ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sometimes the most maddening, aggravating, migraine-inducing things are free.
It all depends on your perspective, and the Denver Broncos defense’s perspective is when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets a chance at the “free’’ play, he has routinely made defenses pay.
“He's the master of the free play," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “He gets you to jump and a ball is going down the field, so it's something we're going to have to concentrate on this week, be disciplined in the cadence and understand that we've got to keep playing if we do make a mistake. That is a big challenge for us."
Rodgers, adept with his cadence, gets a defender, or defenders, to jump before the snap. The flag comes out because the penalty will soon be enforced, but the play goes on. And while it will be more difficult for Rodgers to do what he's done so many times already this season, given the noise that figures to surround him and the Packers' offense in Sports Authority Field at Mile High when the Broncos' defense is on the field Sunday night, the Broncos say they have to be both aware and prepared for it.
The Packers’ plan is for Rodgers to power the ball down the field against a defense that has often dialed it back because the officials have thrown a flag. The list of damage is impressive in the Packers’ six games, and it's an issue because the Broncos are among the league's most jump-happy defenses.
Against the Chicago Bears, in Soldier Field, Rodgers had a 34-yard completion to Jones.
Against the Seattle Seahawks, Rodgers had a 34-yard completion to Jones, a 22-yard completion to Randall Cobb, a 29-yard touchdown to Jones, and the Packers drew a 52-yard pass interference penalty on Richard Sherman, all in the free-play scenario.
And against the San Diego Chargers, Rodgers caught San Diego with 12 men on the field -- the fourth time he has done that to a defense this season -- and completed a 46-yard pass to Jeff Janis after the Chargers jumped offside.
“We always talk about the free play, but he’s one of the best at hard counts and he chucks it if he gets you," Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “Watch the ball and then if somebody jumps offside, play the play, everybody has to play the play, linebackers have to play the play, DBs have to play the play. Because they are definitely going to play the play and they are going to try and put it on you with it."
And the Broncos have been one of the league’s top offenders when it comes to jumping offside on defense. They’ve been flagged eight times already this season -- Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware each have two.
The Broncos have felt the free-play sting as well, and from an offense with less firepower than the Packers'. In Denver’s Week 6 overtime win in Cleveland, defensive end Antonio Smith jumped offside on what became a 12-yard completion from Josh McCown to Travis Benjamin.
And later in the game, with the Browns facing a third-and-9, Malik Jackson jumped offside and the Broncos' defense didn’t continue to play the play. McCown hit Benjamin up the left sideline for 47 yards, the Browns’ biggest play of the game.
“They get us to jump … and they throw the ball deep on (safety Darian Stewart)," Kubiak said. “At corner, we didn't continue to play the coverage … we hesitated. We don't play the coverage, we don't finish the play. Even though you're wrong, you better finish the play. Make sure it's a five and not a 50."
“We know when they see a penalty, everybody goes deep," safety David Bruton Jr. said. “They’re going to try to make something happen. It’s very smart, and we can’t stop playing when the flag comes out, play that down. Make it five instead of 50."