Broncos defense can set the course for 2017 with a strong showing vs. Packers

There is a lot on the line for the Denver Broncos Saturday evening when the Green Bay Packers come to Mile High for the “dress rehearsal” third preseason game.

Jamaal Charles will fight for a roster spot in a crowded backfield, Von Miller will make his preseason debut and the offensive line will continue to seek consistent play. Of course, it will also be the first game for the Broncos since Trevor Siemian was officially named the 2017 starter.

While offense will remain the biggest question mark in Denver, how the Broncos perform this Saturday on the defensive side of the ball may provide a good measurement for exactly where this team is compared to the NFL’s elite.

Rewind to that magical 2015 season. The Broncos found themselves at a crossroads when they hosted the undefeated Green Bay Packers coming off a Week 7 bye.

Despite the fact that the Broncos were 6-0 at the time, quarterback Peyton Manning was clearly in the twilight of his career, having one of the worst seasons, statistically, of his career. That’s when the Broncos defense put on a historic showing against Aaron Rodgers and Co., limiting Rodgers to only ten points and 77 yards passing.

That same historic defense led the way to the team’s Super Bowl 50 victory.

With below-average play the quarterback position, a questionable offensive line and still an elite defense, the similarities between then and now are eerie. However, if the Broncos defense can put forth a dominant performance Saturday against one of the best quarterbacks of this generation, as they did in 2015, there should be optimism for the Broncos’ playoff aspirations in 2017.

The Broncos defense has been on fire so far throughout the first two games of the preseason. In Preseason Week 1, they started the game against Chicago with an interception returned for a touchdown on the very first play of the game. Last week, the entire defense tormented the 49ers offense by forcing five turnovers.

Granted, the difference between two teams that finished the 2016 season at the bottom of the NFC and a team that played in the NFC championship couldn’t be any bigger. The Packers will be the defenses’s biggest challenge yet.

The Broncos defense this time around will face a stiffer test (at least in the first half) than they did last time these two teams met. In 2015, the Packers were without Rodgers’ go-to receiver Jordy Nelson, while No. 2 receiver Randall Cobb left the game early with an injury.

The Packers also have a young potential star in converted running back Ty Montgomery, who should provide balance to the Packers offense. Montgomery will provide the Broncos a worthy challenge as they continue to improve from their 2016 run defense.

Additionally, the Broncos will finally get a chance to gauge how much depth their defense truly has. With starters Derek Wolfe, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett and T.J. Ward expected to remain sidelined for the showdown against the Packers, the Broncos will find out very quickly how well the players behind them on the depth chart are able to step up.

In a division with two playoff teams from 2016, some of the media and fan base continues to be uncertain on the Broncos’ playoff chances for the 2017 season. I stubbornly (and some would say foolishly) disagree.

A good performance against one of the NFL’s best offenses should prove to the entire league that the Broncos are still a playoff-caliber team as long as the defense remains intact.

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