TiVo Time: Denver Broncos
Before we move on to the Atlanta Falcons, let’s take one last long look at the Green Bay Packers 49-23 demolition of the Denver Broncos.
15:00, 1st quarter — It’s the first play of the game, and I believe the Packers are in the exact same defense they started the game against Carolina with. They’re in their base defense with a heavy run focus. The similarities with Carolina continue, as Denver proceeds to run a play-action pass with their tight end, Daniel Fells, running a corner route. The Packers only have four guys rushing six blockers, and Clay Matthews isn’t one of them because he drops into coverage. Is this ringing any bells? Fortunately, the similarities end there. Kyle Orton overthrows Fells who had two steps on Charles Woodson.
14:07, 1st quarter — The Broncos go three and out. On 3rd down, the Packers rush four against five. The Broncos double B.J. Raji and leave right tackle Orlando Franklin alone with Matthews. Clay pushes Franklin into Orton’s lap and he throws short of Eric Decker. Tramon Williams had excellent coverage on the play anyway.
Randall Cobb returns the ball near midfield, but a penalty on Alex Green gives the Packers the ball at the 31.
11:55, 1st quarter — Coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers would be the hunters and not the hunted, and if anyone doubted him, they shouldn’t anymore. McCarthy decides to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Denver 12 instead of kicking an easy field goal to take the lead.
The drive consisted mostly of one play — a 43-yard pass to Greg Jennings on 3rd and 5. This is one of those plays where I swear when I see Rodgers throw the ball 40 yards downfield on 3rd and 5, and then cheer when I see Jennings open.
On 3rd and 1 from the 12, the Packers still refuse to run. The Broncos aren’t even playing the run and Rodgers throws an incomplete pass in Donald Driver’s general direction.
Of course, the Broncos are playing the run on 4th and 1 and McCarthy calls an odd stretch play to the right. Everyone does their job, but no one accounts for safety Brian Dawkins, who hits James Starks a yard in the backfield and just barely gets him to the ground.
As far as game tactics go, I completely disagree with going for it here. ALWAYS take the lead, especially on your first drive. However, as I hinted earlier, I believe this is a long term play. McCarthy is sending a clear message to his team. Like General Patton once said, we aren’t defending anything; we’re here to attack.
5:22, 1st quarter — The Broncos settle for a 27-yard field goal. The 78-yard scoring drive was highlighted by a 17-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd, followed immediately by a 28-yard run by Willis McGahee.
On the pass, the Broncos were in a power set with only Lloyd split out. In fact, this is a rare one-receiver pattern until a tight end releases late. That means the Broncos have nine guys blocking. So, yeah, Orton has all day to throw, but he only has one receiver to throw to. Fortunately for him, Tramon Williams looks like he has no idea what he’s doing here. He looks like a kid who rode the merry-go-round too long. He gets turned around and gives up the deep out to Lloyd even though Charlie Peprah has deep inside coverage. It was the only route Williams had to worry about.
The Packers were in their base defense on the next play. The Broncos offensive line does well to get to the second level and tie up Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk. Decker slides down and gets a block on Peprah, leaving Woodson unblocked. The play pops for a big run when Woodson slips and falls, opening up a huge hole for McGahee.
2:08, 1st quarter — Rodgers throws a 50-yard TD to Jordy Nelson off play action. That play came right after a 16-yard run around the left end by James Starks. He might have rag-dolled the entire Broncos secondary if it weren’t for the sideline.
It’s understandable the Broncos bit on the play fake on the next play. The Broncos were in the Cover 2. The play fake gave Nelson enough time to run a double move. He easily runs right by Dawkins who, frankly, should have retired before last season. It seems like all Nelson does lately is make big plays.
0:50, 1st quarter — The Broncos do exactly what they can’t afford to do and throw a pick six just three plays later. Orton never looked at the coverage and Woodson jumped the rout by Decker. Woodson’s 11th return for a TD in his career makes him No. 2, (behind Rod Woodson), and the two scores in 90 seconds make it 14-3, Packers.
0:50, 1st quarter — Yes, technically two big plays happened at this same mark. The Packers easily recover an onside kick after the score. It was a great call that shocked me as much as the Broncos and it is was perfectly executed. Again, the Packers are on the attack.
12:24, 2nd quarter — The Packers score seven plays after the onside kick when Rodgers runs up the middle to make it 21-3, Packers. Rodgers was especially sharp on this short drive, completing short passes to go with tough runs by Starks. The Broncos were in a Cover 2 shell and left the middle of the field wide open. Their safeties paid too much attention to the outside receivers.
