GREEN BAY - The Matt LaFleur era in Green Bay has started 3-0.
The Packers won their third straight game Sunday, beating the Denver Broncos 27-16 at Lambeau Field. Once again, the defense carried the day. While the unit wasn’t without blemishes, its combination of pass rush, coverage and playmaking created a winning formula.
Preston Smith will likely get a game ball, finishing with three sacks, including one in which he forced a fumble that the Packers recovered at the Broncos’ 5-yard line.
Offensively, the Packers increased their scoring total for a third straight game. Two touchdowns were set up by Broncos turnovers, giving the Packers a short field. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was 17-of-29 with 235 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Jamaal Williams was the Packers’ leading rusher, finishing with 57 yards on 10 carries, though Aaron Jones had two touchdowns in his 10 carries for 19 yards.
Here are five takeaways:
The Packers put a lot of emphasis on forcing turnovers this offseason, and so far it has paid off. They entered Sunday’s game tied for second in the NFL with a plus-three turnover differential — only New England and Tennessee were better at plus-four — and were tied for the most takeaways at five. Their victory Sunday came in large part because of the turnover battle. The Packers forced three turnovers, two of which set up a short field and led to 14 points. A third turnover, rookie safety Darnell Savage’s first career interception, would have at least given the Packers a short field — if not a touchdown — but the play was blown dead and initially ruled incomplete before being overturned on replay. Regardless, the Packers are now at plus-six in turnover margin through three games. That’s a differential you’ll win a lot of games with.
Run defense woes
A week ago, the Packers' defense struggled stopping the run against one of the NFL’s top tailbacks. There’s no shame in Dalvin Cook reaching 100 yards against your defense. Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay is in a different tier at his position. Lindsay entered Sunday with 79 rushing yards on 24 carries combined through the first two games, but he pounded the Packers' defense for four quarters. Lindsay finished with 81 yards on 21 carries Sunday. With Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco unable to throw the football downfield, it should have been no surprise the run game was central to their offensive game plan, yet the Packers were inconsistent in stopping it. Most concerning, the Broncos in particular had success running against the Packers' base defense on first down. After holding up admirably against the Chicago Bears' run game in the opener (46 yards on 15 carries), the Packers have now allowed 347 rushing yards on 65 rushes, a 5.3-yard average.
Gary shows progress
Savage wasn’t the only rookie who impressed on the Packers defense. On the same day Savage had his first career interception, Rashan Gary recorded his first career sack and first career fumble recovery. The Smiths were stars Sunday, but the Packers need more than two edge rushers. The development Gary showed against the Broncos has to be promising going forward.
MVS emerging deep
The Packers have an emerging deep threat in Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The second-year receiver opened the scoring Sunday, catching a 40-yard touchdown pass off a free play (Denver was offside) from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It was his second catch of at least 40 yards this season, following his 47-yard gain that set up the Packers’ long touchdown in their Week 1 win at Chicago. Even more, MVS now has a catch of at least 40 yards in six of his 18 career games. His height (6-4) and speed (4.37) are ideal for stretching the field, and as MVS continues to develop, he could become a legitimate deep threat to pair with top receiver Davante Adams.
LaFleur drains clock
The Packers could have tried adding to their lead before halftime. They were at their own 10-yard line with 63 seconds left and one timeout, thanks to Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay falling out of bounds to stop the clock. And the Broncos were getting possession to start the second half. In the past, it’s a situation where Rodgers almost certainly would have been asked to manufacture a drive. Instead, LaFleur called for two running plays, which Rodgers obliged, and the Packers settled for a touchdown lead at halftime. As the sample size of the LaFleur era grows, so will the footprint for how the young head coach approaches the game. It might not have been the wrong decision, but it was a conservative one.