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Young Packers defense victimized by veteran Manning

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The Sports Xchange

GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers went into Sunday night’s big matchup with the Denver Broncos with a defense considerably green playing against Peyton Manning.

Only 35-year-old linebacker Julius Peppers had previously faced Manning during a regular-season or playoff game, and Peppers’ two encounters with the legendary quarterback came when the defensive standout was with the Carolina Panthers.

The vast inexperience worked to Manning’s advantage in his first in-season game against the Packers since 2008.

Manning exploited a youthful and injury-riddled defense, completing 21 of 29 passes for 340 yards to lead the Broncos to a convincing 29-10 victory in Denver.

“I just felt like they played a step faster than us pretty much for most of the game – got to give them credit,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said.

Manning picked apart Green Bay’s pass coverage early and often. He had 11 completions of at least 15 yards.

Manning’s favorite target was receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had eight catches for 168 yards. The bulk of Thomas’ production came at the expense of cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Damarious Randall, the latter a rookie.

Hayward, who started on the left side, said he was prepared to defend the talented Thomas.

“I was combative (in coverage), but I’ve got to make some of those plays, and I will,” Hayward said. “But, that’s just part of the game, especially going up against a great, top-five receiver.”

Green Bay’s defensive backs and linebackers also gave up plenty of yards to Denver’s tight ends. Virgil Green and Owen Daniels combined for six catches for 105 yards.

Losing top cornerback Sam Shields and rookie corner Quinten Rollins to shoulder injuries early in the game exacerbated matters for the Packers.

Coupled with a huge rushing output of 160 yards by the Broncos’ previously feeble rushing attack, the Packers allowed 500 total yards. They put little pressure on Manning and didn’t sack the 39-year-old, ending Green Bay’s team record of 42 straight regular-season games with a sack.

“It’s hard on (defensive coordinator) Dom (Capers) when we’re not stopping the pass, we’re not stopping the run,” Hayward said. “When we’re not stopping the run, we can’t call certain things to stop the pass. As a defense, we kind of made it hard on Dom.”

It’s the second straight game Green Bay, which came in as the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense with an average of 16.8 points, has given up at least 500 yards. The San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers passed for 503 yards in the Packers’ narrow win Oct. 18 before they had the bye week.

Raji admitted the defense has “a lot of work to do” as the Packers turn their attention to playing the unbeaten Carolina Panthers on the road Sunday. Yet, the veteran lineman isn’t losing faith in the defense as Green Bay reaches the midway point of the season.

“Listen, man, it’s a good team, (playing) at home,” Raji said about the Broncos. “They played better than us. That’s the facts of the matter. I have a lot of confidence in this defense. It’s a long season, but you can’t play like this and expect to win.”

–Besides having Shields and Rollins exit the game in the first half, Green Bay’s defense had to function for a few plays in the third quarter without star linebacker Clay Matthews.

His left ankle was rolled up on by Randall when Matthews tried to leap over the rookie on his open-field tackle of Andre Caldwell on a 24-yard catch-and-run play. Matthews left the game, and three plays later, the Broncos boosted their lead to 24-10 on a 28-yard touchdown run by C.J. Anderson.

Initial concerns that Matthews had suffered a serious injury were alleviated when he had the ankle heavily taped on the sideline and returned for the start of Denver’s next possession.

“I rolled my ankle pretty good,” Matthews said. “I was OK to go back out there, but, obviously, I was dealing with a little hindrance in regards to that.”

Saying after the game that the ankle was “hurting pretty good,” Matthews was hopeful the injury won’t be significant enough to keep him from playing against the Panthers on Sunday.

–The NFL announced Monday the Packers’ Week 11 game at the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings was flexed from a noon to a 3:25 p.m. Central start Nov. 22. The 6-1 Packers are a game ahead of the 5-2 Vikings at the top of the division standings.

Notes: Linebacker Clay Matthews (ankle) is recovering from the injury to his lower left leg that knocked him out of the loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday night for a few plays. Matthews sustained the injury in the third quarter, when the ankle was inadvertently rolled up on by Damarious Randall as the rookie cornerback made an open-field tackle. Matthews returned for Denver’s next possession and played the rest of the way. “The good thing is from the doctors on the sideline assessment, thankfully it wasn’t too serious,” Matthews said after the game. “We’ll monitor it day by day and see how it is.” … Cornerback Sam Shields (shoulder) is on the mend this week with an injury that isn’t considered as serious as it appeared after he sustained it early in the loss at Denver on Sunday night. Shields didn’t play the rest of the game after hurting his right shoulder as he tried to make a lunging open-field tackle in the first quarter. Multiple reports Monday said Shields’ status is day-to-day, though it’s uncertain whether Green Bay’s Pro Bowl cornerback is in jeopardy of not playing Sunday at the Carolina Panthers. … Wide receiver Davante Adams (ankle) returned to game action Sunday night. Adams had missed the previous three games because of an aggravated sprained ankle. He made the start in the loss to the Broncos but was targeted only two times and had one catch for eight yards.


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