GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are 3-0 and still feel like they haven’t come anywhere near playing up to their potential — especially on defense.
That’s potentially bad news for the Denver Broncos (1-2), who bring a sputtering offense into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.
The Packers are stopping the run better than any team in the league three games into the season, allowing only 55 yards rushing per game. And they’ve been tough in the red zone, allowing only four touchdowns in 13 opponent trips inside the 20-yard line.
But the Packers have been remarkably vulnerable to the pass, and will be without Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins for the rest of the season after he injured his neck in Week 2.
“That’s definitely motivation,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “Because we watch film, we’re like, ‘Man, we left plays out there.’ We have so much room to grow as a defensive unit, and that’s the exciting part. I think we’re getting better. We’re preparing harder, and we’re getting better. We’re looking to make an even bigger step this week toward having a dominant defense.”
The Packers’ pass defense might be an area to target for the Broncos, a team quarterback Kyle Orton says can play much better on offense. Having wide receiver Brandon Lloyd back healthy for the second game in a row should help.
“When we have everybody on the same page doing the right things, we’re a pretty danged good football team,” Orton said. “On the flip side, when you only get eight or nine guys doing the right thing, we can’t overcome it. I think our focus heading forward is getting on the right page and get more guys doing the right thing on every play.”
Orton has struggled since winning his first six starts for Denver in 2009. Some fans who want to see more of Tim Tebow, at least in short-yardage and goal line situations, but Orton says he’s ignoring it.
“When you’re 1-2, your only thoughts are what can you do to get to 2-2, and after that, what can we do to win the next game,” Orton said.
And dating back to his time with Chicago, Orton is 3-1 as a starter against the Packers.
“I can’t wait to come back,” Orton said. “I’ve always had a great amount of respect for the team and always had fun playing against them in Chicago. I’ve always had a ton of respect — I came out in the draft with Aaron (Rodgers) and really just watched him from afar and really respect his game and what he brings to the table. I’m excited to come out there. It’s a huge game for us.”
The start to John Fox’s first season in Denver has been rocky, especially with fans calling for more Tebow — at least in short yardage and goal line situations.
“I have not heard it,” Fox said. “It’s not been a distraction to me. I can honestly say it has not been a distraction to our locker room. “
It hasn’t helped that Fox hasn’t yet had his best defensive players on the field at the same time. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) and cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) could play Sunday.
Rodgers is at his best against the blitz, but certainly will have his eye on Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller. The No. 2 overall pick in the draft had a sack in each of his last two games.
“I think he’s going to be a really good player,” Rodgers said. “He’s got great athleticism, he’s an active player. They like to bring him in their rush. He’s a tough guy to handle during the game. So we’re going to make sure we pick out where he’s at, and try to slow him down a little bit.”
The Packers’ high-powered offense might be without a couple of key players, right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) and running back Ryan Grant (kidney bruise).
But Green Bay’s main concerns come on defense.
“It’s a high standard around here,” B.J. Raji said. “Anything short of greatness is not going to be accepted.”
Their strong run defense is particularly impressive because Dom Capers’ defense spends so much time in nickel with only two down linemen on the field — typically Pickett and Raji.
And while teams have been slicing their secondary apart between the 20s, the Packers are giving up an average of 3.54 points allowed per opponent red-zone trip this season — second-best in the league behind Carolina (3.29).
New Orleans scored only one touchdown in five red zone trips in the season opener, and the Packers set a tone for the season when they stopped Saints rookie running back Mark Ingram short of the goal line on the final play of the game to seal a victory.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy says his defense plays great “adversity football,” playing its best when it’s backed into a bad situation, but needs to be better overall.
“We have a lot of work to do,” McCarthy said. “We’re 3-0. It’s a good place to be in, to know you’ve won all your games, but you know that you’re not really scratching the surface of how good you can be as a team.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)