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Other Week 8 Game Recaps

Week 8 Game Recap: Green Bay Packers 10, Denver Broncos 29

What you need to know

Green Bay Packers

This was more a matter of great defense than it was shaky offense. This was the week you could see Aaron Rodgers missed Jordy Nelson, while other weeks the offense found ways to work around Nelson’s absence. Consider this a warning that this offense will have some blips, as all offenses do. However, consider that this is the best defense the Packers will see — bar none —and even teams like the Panthers next week will not have the combination of secondary talent and defensive front

Denver Broncos

Denver entered the bye week with zero good running backs. They somehow exited it with two. After hitting the turf seven times on 85 pass attempts over the first two games, Manning hasn’t been sacked on 77 dropbacks over his last two games. Against a quality Green Bay defense, Denver’s offense looked downright competent, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the league given how terrifying that defense is.

Green Bay Packers

QB Aaron Rodgers, 51 offensive snaps, Pass: 14 - 22 - 77 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 31 - 0
Sunday night was as close to a disaster as Aaron Rodgers has ever had, but it was more about the constant pass rush and stifling secondary than his own issues. Yes, Rodgers was erratic and at times wildly off target, but that a lot of that was the Denver Broncos defense. The Broncos’ secondary did an excellent job of playing the Packers receivers in straight man coverage, which allowed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to rush five or even six players at any time, sometimes on delayed blitzes and often setting defenders near the edge to contain Rodgers when he fled the pocket. The offensive line did a fairly good job getting Rodgers time and when they couldn’t, he used his legs to flee but the Denver secondary did an excellent job of containing the receivers (a point of emphasis in practice last week was sustaining coverage for long stretches of time per the broadcast team). The result was few completed passes and no touchdowns. Rodgers was sacked three times, all in the second half and one resulting in a fumbled ball which ended up in the end zone as a safety. The first two were the result of one defender getting through the line relatively unscathed (defensive end Antonio Smith on the first and linebacker DeMarcus Ware on the strip-sack leading to the safety), with the third more of a coverage sack by Von Miller. All the pressure and the sharp coverage reduced Aaron Rodgers’ yards per attempt to just 3.5—a completely insane average for Rodgers. The moral of the story is that the Broncos defense is really good and the Packers could find themselves facing a similar test against a tough Carolina defense in Week 9.

RB Eddie Lacy, 25 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 38 - 1, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (2 targets)
The Broncos defensive front seven spent most of the game crowding the line, mostly to get at Aaron Rodgers. The net effect of that, though, was a lot of defenders crowded at the line and a rough day for Lacy. The early deficient hurt as well, especially late in the game—both limited his carry total and, as a result, his overall yards. Lacy had a few nice runs, such as a 15-yard carry in the second quarter. On the play, Lacy took the ball and headed towards a wide open ‘3’ hole, then into the second level. The two closest linebackers were briefly sucked into the wash at the line and couldn’t get out of traffic in time to get to Lacy, who got outside and ran for 15 yards. Lacy did score a touchdown in the second quarter. It took tries though, once behind an unbalanced line on a carry where Lacy saw his running lane filled and decided to bounce the ball outside but didn’t make it. On the second carry, Lacy just put his head down and powered into the end zone. By the end of the third quarter the Packers were too far behind for Lacy to get any work and he didn’t carry the ball at all in the fourth quarter.

RB James Starks, 22 offensive snaps, Rush: 5 - 9 - 0, Rec: 2 - 9 - 0 (2 targets)
Starks saw the bulk of his meager workload in the third quarter, but had the same struggles as Eddie Lacy with all the Broncos who were clogged around the line of scrimmage. Interestingly, Starks ran behind a fullback for at least three of his carries, unlike Lacy, who tends to run solo.

WR Randall Cobb, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 10 - 0, Rec: 6 - 27 - 0 (9 targets)
Cobb was blanketed in coverage by the Denver secondary as the most dangerous weapon Aaron Rodgers had to work with. He saw plenty of all the cornerbacks including large amounts of Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Brandon Robey. Rodgers did have Cobb wide open on a deeper route as Talib fallen while pursuing Cobb on his route, but because of pressure, the quarterback threw a terrible pass which sailed over Cobb’s head. Eventually the Packers moved Cobb closer to the line of scrimmage, hitting him on dump passes and short outs, though that didn’t work either because Denver swarmed to him and tackled him before he could turn the ball upfield.

WR Davante Adams, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 8 - 0 (2 targets)
In his first game back since he left the game against Kansas City in Week 3, Adams struggled to get on the same page as his quarterback. Adams dropped one easy pass from Aaron Rodgers and on another play, Rodgers didn’t see a wide open Adams on a drag route. Add in to the mix an intense pass rush from the Denver Broncos and Adams just couldn’t connect up with his quarterback.

WR James Jones, 47 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 2 - 0 (2 targets)
Jones was held without a touchdown for only the second game this year, and didn’t get his first catch until the fourth quarter. On that play, a short hitch route, Jones made the catch and was immediately hit and driven back by cornerback Brandon Roby. The officials didn’t blow the play dead, and Jones continued to be shoved backwards until the ball popped out. Jones recovered but the officials didn’t give him forward progress, which put the ball on fourth and long and ended the drive.

