Denver Broncos (1-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 3:15 p.m.
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Broncos have a prayer at Lambeau, it rides on the health of injured DE Elvis Dumervil and CB Champ Bailey; neither has played since Week 1. Without the guts of their defense, the Broncos would face an even steeper uphill battle against QB Aaron Rodgers' multitude of weapons. With lightning-fast rookie Von Miller and Dumervil to rush Rodgers, the Broncos can cover for a suspect secondary, which allowed two 300-yard passing games with Bailey out. That puts the game on QB Kyle Orton to pick apart a defense that has been stingy against the run but allows 359.3 passing yards per game. To sustain drives, Orton must get all of his receivers involved and make quick decisions behind an overmatched offensive line.
FAST FACTS: The Packers have won four of the past five meetings and all three games in Green Bay. ... The Broncos allowed seven pass plays of 22 yards or more in the past two games.
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Series is tied 5-5-1. The interconference opponents are meeting for the first time since Oct. 29, 2007, when the Packers left Denver with a 19-13 overtime victory in a Monday night game decided by an 82-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Greg Jennings on the first play from scrimmage in the extra period.
Green Bay has won the last two matchups, including a 31-3 rout in 2003 at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are 3-0 against the Broncos. Green Bay is unbeaten (4-0-1) in all games played in Wisconsin. The teams' only postseason encounter resulted in a stunning 31-24 win by Denver over the heavily favored Packers in Super Bowl XXXII at San Diego in the 1997 season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 — Consecutive wins by the Packers against AFC West opponents. Green Bay swept the four games in 2007, the last time it played teams from the division, and also won its final three meetings against those teams in 2003 after losing 40-34 in overtime to Kansas City earlier in the season.
4 — NFL teams with 90-plus victories in at least three decades. That group includes the Packers and Broncos. Green Bay did it in the 1960s, 1990s and 2000s; Denver in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The Steelers and Dolphins have accomplished similar feats.
8— Number of touchdown drives of 76 yards or more this season by the Packers.
GAME PLAN: The two teams have enough guys (a total of 23) on the injury report this week to play a game of 11-on-11 in the training room. The Packers account for 15 of those who are banged up and may be without four preferred starters Sunday — two on defense with Pro Bowl S Nick Collins (neck, done for the season) and DE Mike Neal (knee, out indefinitely) and potentially two on offense with veteran RB Ryan Grant (kidney) and emerging RT Bryan Bulaga (knee).
Depth-laden Green Bay rates as a heavy favorite, even with the expected returns of top Broncos defenders Dumervil (shoulder) at end and Bailey (hamstring) at cornerback. Take away those two, even with the addition of stud rookie Miller, and Denver will be lighter in the pass rush and softer on the back end for Aaron Rodgers to have the time to play pitch-and-catch with any number of his myriad targets.
A pass-heavy attack figures to stay in vogue for the Packers, who have been getting big production out of their modified run game at the outset this season but would have only inconsistent James Starks and inexperienced rookie Alex Green to carry the load if Grant can't play.
Orton won three of his four starts against the Packers when he was more or less a game manager in leading rival Chicago's offense, but he completed only 49.4 percent of his passes and had an aggregate passer rating of just 58.3 in those games. His numbers are merely a little more appealing this season with a Broncos offense that is out of sorts. Green Bay's No. 1-rated run defense should clean up again if and when Denver decides to go to the ground, and the Broncos' dearth of playmakers at receiver should be a boon to the Packers' beleaguered pass defense. Denver's run of its first three games decided by no more than three points should go by the wayside Sunday.
The Broncos simply don't have the offensive firepower to match Green Bay point for point, so they're going to have to find a way to control the clock and limit the Packers' offensive opportunities. The problem with that strategy is that Green Bay's only allowing 3.1 yards per rush attempt and two rushing touchdowns during its 3-0 start. And the Broncos' offensive line doesn't seem to have the wherewithal to play move-the-chains football with the running game. Willis McGahee is averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt. So, a lot will rest on Orton's shoulders. The team could get Knowshon Moreno back and involve him in the screen passing game to try and create space.
Opposing QBs have thrown, on average, for 359 yards vs. the Pack but Green Bay remains undefeated. Defensively, the Broncos have done a solid job against the run the last two weeks. That will have to continue that performance with the underlying hope that perhaps getting Bailey and Dumervil back on the field can produce some much-needed takeaways from a pass-happy Rodgers. The QB spearheads an offense that has eight TD drives of 76 yards or more this season.
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