10:32, 2nd quarter — The Broncos score on a 5-yard pass to Decker to get back into the game at 21-10. Their quick-strike drive consisted of just four plays, including a well-executed flea-flicker where the Packers fell victim to a confluence of events.
The Broncos got the look they wanted because the Packers were cheating run and had only Morgan Burnett deep. Secondly, the Packers unaggressive reaction to the run gave Knowshon Moreno plenty of time to fake both a run up the middle and to the outside before finally turning around and pitching the ball back to Orton. The last domino to fall was Burnett letting Lloyd get behind him, but it’s hard to blame him after watching the replay. I’ve never seen a running back hold the ball so long before pitching it back to the quarterback.
On 1st and goal from the 5 after the big play, the Packers are playing the run and sitting in a zone coverage. Sam Shields has no chance to stop Decker from scoring an easy TD when the Broncos run Lloyd deep and Decker runs short into his zone. Shields’ continued aversion to tackling is laughable, though. I don’t remember it being so obvious last season. Maybe it came with the tattoo.
3:27, 2nd quarter — Just like the Saints did in the last game at Lambeau Field, the Broncos get as close as they will at 21-17.
The touchdown drive followed the Packers’ only three and out of the game. The Packers were stopped when Rodgers was sacked on 2nd and 8 by Von Miller. The play was actually a screen to Starks, which explains why Rodgers dropped back so far. Rodgers was forced to hold onto the ball when a defender undercut the screen. Miller took the outside on Marshall Newhouse and was able to get to Rodgers because he was so deep.
The Broncos followed with a steady 71-yard drive for a touchdown, half of which they got on Decker’s 33-yard TD catch. The Broncos faced two third downs on the drive. On 3rd and 6, Williams is playing soft coverage for some mysterious reason and Matt Willis is open for an easy 15 yards when he cuts underneath the tight end. On 3rd and 3, Jarius Wynn and B.J. Raji both rush to their right and leave the middle of the field wide open for Orton, who runs for eight yards.
On the touchdown, Matthews beats his guy to the inside and comes within a half second of a sack before Orton releases the ball. This has been happening to Matthews a lot lately.
The Packers were caught in their Okie package with three down linemen and Burnett ended up in single coverage on Decker when the Broncos sent Fells out wide to be covered by Williams. Burnett had good position on Decker, but Orton threw the ball to the outside and Decker spun to catch it. That’s a nice adjustment by the receiver and a very tough play for the defender.
0:24, 2nd quarter — The Broncos parade gets canceled when the Packers quickly go down the field and score to go back up 28-17.
This is only the second time this season the Packers have been able to run their two-minute offense. Against Carolina, the Packers got into Panthers territory before turning it over on downs. After methodically running the clock down to two minutes, Rodgers jumpstarts the drive with a quick strike to Jennings on a vertical for 18 yards. Rodgers hit James Jones for 14 and Starks for 16 to set up the TD.
On the touchdown, the Packers display their new favorite formation, with Jennings and Jermichael Finley on the same side. When Dawkins comes up to double Finley, leaving only one safety in the middle of the field, the Broncos are already beat. Nelson and Jennings both run verticals from opposite slots and the remaining safety has no chance. The safety actually shades towards Jennings, but Rodgers shows his ridiculously quick release and gets the ball to Jennings before anyone comes within two yards of him. Jennings stands in the back of the end zone, amazed.
This is actually the only play I’ve seen so far where Finley was double teamed. On the TD run by Rodgers, Finley was in single coverage against a linebacker. When Finley saw Jennings with the ball in the end zone, he slapped his hands together, unsnapped his chin strap and walked off the field while the rest of the offense celebrated.
8:33, 3rd quarter — Not only do the Packers go 80 yards to go up 35-17, but they take up a good chunk of clock doing so. The drive started with a 16-yard pass to Finley followed by a 16-yard pass to Nelson. After a shoestring sack by Miller knocks the Packers back, Rodgers converts a 3rd and 13 with a low throw to Jones that the receiver does well to scoop up.
The Packers get a rare conversion via penalty when Jennings is mugged on 3rd and 7. A couple plays later, Rodgers showed perhaps a little more determination than I’d like in getting into the end zone. It’s surprising that Rodgers would be so willing to take hits after two concussions last season. I guess it’s the helmet.
