Big-play defense delivers again as undefeated Packers beat Broncos

Bill Huber

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine dropped a bit of wisdom on Thursday.

“A wise coach told me a long time ago you can fly to Miami a lot faster than you can walk there,” Pettine said about prioritizing pass defense over run defense. “You’re going to get beat through the air. That’s the bottom line.”

The Packers flew to 3-0 on Sunday with a 27-16 victory over the Denver Broncos. While the Denver offense did a lot of walking, Pettine's defense did the flying. While it was pushed around at times en route to yielding 149 rushing yards, it forced three turnovers and recorded six sacks. Outside linebacker Preston Smith had three sacks and forced one of the turnovers.

The Packers remain undefeated under first-year coach Matt LaFleur. Aaron Rodgers threw for 235 yards and one touchdown. The Broncos fell to 0-3 under Rodgers’ longtime nemesis, Vic Fangio. Joe Flacco threw for 213 yards but tossed one interception and was under constant pressure.

“It’s nice watching those guys get after the passer, knowing what we don’t have to play against them,” Rodgers said. “We’ll keep getting better on offense. There’s a lot to be happy about. There’s definitely a lot to improve, as well.”

The Broncos moved the ball up and down the field in the first two games, and Sunday was no different. Six of their first nine possessions reached Green Bay’s side of the field. The last came late in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos trailing by 11 and desperately needing points. On first down from the 44, Green Bay rookie outside linebacker Rashan Gary sacked Flacco. On second down, cornerback Jaire Alexander broke up a pass. On fourth down, outside linebacker Preston Smith recorded his third sack of the game.

The Packers won't have long to savor the win, with a short week before a Thursday night home game against Philadelphia.

"I’ve already wiped it. It’s on to Philly now," LaFleur said. "I’m going to go up there and review the tape and try to make some of the corrections and see where we can improve. But as soon as that’s put to bed, we’ll be back in here grinding on Philly."

After giving up a pair of 15-play scoring drives, the Packers’ defense made the game’s two biggest plays to turn a 10-10 tie into a two-touchdown lead. On the first play after the two-minute warning, Smith recorded a sack and strip of Flacco, with Gary recovering at the 5. On second down from the 7, Aaron Jones blasted up the middle for a touchdown.

“There was a lot of great momentum on that strip-sack, to give our offense back the ball in scoring range, really close to the end zone,” Preston Smith said. “That’s what we aim for, man – make big plays and put our offense in a great position to put points on the board.”

On the third play of the second half, Flacco converted a third-and-2 with a completion to tight end Noah Fant, but Alexander ripped the ball loose and recovered at the Broncos’ 37. After a 25-yard completion to fullback Danny Vitale to the 1, Jones broke a tackle and outran the defense to the corner for the score.

Denver answered with its third long scoring drive of the day, a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. On fourth-and-goal at the 1, Denver running back Phillip Lindsay broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and used all of his 190-pounds to fight his way into the end zone. A 36-yard catch-and-run by Lindsay was the big play. However, kicker Brandon McManus hit the upright on the extra point, leaving Denver down 24-16.

The Packers wasted no time taking the lead, with Aaron Rodgers drawing Von Miller offside and hitting Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 40-yard touchdown. The Broncos tied the score when Lindsay scored from the 1 to cap a 15-play, 77-yard drive. McManus tied the score at 10 with a 30-yard field goal to cap another 15-play drive.

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