Final Thoughts: Now or Never for Packers Offense vs. Broncos

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) warms up before a Week 1 NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals,Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) warms up before a Week 1 NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals,Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. /

Before the Green Bay Packers try to bounce back against the Denver Broncos, here are some final thoughts on the upcoming matchup.

– As the title suggests, it really feels like it’s now or never for the Packers offense. Statistically, Denver has the worst defense in football – or close to it – in several key defensive categories. Even if we want to cherry pick and exclude their performance against Miami from the conversation, where they gave up 70 points, this is still statistically one of the worst units in the game this season. Coming off a bye with extra time to prepare, the Packers have to find some sort of sustained success on offense today. If not, well, that is going to quite telling on where this team stands.

– Whether we were speaking with Matt LaFleur, Jordan Love, Jon Runyan, or Tucker Kraft, the emphasis for the offense right now is one being better in early down situations. The inability to move the ball regularly on first or second downs, whether that’s due to an ineffective run game, an inconsistent pass game, or penalties, has all but doomed this Packers offense. These early down woes put them in obvious passing situations, where the defense now has the advantage, and from a play calling perspective, there are only so many calls that can be dialed up in long down-and-distance situations.

Tom Pelissero reported that Aaron Jones is expected to play. It remains to be seen, however, if he will be on a snap count or not. If he is at full capacity, then there is no reason that he shouldn’t have 20-plus touches in this game. The Denver defense has really struggled to defend running backs, allowing 5.6 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per catch, with running backs catching 40 of their 46 targets this season. Jones has the opportunity to really provide this offense with a spark, given the matchup, and have a big day for himself.

– Pelissero also reported that Elgton Jenkins is expected to play as well. Continuity is an important aspect to offensive line play but it has been missing this season due to injuries, impacting both the games an practice reps. Hopefully, with the Packers having their preferred five for the second week in a row, that provides some stability. Green Bay is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry this season and Jordan Love has been pressured on about 40 percent of his dropbacks over the last two weeks. While Love’s play does have to continue to improve, the conditions around him have been chaotic to say the least, with the play of the offensive line and the young pass catchers too often not running the right routes or being positioned where they need to be.

Love spoke earlier in the week about taking what’s available in the passing game instead of trying to push the ball downfield so much. For an offense struggling on early downs, and therefore, moving the chains, picking up a five to seven yard completion can go a long ways for this unit. But with that said, the short, quick passing game isn’t a cure-all for their overall issues on offense either. Without a run game or downfield attack for defenses to fear, opponents are muddying things up over the middle and condensing the field, so there is less room to operate in, which makes moving the ball on these shorter routes more challenging. We also haven’t seen enough consistency from the offense to think that they can string together 12-plus play drives routinely as a way to put points on the board.

– Complimentary football is always important, but it can go a long ways in this game. Denver has a really efficient rushing attack, however, because they’ve been trailing so often this season, they’ve been unable to rely on it regularly. The Packers offense being able to find some success early and put points on the board will help the defense out by potentially limiting the Broncos opportunity to run the ball, putting them in predictable passing situations.

– This Denver offense has the makings of a unit that can give the Green Bay defense fits. Along with their run game, they do have playmakers at receiver and a quarterback in Russell Wilson who is willing to push the ball downfield. As we know, you can’t take away both the run and the pass in a given play, and it’s when the Packers have had to defend both elements that we’ve really seen them struggle. The key to this game is limiting what the Broncos offense is able to do on the ground.

Eric Stokes is back, however, similarly to Rashan Gary upon his return to action in Week 1, I would expect Stokes to be on a snap count. Jaire Alexander is a game-time decision, according to Pelissero, but even if he can’t go, that won’t change the Packers’ plan for Stokes. My guess is that Carrington Valentine would see the majority of the boundary snaps if Green Bay is without Alexander and we see Stokes in some dime or obvious passing situations. He could see some special teams snaps as well.

– This is not a Packers team that can overcome losing the turnover battle, so as always, a lot of attention should be on this aspect of the game. Denver is minus-five in turnover differential this season. Wilson has four interceptions thrown while the offense has lost seven fumbles. Defensively, Love has to be better with his decision-making because the Broncos do have a few players in that secondary who can make plays on the ball.

– On special teams, lookout for Denver return man Marvin Mims. On kick returns, Mims ranks fourth in total yards this season with a touchdown and he leads the NFL in average punt return, with 20 yards per attempt, according to PFF.

– The Packers pass rush should have the opportunity to get after Wilson today, especially if they can put Denver in long down and distance scenarios. The Broncos have allowed the ninth-highest pressure rate this season and Wilson tends to hold on to the football, with an average time to throw at the fourth-highest in the NFL. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchy has allowed the fifth-most pressures among tackles this season.

Prediction: Packers 24 – Broncos 20