The Green Bay Packers were No. 1 in points allowed per game.
The Denver Broncos were No. 1 in yards allowed per game.
In a battle of statistical heavyweights, it was Denver’s defense that won by knockout. While Green Bay’s defense couldn’t stop the supposedly washed-up Peyton Manning, Denver’s defense made Aaron Rodgers look like just another quarterback en route to the most impressive defensive performance of the NFL season.
The Broncos were three-point underdogs in this clash of undefeated teams. Three hours later, they look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders because of the best defense in the league. The Packers’ 77 passing yards and 2.0 net passing yards per attempt stand as the lowest figures in the NFL this season.
“We just thank them for the motivation,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said. “Everybody that’s saying we’re not the real ‘No Fly Zone’ or anything like that, that motivates us. Ray Lewis saying we’re not great. That motivated us. We just want to continue to be the best. Everybody on this team is starting to be great. As long as we continue to push each other, have this competition that we’re having, everybody is going to continue to play well.”
The Packers, on the other hand, took a discouraging step or three backward after the bye.
From Week 2 through Week 5, the Packers allowed 295.0 yards and 14.5 points per game against the Seahawks, Chiefs, 49ers and Rams. Before the bye, San Diego’s Philip Rivers threw for 503 yards and the Chargers piled up 548 but the Packers won in the red zone to hold them to 20 points.
Nothing, however, went right against the Broncos, who piled up 500 yards and converted 50 percent of the time on third down.
“I think what you saw is obvious,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We didn’t break their rhythm on offense. They ran it well. The explosive gains were clearly lopsided in Denver’s favor. I thought that was a big factor in the yardage production and, obviously, point production.”
Benefitting from exemplary pass protection, Manning — the NFL’s 31st-ranked passer entering the game — threw for 340 yards. Whether it was Demaryius Thomas making big plays against Casey Hayward or Damarious Randall or tight ends Virgil Green and Owen Daniels running the secondary ragged on crossing routes, the Packers were dismantled by a quarterback who had thrown two touchdowns against seven interceptions in his previous three games.
“How can I say this without hurting anybody's feelings? I just don't give what y'all say that much merit,” Manning said. “I'm not going to put a Jim Mora on you and say the famous, ‘You think you know, but you just don't know and you never well.’ Although that's a great line, I'm not saying that. I'll say it at some point before I stop playing, but it's not the time now. I have just been very determined to get comfortable in this offense. I've just been very determined. I knew this was not going to be an easy transition. It has been somewhat what kind of I expected to happen. I don't look at this like a ‘I told you so’ moment because I don't really listen to what you say in the first place. That's kind of been my approach.”
Meanwhile, the league’s 30th-ranked running game contributed 160 yards against a Packers run defense that can only be called schizophrenic. Against Chicago, St. Louis and Denver, Green Bay allowed 180.0 rushing yards per game. Against Seattle, Kansas City, San Francisco and San Diego, Green Bay gave up 82.8 rushing yards per game.
“We weren’t able to stop the run enough and that was the plan coming in here to stop the run,” linebacker Clay Matthews said.
While Green Bay got back safety Morgan Burnett, who had played in only one game due to an injured calf, starting cornerback Sam Shields and rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins were knocked out with shoulder injuries. Shields was injured on Denver’s first scoring drive. Those injuries forced Green Bay insert rarely used second-year cornerback Demetri Goodson into the dime package, though Goodson played well.
Also, Matthews injured an ankle when Randall rolled onto Matthews’ foot as Matthews pursued a play. Matthews missed only a few plays, though one of them was C.J. Anderson’s 28-yard touchdown run that essentially clinched the game.
“We’ll see how it is,” Matthews said. “I’m sure we’ll get some testing done tomorrow. The good thing is from the doctors on the sideline assessment, thankfully it wasn’t too serious. We’ll monitor it day-by-day and see how it is. Hopefully, it feels good tomorrow. It’s hurting pretty good right now.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.