On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers improved to 3-0 by defeating the Denver Broncos 27-16. The loss causes Denver to fall to 0-3. Here are my thoughts about the Packers vs Broncos game.
As was the case last week, the Packers scored a TD on their opening drive. The drive only consisted of a handful of plays, but once again, Green Bay deployed different personnel packages. Danny Vitale was brought in at full back for a Jamaal Williams run. Immediately after, the Matt LaFleur trickery returned as Vitale was kept in for a play-action pass where Aaron Rodgers scrambled and found Marcedes Lewis for a first down.
The drive was capped off by a 40-yard TD on a classic Rodgers free play. It was a familiar sight, seeing the quarterback use the hard count to draw the defense offside. Knowing that there was no risk of turnover, Rodgers threw a bomb to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and gave the Packers an early 7-0 lead.
In the first game of the season, the Packers dominated on special teams. That was not the case against the Broncos. On the Packers first kickoff, Diontae Spencer returned the ball 60 yards from his own end zone. Only a Tremon Smith tackle saved a sure score.
Fortunately for the Packers, the defense forced a 3-and-out. In fact, the Broncos even lost yards on the drive with a tackle for loss and a sack on consecutive plays. The former was created by a combination of Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry while the latter came courtesy of Preston Smith.
Even better was the fact that the special teams coverages got a lot better after that initial return. On 9 combined kickoffs and punts, the Broncos only had 1 opportunity to return, which was done for all of 3 yards. Every other kick was either a touchback or a fair catch. The only blemish was a fair catch interference penalty committed by Green Bay on their first punt.
On the Packers 2nd drive, the offense utilized the no-huddle. The effects were immediate as Rodgers quickly completed a 1st down pass to Davante Adams. We also got to look at the Green Bay spread system as they ran a few plays with 4 or 5 wide receivers. They utilized different types of players on the outside including tight end Robert Tonyan and both running backs. Eventually, the Broncos forced the Packers to punt.
Phill of Running
One element that caracterized this game, and certainly the first half, was the Broncos control of the game clock. It began on their 2nd drive of the day as Phillip Lindsay was gaining good ground. The missed tackles that were concerning during the preseason crept back into this game for the Packers. Preston Smith missed an opportunity to tackle Lindsay, who instead gained a first down. The running back definitely deserves credit as does the Denver offensive line for opening holes and constantly beating the interior of the Packers defensive line. Lindsay certainly got praise for scoring his first TD of the game and tying the score at 7-7.
One of the most telling stats of the game was the 1st half time of possession. The Broncos held the football about twice as much as the Packers did during the 1st and 2nd quarters. In fact, at one point the time of possession was around 18 minutes to 8 minutes in favor of Denver.
Keep Turning and Turning and Turning
After matching field goals, followed by a Packers 3-and-out, one of the most crucial elements of this game began to reveal itself. With an opportunity to potentially score before and after halftime, the Broncos took possession of the ball with 2:17 left in the 2nd quarter. Deciding to pass, they opened themselves up to the pass rush. Preston Smith got home with a strip-sack of Joe Flacco. Rookie Rashan Gary recovered the football at the 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Aaron Jones ran the ball in for a TD. For Jones, the stat sheet is not kind as it shows he ran for 1.9 yards per carry in this game. There were a few negative plays such as the -2 yards he gained on an outside run the play before scoring. It was not the only loss of yards he sustained. Most of those negative plays were ones where Jones attempted to bounce toward the outside instead of just running north-south. His TD carry just before halftime featured a great example of his decisive and explosive abilities. Jones also maintained his balance through contact and was rewarded with a 7-yard score, his longest run of the game. That made it 17-10 at halftime.
Part of the reason that Jones had such a low yards per carry was that he also got some short-yardage duties. After halftime, he scored a 1-yard TD that made the game 24-10. Rewinding a little, that scoring drive was preceded by a second Broncos turnover. Rookie tight end Noah Fant caught the ball on a key 3rd down. Jaire Alexander came running, seemingly out of nowhere, and punched out the football before Fant could get down. Alexander had another great day as he shut down Emmanuel Sanders. After back-to-back games with at least 86 receiving yards and 1 TD, Sanders was held to only 2 receptions for 10 yards against the Packers.
You Don’t (Lind)Say
On the ensuing Broncos possession, their running ability was ever-present. Royce Freeman got started by pushing a pile for a first down. A couple of plays later, Phillip Lindsay produced his longest play of the game, a 36-yard reception. It was the first of a couple of rough plays for cornerback Kevin King. He missed a tackle on that aforementioned 36-yard screen pass. On the very next play, King was beaten hard while covering Courtland Sutton along the sideline. If Flacco’s pass had not been off the mark, Sutton would certainly have scored.
Eventually, Lindsay found the end zone once again. The Broncos running back finished the game with 81 yards, 3.9 yards per carry and 2 rushing TDs. On the second score, Lindsay had a great second effort. Dean Lowry had him wrapped up but could not bring him down. Lindsay then found his way into the end zone on the 1-yard score. With a missed point-after attempt by Brandon McManus meant that the game score was 24-16.
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The Packers punted on the next drive. J.K. Scott put a 66-yard net punt inside the 5-yard line. One quick takeaway is that Scott has looked solid through the first 3 games of 2019.
After holding Lindsay to minimal gains on 1st and 2nd down, King was once again beaten by Sutton on a go route. Will Redmond eventually got Sutton out of bounds and saved the score. This was key as the Broncos then committed their 3rd and final turnover of the game. Heavily pressured, Flacco underthrew a pass. Whether it was tipped at the line of scrimmage, or his arm was hit, is irrelevant. What matters is that rookie Darnell Savage came up with the interception.
The Packers punted on the next drive. And no that is not a mistake. Same start to both paragraphs. Once again, the Broncos failed to add any points to the scoreboard. Only instead of a turnover, a defensive back made a key tackle on 3rd down. For the 2nd week in a row, Kevin King redeemed himself with a key defensive play late. On a Royce Freeman screen pass, King wrapped him up short of the 1st down marker.
Up by 8 points, and the ball in their hand early in the 4th quarter, the Packers needed a drive. Rodgers orchestrated an 11-play 51-yard possession that took up 7:41. During that drive, the Packers ran plays that were designed to keep the clock running. While they relied primarily on the ground game, Rodgers still made some throws that were relatively easy completions. Sometimes it was because a receiver was wide open, such as when Chris Harris was giving Adams a cushion so as not to allow a big completion. Other times, he targeted a player close to the line of scrimmage.
It was on this drive that Jamaal Williams began to separate statistically from Aaron Jones as the former had some productive rushing attempts. Most notably, there was a 9-yard run on 1st-and-10 that included a couple of key blocks by Geronimo Allison and Danny Vitale.
While they did not find the end zone, the Packers did manage to get in field goal range thanks to a Marques Valdes-Scantling reception. The 41-yard field goal by Mason Crosby was key since, at 27-16, the game suddenly became a 2-score contest. Needing to overcome that deficit, the Broncos had to pass a lot more. That allowed the Packers pass rush to focus on getting after the quarterback. To their credit, Denver sprinkled in some run plays during that drive and even managed to get some first downs on the ground. Ultimately, Preston Smith got his 3rd sack of the game that effectively ended the contest.
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