The Denver team the undefeated Packers face at Lambeau Field on Sunday could look considerably different from the one they’ve been studying on film all week.
The 1-2 Broncos are hoping to get their top three defensive players back from injury for this game. Linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow), pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) and cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) were on the practice field together this week for the first time since training camp.
The team’s leading tackler three of the last four seasons, Williams has yet to play this season. Dumervil, the NFL’s 2009 sack leader, missed all of last season due to injury and played only sparingly in the 2011 opener. Bailey, a perennial Pro-Bowler, injured his hamstring tackling Oakland running back Darren McFadden in that opener and hasn’t played since.
Williams is probable while Dumervil and Bailey are both questionable on Denver’s injury report.
“They have an opportunity to get all of those guys back and, if they do, that can’t help but improve their defense,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’re preparing as if they’re going to play, and if they’re not, then we’ll react accordingly.”
Adding that trio to first-round draft pick and pass-rusher Von Miller will help new Denver Head Coach John Fox continue to build his defense, which ranked last in the league a year ago but has already climbed to a respectable 15th. Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, has two sacks already in his young career.
It’s on offense where the Broncos have struggled more, ranking 27th in the league, including 28th in rushing. The likely return of running back Knowshon Moreno from a hamstring injury could help there, too.
Moreno, the No. 12 overall pick in 2009, has just eight carries on the season and is probable on the injury report. Veteran Willis McGahee has filled in but has averaged only 2.9 yards per carry on 54 attempts. His longest rush is just 12 yards.
Packers defensive end Jarius Wynn said Moreno would add another dimension for Denver. Wynn was a college teammate of Moreno’s for two seasons at Georgia.
“He can do everything,” Wynn said. “He’s a hustle guy. He can cut on a dime. He’s just a complete back.”
No matter which back totes the ball for Denver, the Packers plan to maintain their stout play against the run. After holding the Bears to just 13 yards rushing last week, Green Bay moved up to No. 1 in the league in run-defense, a spot the Packers proudly held following the 2009 season.
“For the D-line, that’s our thing. We want to be the No. 1 rush-defense in the league,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said.
“We don’t want anybody to run the ball. We feel if we can make teams one-dimensional, that’s going to play in our favor, because we’ve got playmakers in the backfield who are going to take the ball away from the offense.”
If Green Bay can stop the run, the game will be in the hands of Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, the former Bears signal-caller who has been more effective than productive in his career against the Packers.
In four starts vs. Green Bay (one in 2005, one in ’07, two in ’08), Orton has never thrown for 150 yards in any given game, and he has just two TD passes against three interceptions overall, but he’s 3-1 in those four games, though the lone loss was his only start at Lambeau, a 37-3 drubbing in 2008.
As for the Packers offense, there’s one player looking to bounce back from a sub-par day last week – running back James Starks. He gained just five yards on 11 carries and lost a fumble as Ryan Grant found a groove and was fed the ball 17 times for 92 yards.
Grant is out this week with a kidney bruise, so Starks will be backed up by John Kuhn and rookie Alex Green. Starks should get the bulk of the carries on Sunday and promises to be ready, because he said he prepares for that every week regardless.
“That game is really behind me now,” Starks said of last week, when he felt his reads were off and he failed to break any tackles. “I think you learn from those mistakes I had and get better from them.”
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