4:49, 3rd quarter — The Broncos apparently didn’t get the memo about the game being over. They drive to the Packers’ 26 and don’t face a single third down until their final play. The Packers are equally inept against the run and pass during the drive.
Fortunately, the Broncos commit another error that they can’t possibly afford. On 3rd and 7 Fells beats Bishop down the middle of the field only to fumble at the 4. Apparently defending the back of the end zone, Burnett and Peprah show up in time for Burnett to recover the fumble and return it to the 14.
1:16, 3rd quarter — Rodgers goes into beast mode and racks up 86 yards in three plays to put the Packers over the 40-point mark for the second time this season. On 2nd and 16 from the Packers’ 8, Rodgers throws a ridiculous strike to Randall Cobb on probably the most exciting play of the game. Cobb bounced off two tacklers, kept his feet, and broke into the clear. Dawkins had the angle on him and finally got him down after a 61-yard gain.
If there’s a Hall of Fame for drafting wide receivers, then Ted Thompson is the charter member. You can say this about nearly every receiver on this team, but Cobb seriously needs to get the ball more.
To that, Finley says, “Hell no!”
A couple plays later, Rodgers throws an equally sick TD strike to Jones in the back of the end zone. The throw causes Phil Simms to exclaim, “Wow.”
It’s great to see Jones in the end zone. Right now he’s doing exactly what the Packers need from him — making a couple big catches in key situations.
Forget being the best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL right now. When he plays like this, no one in the NFL can stay within a score of the Packers.
0:24, 3rd quarter — The Broncos end their miserable 3rd quarter with a three and out after Bishop gets the Packers first sack of the game on 3rd down. The Packers sent six on the play and the Broncos somehow forgot to block Matthews. Orton eludes Matthews and runs into Bishop.
12:21, 4th quarter — A short pass deflects off Jones’ hands and is intercepted by a diving defender. It’s one of those freak things that happens a couple times each year. This is a perfect time for it. Rodgers looks like Tiger Woods used to look after missing a 10-foot putt. It happens.
12:12, 4th quarter — The Broncos do what they’re supposed to do and take a shot at the end zone. Orton slightly underthrows Lloyd and Shields closes and makes a play that reminds you he played receiver in college. Shields makes a nice return into Bronco territory.
7:50, 4th quarter — The Packers put seven squared on the board.
Besides the big return by Shields, the key to the drive was a 22-yard run by Starks on a stretch to the right. The Broncos have a decent run defense and had stacked the Packers running game up pretty well, but this shows the need to stick with a hard runner like Starks. Eventually the defense will slip and he’ll break one.
Rodgers’ fourth TD pass of the game is to Donald Driver. That’s four touchdowns to four different receivers. Unlike the other receivers, who take a moment to gather themselves after they score, Driver goes immediately into the stands.
The Broncos would score on the Packers when it no longer mattered, making the final score 49-23. They kept their starting offense in the entire game. Without the meaningless score, the Broncos were actually shut out in the second half.
The Packers are No. 1 in scoring offense in the NFL after four games. Aaron Rodgers is your MVP right now. Of course, no awards are given out at the quarter point of the season.
Every time I watch the tape, I feel better about the pass rush than I did watching the game live. Teams are usually in max protect against the Packers and throw the ball when the Packers have their Okie package in the game. In the Okie, Matthews often drops into coverage instead of rushing the passer.
The Packers hardly blitzed the entire game against the Broncos.
I think it’s easy for people to forget the kind of effect the Packers offense has on the game. The Packers have had a two-score lead during the second half of every game this season. Why should Dom Capers show anything on defense?
All that being said, the Packers are eighth in the league in sacks and first in interceptions. The Packers offense also affects those numbers.
The notion that Clay Matthews is being constantly double teamed is a myth. Most of the game, he was one-on-one with Orlando Franklin, who handled him. There were a couple times the Broncos left Daniel Fells on him and he also did well. Matthews is still impacting the game with his hustle and athleticism, but the Packers need more from him.
Tramon Williams, so far, has not been the same guy he was in the playoffs last season. He’s played a lot of soft coverage. Does a prolific offense have something to do with that? Maybe.
I could spend a lot more time talking about the defense, but what does it matter? The offense is winning games and that’s enough for now. As long as the defense keeps making a play here and there, the Packers will continue to win.
With Finley, Cobb and Starks, the offense is more dynamic than it was last season. As we’ve seen, it’s flat scary.
Atlanta should be a good test this weekend. If the Packers get by them, they have a good shot at being undefeated at the bye.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.