Three years into his NFL career, Packers safety Morgan Burnett has made little impact on a Packers defense that struggled mightily in 2011 and has been Jekkyl and Hyde so far in 2012.
Burnett’s performance Sunday in Indianapolis was a microcosm for his struggles early in his career as he was targeted in coverage six times and gave up five receptions for 59 yards, according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription necessary). Three of those receptions were to Reggie Wayne who toasted the Packers secondary to the tune of 13 receptions for 212 yards.
It was the second consecutive poor showing by Burnett who also gave up four receptions on five targets a touchdown the previous week to Drew Brees. On the season, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 112.6 when throwing in Burnett’s direction.
There aren’t many full-time players on the Packers who almost never come off the field. On Sunday for instance, Burnett was only one of four Packers who were on the field for all 100 defensive snaps joining Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
The difference between Matthews, Woodson, Williams and Burnett, however, is that the former are Pro Bowl players (two of whom have finished either first or second in the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year voting) while the latter has barely proven himself as a starter let alone a Pro Bowler.
Granted, Burnett’s career is still young, he’s been hampered by injuries in the past and there’s still plenty of time to become an elite player, but it’s time for the light bulb to go on if the Packers defense is going to show some major improvement.
To be sure, great Packers safeties like Nick Collins, Darren Sharper and LeRoy Butler didn’t start playing at a high level until their third year or later, but things are going to have to click soon if Burnett is going to join the likes of them.
The issue is, the Packers are relying upon Burnett to be a three-down player, and he’s just not playing like one. He’s starting to gain a reputation very similar to A.J. Hawk as someone who’s failing to come up with the big play whether it’s interceptions, forced fumbles or sacks.
Of Burnett’s four career interceptions (all of them coming prior to the current season) none have been all that impressive.
As a player who has been a starter since Week 1 of his rookie season and came out of college known for being a ballhawk, more has been expected of Burnett.
Where is the sideline-to-sideline range? Where are the interceptions that are the result of jumping a pass route? Where are perfectly-timed hits that arrive as soon as the ball does?
Maybe there have been glimpses of big plays from Burnett or solid play coming in spurts, but he has yet to be a consistent force in the Packers secondary.
The Packers defense gave up the most passing yards in the history of the NFL last season, and Morgan Burnett was one of many culprits. But the defense also made up for it by coming up with a league-leading 31 interceptions.
So far in 2012, the Packers only have five interceptions, and four of them were gifts from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The burden is on Burnett and the rest of the secondary to start helping the Packers win the turnover battle.
Burnett’s job isn’t in jeopardy, at least not for the time being. There’s no one on the team that’s going to steal away playing time from him anytime soon.
But the clock is ticking on the young Packers safety. If he doesn’t step up his play before the end of the season, the Packers are going to have to look to upgrade the position in the offseason.