3 things to watch at Broncos

Weston Hodkiewicz
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What will Wade do?

To blitz or not to blitz: that is the question for Wade Phillips. The Denver Broncos’ first-year defensive coordinator has a checkered history in defending Aaron Rodgers. Phillips had success against the Packers quarterback early in his career, holding him to only two touchdown passes in their first three matchups. However, his two most recent encounters with Rodgers surely didn’t make the 68-year-old coach’s highlight reel. In 2010, Rodgers threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-7 win over Dallas and the 1-7 Cowboys fired Phillips as their head coach after the game. As Houston’s defensive coordinator in 2012, Phillips sent the house at Rodgers, who torched the Texans for 42 points, 338 passing yards and a career-high six touchdowns. Rodgers completed 14-of-22 passes for 202 yards and five touchdowns when Phillips deployed five or more rushers in the game, according to Pro Football Focus. All told, Rodgers has completed 116-of-172 passes for 1,307 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions against Phillips for a 111.3 passer rating. You may expect the same Sunday if it wasn’t for the Packers’ recent offensive struggles and a Broncos’ defense that’s top-ranked and littered with playmakers. Its pressure packages, which lead the NFL with 26 sacks, center on Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware working the edges. “(Phillips) has been in the league longer than me. I feel like a youngster,” joked Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, 65. “The production obviously you look at them now, the production they’ve had this year. He obviously has his system. They have very good players. He knows how to utilize those players. You can’t argue with the results of it.”

Getting back on track

The Packers’ offense, which limped into the bye, should get a spark from returning receiver Davante Adams, who’s likely to play after missing the last three games because of a sprained ankle. With James Jones (hamstring) and Randall Cobb (shoulder) falling off the injury report, the Packers’ receiving corps should be the healthiest it has been all season despite Ty Montgomery (ankle) being unlikely to play. The Packers feel Adams can be the elixir for what ails the NFL's 22nd-ranked passing offense. With Adams out, defenses have rolled a lot of double-coverage to Cobb in the slot and challenged the Packers to beat them on the perimeter. Jones was doing a good job of it earlier this year before the hamstring slowed him down. With Broncos cornerback Chris Harris likely following Cobb into the slot, it should open up opportunities for Jones or Adams depending on how the Packers choose to attack Aqib Talib on the boundary. The Packers are averaging only 60.2 offensive plays a game this year, a number coach Mike McCarthy would like to see in the 70s. A healthy Eddie Lacy could help matters. The third-year running back says his weight isn’t an issue, his pad level is improved and he’s finally back to feeling like himself again after a sprained ankle hampered him for the first month of the season. Now, we’ll see if it translates on the field. The Packers started James Starks in a 27-20 win over San Diego before the bye, leaving only six touches for Lacy. To be fair, the third-year running back didn’t exactly do much with his limited chances – 20 total yards with a fumble. Lacy believes his early-season slump has had more to do with high pad level than his conditioning, which has once again come under fire this year. It’s likely the Packers will boost Lacy’s workload this week with Starks hampered by a hip injury that held him out of the first two practices this week. The Packers have their work cut out for them against the NFL’s third-ranked run defense. Inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are both healthy and extremely active in the heart of the Broncos’ 3-4 defense. They complement a defensive front that is back to full strength after Derek Wolfe’s return from a four-game suspension.

Old Manning

Father Time finally appears to have caught up to with Peyton Manning. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer has the league’s lowest passer rating (72.5) among quarterbacks with more than 200 attempts this season. Two years removed from capturing his fifth NFL MVP award, the 39-year-old Manning’s noticeable decline is reflected in his league-high 10 interceptions. When defenses apply pressure, deficiencies in his arm strength are magnified and he becomes prone to mistakes. He still can hurt you with receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but his ability to consistently hit downfield targets has escaped him. He has received little help from the Broncos’ running game (C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman), which has been a letdown. It has led to the Broncos entering Sunday night with the league’s 29th-ranked offense. Manning has been ordinary in his three starts against Green Bay (74-of-126 passing for 916 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions) and there has been little to suggest he can change that pattern. Still, the Packers know they can’t overlook the wily veteran, who has still engineered the Broncos to a 6-0 start. “We’re playing against Peyton Manning. It’s really hard to kind of stay calm and composed and save the energy for Sunday night,” defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. “He’s Peyton Manning. You can’t take anything away from him, regardless what’s going on. The instant we let our guard down, we’re going to get embarrassed.”

whodkiew@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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