’t played since. That meant more playing time for rookie Ty Montgomery, but he injured an ankle in Week 6.
So, now that you’re up to speed, what do the Broncos have to do? To me, it’s more what the Packers have to do. Are these guys really good enough to beat an elite secondary? I think the answer is “no.”
MHH: The Packers are ranked No. 2 in sacks, with 23, behind only Denver. Clay Matthews is playing inside linebacker now, but he's still managed to net 4.5 sacks. Is it Dom Capers' scheme, are they blitzing often, or are the Packers getting great individual performances in the pass rush? How are they making it happen?
Huber: I almost always fall on the side of individual performances. You can scheme all you want but if the players aren’t good enough to get home, what difference does it make?
It starts with stopping the run. Ignore the league rankings. The Packers shut down Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and Carlos Hyde in Weeks 2 through 4. The Rams’ Todd Gurley ran for more than 150 yards in Week 5 but it took him 30 carries and a long run with the game essentially decided in the fourth quarter to get him there. The Chargers’ run game was a nonfactor in Week 6.
So, it’s really no different than the Broncos, who have been great against the run. Stop the run on first down and let your pass rushers win on third down. On passing downs, the Packers have gone with Clay Matthews and Mike Neal at outside linebacker and Julius Peppers and Datone Jones at defensive tackle. Capers has blitzed some but, by and large, those four have been winning.
MHH: What's the status of Eddie Lacy? Are we going to see him in Denver this week?
Huber: Eddie Lacy is one of the great mysteries, especially if he’s on your fantasy football team. Against San Diego, he carried the ball four times. After the game, coach Mike McCarthy said Lacy was banged up. Lacy, however, said he’s fine, and Lacy’s name didn’t show up on the injury report.
The next day, McCarthy said he wanted more of a one-two punch in the backfield and James Starks earned the extra work, after running 65 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. If you take him at his word, it’s worth noting that in Lacy’s first 10 games of last season, he averaged about 13 carries per game. In his final eight games (including playoffs), he averaged almost 20. The Packers, like the Broncos, have their sights set on December and January. There’s no reason to run their 240-pound running back into the ground in October.
Still, Lacy never had less than 10 carries (when healthy) in his career. I’d guess he’ll be a focal point of the game plan in an effort to keep the Packers in third-and-manageable situations. But I thought he’d get the ball a lot against the Rams and the Chargers, too, so what do I know?
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