TE Richard Rodgers, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 16 - 0 (4 targets)
The big tight end was the second most targeted player in the offense, but Rodgers had no more luck finding open space to run than anyone else. His two catches were relatively routine though both were first downs. Rodgers was also the Packer who recovered a loose ball in the Packers’ own end zone, which was marked as a safety.

Denver Broncos

QB Peyton Manning, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 21 - 29 - 340 - 0 TD / 1 INT
Taking good advantage of the bye week, Denver entered the game against Green Bay with a plan for how to fix the offense in the short term and the long term. In the short term, Peyton Manning victimized the Packers with a series of intermediate crossing routes for 10+ yard gain after 10+ yard gain, taking a break from the steady stream of jabs to launch an occasional haymaker down the field.

In the long term, Manning and head coach Gary Kubiak seem to have reached some sort of consensus on how best to tailor scheme to Manning’s current skillset. While the offense still called for a few rollouts, they were done more selectively and left Manning in more of a position to succeed. While Manning’s deep accuracy is still spotty, (and several of those effective crossers were thrown a touch too high, forcing the receiver to leave his feet to haul them in), the quarterback and the play caller did a good job at diagnosing weaknesses pre-snap and leaving Manning in a position where he didn’t need a perfect throw to win the matchup. While Manning was once again held without a touchdown, his apparent comfort in the offense should be viewed as a huge positive sign for his production going forward.

RB Ronnie Hillman, 38 offensive snaps, Rush: 19 - 60 - 2, Rec: 1 - -5 - 0 (2 targets)
Coming out of the bye, Denver decided to reward Ronnie Hillman for his early-season work with the starting job. For all practical purposes, this meant very little for Hillman’s role- he still split carries down the middle with C.J. Anderson, but instead of coming off the bench on the first drive, he started on the field to begin with. Despite the misleadingly low yards per carry average, Hillman used his speed to gain the corner on several runs, including his second touchdown in which he danced through traffic at the line and then outran defenders at the second level to the corner of the end zone. Hillman also showed off a bit of power, slamming into the line to convert a 3rd-and-1 and tunneling under contact to sneak into the end zone on his first touchdown. All-in-all, it was a positive game, marred only by the fact that C.J. Anderson looked dramatically improved from his early-season form and made a strong case for more carries going forward.

RB C.J. Anderson, 27 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 101 - 1, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)
C.J. Anderson, who looked so unlike his late-2014 self before the bye, used the week of rest to get healthy. The results showed immediately against the Green Bay Packers, when Anderson found to-this-point rare yards after contact on each of his first two carries. Despite losing his starting job, Anderson played phenomenally, mixing consistent positive gains with a few key huge runs, including a tackle-breaking touchdown and a long run to set up a field goal. Anderson’s workload was inflated by the fact that Hillman sat out much of the third quarter with an injury, but his stellar play made a strong case for him to regain the starting job going forward.

WR Demaryius Thomas, 53 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 168 - 0 (11 targets)
Denver obviously saw something in the film of Green Bay’s defense that they wanted to exploit, because they went to Demaryius Thomas on intermediate crossing routes early and often. With the running game drawing defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, Thomas did not disappoint, taking advantage of the extra space to gain first down after first down and help the offense march down the field at will. Thomas had a few catches with huge yards-after-the-catch totals, and also hauled in a perfectly-thrown deep ball down the sidelines. The only thing lacking from his prodigious stat line was a touchdown, and Thomas was inches away from adding one of those, too— after breaking a tackle in the red zone, Thomas ran the ball to the goal line and was tackled inches short.

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 22 - 0 (5 targets)
With a gameplan that called for a heavy dose of runs and crossing routes by Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders received just five targets against the Green Bay Packers and was only a marginal part of the game plan. Sanders caught two of the targets for 22 yards, and was largely unnoticed. Better matchups loom, and better days are certainly in Sanders’ future.

TE Owen Daniels, 49 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 44 - 0 (3 targets)
The 32-year-old Daniels isn’t the athletic threat he once was, but he still managed to catch 3 balls (on 3 targets) for 44 yards against the Green Bay Packers. Daniels’ repertoire largely consisted of catching the ball and running straight ahead, but several poor tackling attempts by the Packers allowed him to do some decent damage after the catch. In a game where everything was going right for the Broncos, everything went right for Daniels, too.

TE Virgil Green, 41 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 61 - 0 (3 targets)
Ordinarily a blocking specialist averaging about 6 routes a game, Virgil Green saw his passing-game usage nearly doubled against the Green Bay Packers. “Nearly doubled” still left Green running just 12 routes, or just more than 1/3rd of Denver’s passing plays, but Green made them count, catching three passes and finishing second on the team with 61 receiving yards. It remains to be seen whether his increased usage was the beginning of a meaningful trend, or merely a one-game aberration based on favorable matchups.