Broncos defense making Rodgers-focused adjustments
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Aaron Rodgers is already in the Denver Broncos' heads.
By burning defenders early in the season, drawing linemen offside and then completing deep passes, Green Bay's star quarterback has members of the league's best defense focused on not falling prey to the best hard counter and free-play artist in the league.
"It's a little bit harder on the road because our crowd is going to be loud, so they're going to have to go silent count," Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We've got a guy here who was great at that. John Elway was one of the best I've ever seen and this guy is comparable. He draws people offside, and when he does, he throws it deep and makes a big play.
"They've had six plays for over 200 yards drawing people offside. We're well aware of it. Our guys know it. I told our guys we're rushing the passer pretty well without jumping offside or without trying to jump the count. If we just do what we've been doing, we'll be all right."
The Broncos, whose 26 sacks lead the league, surrendered a 47-yard completion on a free play in the fourth quarter at Cleveland in their last game when Malik Jackson jumped offside, allowing the Browns to hang around until overtime.
Rodgers has drawn defenders offside eight times this season and then thrown deep without repercussion.
Six times he made them pay with big completions downfield that totaled 210 yards, including TD throws of 29 and 27 yards. One of his deep passes fell incomplete and the Packers accepted the 5-yard penalty. The other time, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was whistled for a 52-yard pass interference infraction.
All of those plays occurred at Lambeau Field except for a 34-yard pass to James Jones in the Packers' opener at Chicago.
A lot like Peyton Manning, his counterpart in Sunday night's showdown between undefeated teams, Rodgers is also adept at catching defenses off-guard when they make substitutions. He'll call for a quick snap before a defender has retreated to the sideline, drawing a 12-men flag. He's caught four opponents so far, although one was wiped out by an offsetting penalty.
Only one of Rodgers' big free plays has come in the last month, showing that opponents have adjusted.
There's still a residual effect that's benefiting Green Bay, however.
When opponents are so cognizant of not jumping offside, "it's going to slow down the rush a little bit," Rodgers said. "Against a team like this that has great outside rushers and guys that really push the pocket inside, if they're worried about the snap count, that's definitely going to help us a little bit."
Antonio Smith, one of a dozen Denver defenders with a sack so far, said "the crowd's going to be our biggest ally this week. It's going to be I think just as important as any part of the game plan that we're going to put in is the amount of noise that we can generate out there on the field, to get him out of the hard counts and the snap counts and things like that."
If defenders do get deked and jump offside, Smith said the key is to make sure they don't try to jump back because it's that pull-up that creates the space and time necessary for Rodgers to find his receivers deep, even against a star-studded secondary like Denver's.
"I'll say try not to jump as best as you can but whenever you do jump, don't stop," Smith said. "And if the referee doesn't blow that whistle, tag him and he won't get no free play."
Notes: Von Miller returned to practice Friday after missing a day to attend his grandfather's funeral in Dallas. . . . LT Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) is doubtful for Sunday and WR Jordan Norwood questionable after he injured a hamstring Friday. . . . The Broncos are honoring members of the '97 team that beat the Packers in the Super Bowl in festivities this weekend.