When the 2023 NFL schedule was announced this spring, an early bye in Week 6 of the season may not have been viewed as a positive for the Green Bay Packers.
But that early bye week allowed the reeling 2-3 Packers to catch their breath, refocus their efforts, and get healthier—and could be a turning point in a season for the NFL’s youngest team and its new starting quarterback.
Only time will tell. The first test comes against a reeling 1-5 Broncos team at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver Sunday afternoon.
Have Matt LaFleur and his coaching staff devised a game plan to avoid the offense’s slow starts and the team’s steep deficits by halftime?
Is Aaron Jones fully recovered from his hamstring injury and able to provide a much-needed spark to a unit that has produced just six first-half points in the last three games and 26 in the first five? Is the offensive line healthy and able to exploit one of the league’s worst defenses against the run.
Can Rashan Gary and the Packers defense pressure Russell Wilson and contain a solid Broncos rushing attack?
The running game–the 1-2 punch of Jones and AJ Dillon—is the key to the Packers’ success in Denver, as the Broncos defense yields 172 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry.
An effective ground game sets up play-action passes and takes pressure off Love as he continues to develop timing and chemistry with his young receiving corps. Pass protection has been a major issue for Green Bay’s injury-riddled offensive line, and the Packers should have five healthy starters available on Sunday.
Friday’s injury report included 10 players—a bit of a surprise for a team coming off the bye week.
Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (ankle) was the only player listed as doubtful for Sunday’s 3 p.m. game, with the inactive list released 90 minutes before kickoff. Listed as questionable are Jones (hamstring), cornerback Jaire Alexander (back), linebacker Quay Walkers (knee), safety Zayne Anderson (hamstring), guard/tackle Elgton Jenkins (knee), tackle Yosh Nijman (knee), safety Darnell Savage (calf), cornerback Eric Stokes (foot), and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt (knee).
Film study and self-analysis by the coaching staff and players during the bye week and a week of practice should help limit the self-inflicted wounds (pre-snap penalties, turnovers) that have plagued the Packers in back-to-back losses to Las Vegas and Detroit.
Green Bay’s five turnovers in those two games were all Love interceptions and the quarterback must learn from past mistakes and protect the football to avoid drive-killing and game-changing turnovers. Head coach Sean Payton’s team has 11 total turnovers, sixth-most in the league, but is coming off a solid defensive showing in a 19-8 loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 6. Pressuring Love, establishing the run, and minimizing turnovers will be Denver’s keys to success at home Sunday.
Packers 24, Broncos 20
The return of Aaron Jones is just what the Packers offense needs to jump-start the struggling offense. Gary and defense pressure Wilson into key mistakes as Green Bay wins the turnover battle and the game.
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