Packers-Broncos: Game plan; key matchups

Stokley a threat to Packers secondary; Bates vs. Favre; Lee could have big night

GREEN BAY PACKERS
GAME PLAN:
One of Mike McCarthy's post-bye priorities is to not give up on the running game so fast if it continues to falter. He wants his charges to take ownership of rectifying the league-worst situation and essentially kick butt in the trenches. The starting point for a renaissance on the ground could come Monday against a Broncos defense that has the worst-rated rush defense. Yet, Denver got a head start on the Packers for improving its woes by adjusting its scheme and doing a commendable job against Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

With rookie starter DeShawn Wynn questionable for the game due to of a neck spasm that came earlier in the week, the Packers might be compelled again to compensate for the funk by throwing at will against a top-notch Denver secondary. Should the Broncos take a page out of Washington's book from Green Bay's last game and take away the inside leverage, it will be incumbent on Brett Favre to see whether he has an accurate deep ball still in him. The Packers defense has been appreciably better against the run than the pass thus far, so the matchup with Travis Henry isn't daunting.

Although Green Bay is facing a short-handed receiving group, generating pressure on Jay Cutler on early downs will be crucial to putting Denver in unfavorable third-down situations. Cutler has done his best work on third down. Containing WR Brandon Stokley is a major objective.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Packers QB Brett Favre vs. Broncos defensive coordinator Jim Bates

Few opposing coaches know Favre and his tendencies better than Bates, the Packers' defensive coordinator in 2005. Bates hit it off well with Favre in his stay with the team, which was cut short when he didn't get the head-coaching gig many of the players hoped he'd receive in the 2006 offseason.

Bates surely will try to throw off Favre and the Packers' one-dimensional, short-passing attack with an assortment of coverage looks playing off two-deep principles that have given Favre fits of late.

The Packers have the second-best passing offense (273.7 yards per game), but the Broncos are a stingy No. 2 in the league for pass defense (164.7) and held Buffalo and Oakland to less than 100 yards in back-to-back weeks to start the season.

Packers defensive backs vs. Broncos WR Brandon Stokley
Green Bay catches a break in not having to contend with former teammate Javon Walker as the primary receiving threat. Yet, Stokley is no slouch and could catch the Packers in a vulnerable situation operating out of the slot.

Nickel back Jarrett Bush rarely takes the slot receiver, so it behooves the Packers to keep him on the boundary because of his inconsistencies in coverage. That would leave Charles Woodson to move inside to take Stokley.

Although Woodson remains a highly instinctive corner, the 31-year-old has lost a step while playing hurt and could be exploited by the tenacious and speedy Stokley, the league's top first-down producer. Stokley burned the Packers with eight catches for 110 yards and two long touchdowns in their shootout loss to Indianapolis in 2004.

DENVER BRONCOS
GAME PLAN:
The Packers might actually try to establish the run, given how bad Denver has been most of the year stopping it. To the Broncos' credit, they were much better against the run last week, but their pass defense is superior. Green Bay hasn't run much this year.

Denver won't have an easy time against Green Bay's defense. The Broncos hope Travis Henry (ribs) is healthy enough to pound out some yards and set up a few shots downfield in the passing game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Broncos SS Nick Ferguson and OLB Nate Webster vs. Packers TE Donald Lee

The Broncos have given up six touchdowns to tight ends, including three against Pittsburgh last week. Brett Favre has always liked throwing to his tight ends, and Lee is having a nice year. The Packers will probably try to test Denver's defense against tight ends.

Broncos CBs Dre Bly and Champ Bailey vs. Packers WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings
Unless the Packers suddenly find their running game, they will pass the ball a lot against Denver. The tight end will see a fair share of balls, but the receivers will play a big part. When Brett Favre tries to take some chances downfield, Bly or Bailey have the ability to turn the game around with an interception.

Broncos ORT Erik Pears vs. Packers LDE Aaron Kampman
Kampman is a great every-down end who plays the run tough but can get after the quarterback. Pears is in his second season, and after an up-and-down training camp, he has been steady for the Broncos. Denver could choose to give Pears some extra help and let LT Matt Lepsis try to neutralize DEs Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.


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