The football gods have a sense of humor, or at the very least a sense of timing. With the Green Bay Packers in their throwback blue and golds, the skies opened, turning a Week 3 showdown between two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks into an old-fashioned ground-and-pound slog. Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau would have approved.
Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 40-yard touchdown on the opening drive and that game script looked out of the question but it was Green Bay defense that ultimately drove another Packers win, 27-16 in Week 3.
It was Denver who rode the run game, a strategy that worked a week after the Packers gave up a career-high to Dalvin Cook. Though Mike Pettine focuses heavily on the passing defense — as he said, it’s much faster to fly to Miami than to walk — this run defense has to be a concern. But for as fast as they started, Denver finished with a sub-4 yard average per carry with 149 yards on 38 totes.
Cook and the Vikings hung 198 yards on 27 rushes last week and a 75-yarder got Minnesota back in that game down 21-0. Opposing offenses sustaining drives this way keeps Rodgers and Co. off the field, wearing down a suffocating defense. Against better offenses, that formula could come back to bite Pettine’s group, but then again it might not given the playmaking on that side of the ball.
Green Bay’s defense once again made field-tilting plays when it mattered. After the Packers went three-and-out coming off a Broncos field goal to tie it at 10, Preston Smith knocked the ball out of Joe Flacco’s hands, setting up an Aaron Jones touchdown to push the lead back to 17-10. Earlier in the game, Za’Darius Smith had a third-down sack to force a field goal.
The Broncos appeared to have an easy first down on the opening drive of the second half, but Jaire Alexander further cemented his status as a star with a grown man forced fumble, taking the ball right out of the hands of Denver tight end rookie Noah Fant. Aaron Rodgers hit Danny Vitale on a magnificent fullback wheel route for 27 to set up another Aaron Jones touchdown.
Darnell Savage picked off Joe Flacco to end a promising Broncos drive, but Rodgers and the offense couldn’t turn it into points, an unfortunate trend through three weeks of the season as this offense struggles to get on track.
At one point in the second half, Rodgers threw the ball away five times in the span of two possessions, burning plays that didn’t work for myriad reasons. For the third week in a row, Green Bay’s offense doesn’t look to be on the same page despite Rodgers throwing the ball accurately and finding open receivers.
The game was not without offensive bright spots however. Valdes-Scantling took advantage of his matchup with the non-Chris Harris members of the Broncos secondary with six catches for 99 yards the score. Jamaal Williams, who LaFleur insisted needed more touches, rewarded the faith his head coach had in him with an 85-yard day on just 14 total touches.
Green Bay never got the running game on track, averaging 3.3 yards on 23 carries, and Aaron Jones put up just 19 yards on his 10 totes. The coaches and players may tell you they’re close, but we’ve yet to see the passing game sustained, nor have we seen the running game and passing going at the same time for any significant stretch. With an upcoming slate of games against NFC contenders, LaFleur and Rodgers need to be able to get together and find some continuity on how to build this offense moving forward.
Luckily, the defense looks like it will give them every opportunity to ease into a new offense. Without Montravius Adams, the Packers defense front got pushed around a little in the run game, but the pass rush didn’t suffer a bit. Rashan Gary notched his first career sack, one of six for the Packers to go along with the three turnovers. Preston Smith, who has sealed each of the first two wins for Green Bay, made it three-for-three with a fourth-down sack of Flacco.
With the rookies getting involved, the Packers defense has a chance to get even better despite giving up so many plays. Blake Martinez flew around the field, making open field tackles, where he once again led the game with 12 stops. Between Martinez, the Smiths, Alexander, and Kenny Clark, if the rookies are going to making splash plays like this, Green Bay legitimately has a chance to field the most dynamic defense in football.
With a second straight wire-to-wire win, the Packers haven’t trailed since the first minute of the second quarter against the Bears in Week 1 and got their first double-digit win of the season. Aaron Rodgers remains undefeated against the Broncos at Lambeau Field, the only place in the NFL Denver doesn’t have a win according to the Fox telecast.
Much like the first two weeks, LaFleur’s club earns an important win despite not playing its best on either side of the ball, but they followed their early season playbook for muddling through: create a few big plays on offense and defense, while limiting big plays for the opponent. Green Bay didn’t turn the ball over, but forced three, plus used two chunk offensive plays to get into scoring position. Defensively, the sacks and turnovers gave Rodgers good field position, leading to 14 Packers points.
We have reason to believe the offense can get better once everyone is on the same page and the defense could improve with more reps as the young talent on this team coalesces with the veterans to form a scary unit. Green Bay doesn’t yet look like a true NFC contender on the field, but they have proven they have the potential to be. Good teams beat bad ones at home in convincing fashion. The Packers did that in Week 3.
Good teams also beat other good teams are home on short weeks. Enter the preseason Super Bowl darling Philadelphia Eagles off a troubling loss to the Lions. They’ll be desperate. Will the Packers be ready? Only a few more days to find out.