This weeks game against the Green Bay Packers is undoubtedly the best football game on slate this weekend. It will be the thirteenth regular season match-up against the two historical squads, with the Packers leading the overall head-to-head series with 6 wins, 5 losses and 1 tie. However, Broncos fans can find solace in knowing that the only time the teams met in post-season history, Denver came away victories with an unforgettable Super Bowl victory.
Nevertheless, the Packers are a fantastic franchise who have always had my respect and admiration. They are consistently good and seem to always be contenders for the Lombardi Trophy year in and year out. Upon entering the new millennium, the Packers have been to the playoffs 11 times and have had stranglehold on the NFC North since it was established in 2002.
They have been division champions 8 times since 2000 and have held that title the last four seasons and are well on their way to making it five in a row. Outside of the New England Patriots, no other NFL team has been more dominant within their division than the Packers of Green Bay. Without question, they are one of the greatest teams in the NFL with a terrific fan base cheering them on. This Sunday night match-up against Green Bay will undoubtedly be another memorable experience for fans on each side of the fence and has the makeup of being an unforgettable gridiron battle.
The 2014 Green Bay Packers (even with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers) were a few plays short of representing the NFC in last years Super Bowl, but ended up losing to the Seattle Seahawks in an overtime Conference Championship spectacle by a score of 28-22. It was a huge letdown for their fans, who were confident that their ticket to Super Bowl XLIX was punched when they were up sixteen points at halftime.
Despite having the number one rated scoring offense in the league last year, their defense was only middle of the road and one of the major reasons they were unable to get to football's famed promise land. This year the expectations are high and the Packers are thirsty and poised to compete for a championship once again.
2015 is the 10th year that the Packers have been coached by Mike McCarthy. Under his leadership, they have won 100 games, lost 49 and tied one — sporting an impressive .670 winning percentage and reaching ultimate glory in 2010 when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-6 in the Super Bowl XLV. In order to compete at a high level in 2015, the team retained most of its high priority free agents and drafted a handful of rookies who have been integral cogs to their success early on this season.
Listed below is a comprehensive review of their recent offseason transactions:
Identifying the 2015 Green Bay Packers
Free Agency: Check out our SB Nation friends at Acme Packing Company for a comprehensive list of the Packers' free agent transactions.
2015 Draft Class: S Damarious Randall, CB Quentin Rollins, WR Ty Montgomery, OLB Jake Ryan, QB Brett Hundley, FB Aaron Ripkowski, DE Christian Ringo, TE Kennard Backman
Note: Every draft pick besides Christian Ringo is on their active 53 man roster. Ringo is a member of their practice squad.
Summary: The Packers were more concerned with retaining their own talent than going out and spending big bucks in free agency on players outside the team. The model of drafting well and keeping your homegrown talent is one that General Manager Ted Thompson has adhered to strictly in his years overseeing the Packers operations.
Green Bay's Cause for Concern: Rushing Defense
The Green Bay Packers are a well-rounded team that have few holes, but their biggest concern is their rushing defense. They are middle of the pack league-wide in regard to rushing yards allowed (711) on the year, but opposing teams have averaged 4.7 yards per carry against their defense, which ranks in the bottom five in the NFL.
Alas, the Broncos have not been that successful in running the ball this year and have only average 3.6 yards per attempt, but this could be a game where we see a heavy dose of running to take advantage of a Packers front seven that has gotten after the passer well (second most sacks in NFL), but have failed to be accountable and prepared in their rush defense.
Hart's 3 Keys to Winning at home against Green Bay
1) Don't turn the ball over. Period.
This is a simple concept that almost all teams adhere to with the idea of winning their respective gridiron battles on Sunday. Not many teams end up winning games when they are on the wrong side of the turnover battle. It means everything for the Broncos on Sunday night, who have had a penchant for giving the ball away on offense through the first six games of the year.
Denver cannot afford to give the ball away to the Aaron Rodgers led Packers who have taken advantage of other teams this year by scoring big points off turnovers. If the Broncos can play sound, fundamental football and limit (or not have any) turnovers in this game they will most certainly have a great chance to win.
2) Don't give Aaron Rodgers time to pick apart the defense.
DeMarcus Ware should be available to play this Sunday and having alongside Von Miller and Shaquil Barrett will definitely help the Broncos' defensive pass rush. The Packers have allowed Rodgers to be sacked 11 times this year, but overall have done a relatively good job protecting him.
Denver needs to be unique in their defensive game plan and install a series of plays that can confuse the Packers lineman that hopefully lead to breakdowns in protection and allow for the Broncos defense to wreak havoc on Rodgers. Expect some inside linebacker and safety blitzes to catch the Packers off guard and maybe, just maybe, one big play by an unexpected rusher can up paying big dividends for Denver.
3) Test the Packers youthful secondary downfield.
Much to the chagrin of Broncos fans across the nation, Peyton Manning has done an awful job reading defenses and has played poorly when under pressure this season. A majority of his interceptions have been to linebackers on short-to-intermediate routes that have put their defense in horrendous short field situations.
My suggestion? Go deep, Peyton. Go deep. I want Manning to be aggressive in this game against the Packers. They have relied heavily on rookie defensive backs Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins in their secondary. The two are capable of making big plays, but also have been susceptible to giving up the occasional big play or two by being over-aggressive each game. Instead of turning the ball over on short throws, go for the gold and try to hit Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders on vertical routes down the field.
What Their Coaches Are Saying
"I think [Defensive Coordinator] Wade [Phillips] does such an incredible job as far as getting his system in and how fast his players have always played at all of his stops that I've had the opportunity to compete against him. Clearly in Denver, it's a very talented defense, they have excellent depth and their numbers speak for themselves. We're very impressed with what we've seen on film." — Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy on Denver's defense
"Being in the same division with Manning when I was in Houston, I can remember leading 17-0 going into the fourth quarter and losing 20-17. He’s still tremendous at anticipating where receivers are going to be." — PPackers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning
What Our Coaches Are Saying
"We have our hands full because they play everywhere and their getting a good rusher back this week, too. [Packers LB Clay] Matthews and [Packers LB Julius] Peppers are the big guys up front. [Packers Defensive Coordinator] Dom [Capers] moves them around. They get them on backs, the get them on tackles, the get them on guards, so everybody will have their chance. How we protect our quarterback will be extremely important to the football game, but they've done a great job." — Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak on the Packers' ability to get after the quarterback
"He's a great quarterback, obviously. He was MVP last year, I believe, in the league. He's playing that way again this year. He's a great quarterback and he's like our quarterback—he's a great person, too. I always admired him that way, on and off the field. He's a great example for the National Football League of how you play football—play really well and then be a great guy off the field." — Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Hart's Prediction for Sunday Night
Regardless of the outcome, it will be an exciting game and will provide a gut check for the team as well as a learning experience as to what they will need to improve upon if they want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.