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Point of Veau: Packers Defense Will Be Better Two-Fold with Burnett and Hayward

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Point of Veau: Packers Defense Will Be Better Two-Fold with Burnett and Hayward

In the Green Bay Packers' season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, it was a case of pick your poison.

The Packers played a heavy dose of zone coverage in the secondary so the defensive backs could have an eye on Colin Kaepernick at all times, while the defensive front stayed true to their lane integrity and contained the quarterback to the pocket.

End result? The Packers stuffed the Niners ground game, holding them to an average of 2.6 yards per carry, but they got diced up through the air, as Colin Kaepernick passed for 412 yards, an average of 9.9 yards per pass.

The read-option, which was the focus of so much offseason attention, was effectively nullified. What wasn't was the receiving tandem of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, who found holes in the Packers zones.

Among the biggest culprits were the starting safety tandem of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, one of whom was filling in for an injured Morgan Burnett, who was held out of the game after pulling his hamstring in the preseason.

Nickel cornerback Micah Hyde also had his share of issues, subbing for regular slot defender Casey Hayward, out with his own hamstring injury.

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a fine job of detailing many of their troubles on Sunday afternoon in his game story:

Nickel back Micah Hyde lost leverage and couldn't catch up on gains of 22 by Boldin and 37 by Davis.

McMillian and (Tramon) Williams had a mixup in a classic Cover 2 sideline toss to Boldin for 22. Boldin made a fabulous catch for 22 against Sam Shields and McMillian. There was confusion between Shields and M.D. Jennings on a 30-yard pass to Boldin.

When the Packers took their only lead, 28-24, with 8½ minutes left, Shields and McMillian inexcusably missed the tackle on a 13-yard pass on second and 9 to Boldin that ruptured into 43 and quickly set up the go-ahead TD.

The 49ers drew first blood when their coaches successfully matched Davis on Jennings and the result was a 20-yard score.

The game plan for the 49ers, for the most part, worked. Even the perimeter cornerbacks, Williams and Shields, did a terrific job probably 95 percent of the time.

But it was obvious Kaepernick was going to attack the weak links in the Packers coverage: the young safeties, slot cornerback and the slow inside linebackers. None of them could match the size and strength of Boldin and Davis.

Had the Packers had a healthy Burnett and Hayward, the outcome may have been different.

For any shortcomings they may have, Burnett is always ultra-reliable, while Hayward is a savvy ballhawk. I won't go out on a limb and say the Packers would have won with them, but the defense would have fared much better.

And the Packers defense will fare better in the future. Burnett will likely replace McMillian in the starting lineup, relegating the exposed safety to special-teams duty. Maybe even Chris Banjo will get a look in due time.

The return of Hayward, meanwhile, will push Hyde to the dime cornerback position, in which he'll see the field less frequently. While Hyde can blitz and tackle with the best of 'em, his relative weakness is his ability to cover in space. Jarrett Bush will be forced out defensive duty altogether, except in perhaps a short-yardage role.

The Packers defense will look dramatically different as the season goes on. Eventually they'll turn the pass rushers loose, unlike their contain assignments against the 49ers.

Combine a better pass rush with better coverage in the secondary, and that will be recipe for success.

Sunday was merely the beginning of the season. There's 15 more games to go.  And the sooner Burnett and Hayward return to action, the better off the Packers defense will be.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (46) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

denniseckersley's picture

The main problem with this line of thinking:

Once hayward and burnett come back, shields, hyde and/or williams will be hurt. You can take that to the bank. We'll also have at least one injury on the defensive line, and another one or two from the linebacker corp. Yes, the packers would be better two-fold with [all their players healthy] but that's irrelevant for this team. We just can't stay on the field.

Jamie's picture

Being frustrated is one thing, but chasing ghosts is another. You may want to get help if you think to these extremes in real life.

denniseckersley's picture

Yes, believing that the Green Bay Packers have a higher-than-average proclivity toward injury warrants a visit to the psychiatrist. Please.

if anything, expecting different results on the injury front this year while employing the same training staff and General Manager is Einstein's definition of insanity.

(this last point is mostly tongue-in-cheek, so don't waste your time disputing my hypothesis that our injury problems aren't totally random. The main message is that your comment is insensitive. Even if I am completely out-of-bounds, I don't think it's indicative of emotional instability.)

Stroh's picture

Maybe not emotional instability but certainly idiocy/ignorance!

markinmontana's picture

The definition of insanity is misquoting Einstein and expecting it will help prove your point.

MarkinMadison's picture

Would you please quit commenting on people's "real lives" and just talk football?

PackerBliss's picture

It is people like you and Cow that are quickly making this site almost unbearable to come to. There is absolutely nothing constructive about your post.I'f and when these pre determined injuries happen and they have an affect on the team then share your infinite wisdom with the rest of us. Until then quit being such a douche bag.

denniseckersley's picture

I may have gotten off track when explaining myself.

First, just ignore the fact that I believe we are more injury prone than most other teams. I do believe that, but it's irrelevant. It would be an awful lot to ask of any team to avoid more serious injuries before hayward gets back in a month. With only a couple of guys from the active roster missing week 1, We're likely as healthy right now as we are going to be all season. Wouldn't you agree?

Before this week, we all agreed that while hayward is a great player, CB is the one position where we could "afford an injury". I know safety is a different story, but missing Morgan Burnett for the opener is not going to be the most debilitating absence we suffer this season.

It would be awesome to have all 53 available but I can't foresee that happening....for any team. The probability is that by the time both of these guys get back, we'll have some other guys go down. And given that we are relatively deep at defensive back, the injuries that we'll in the future are likely to have more of an impact.

That's mostly what I was trying to intimate.

BCarver_89's picture

+1 Brian

Jamie's picture

McMillian looked late or lost all game (vs run and pass) and inexplicably looked disinterested in tackling on a few other occasions.

I can't imagine seeing him on DEF a whole lot moving forward. I'll take a guy that's going to be aggressive and physical, if even in occasional error, over what I saw from McMillian any day.

lebowski's picture

He's a huge disappointment, that's for sure

L's picture

McMillian certainly did look slow and a bit confused at times throughout the game, but this game will provide a really good learning tool for him and hopefully we'll see him improve significantly going forward. I do want to see his physical tools on the field more so than MD.Jennings when M.Burnett returns.

I also wouldn't be opposed to seeing M.Hyde see some cross training at Safety and C.Banjo receive some game time when you have the starters performing badly, though he'd have to be activated for gameday and I doubt he will be when M.Burnett returns.

Lastly, I can't understand why D.House hasn't been given more of an opportunity to start in the nickle position over rookie M.Hyde. Hyde got beat soundly on several plays and I really think House could have performed better. Simply put, I would have liked to of seen what House could have done or would do given more opportunity.

Archie's picture

"But it was obvious Kaepernick was going to attack the weak links in the Packers coverage: the young safeties, slot cornerback and the slow inside linebackers. None of them could match the size and strength of Boldin and Davis."

bingo!

We are at least a S and two ILB short of stopping anyone from throwing down the middle. But the Packer braintrust obviously disagrees with that assessment. They promoted Brady Jones to starter and rewarded him with a big contract. They also defend keeping AJ Hawk on the field. Lastly, they have made nothing but glowing statements about Jennings/McMillian the last two seasons. So the real problem isn't who we have manning centerfield, it's the people who insist on putting those people on the field - the Packer braintrust. Until we seriously upgrade our S and ILB, we should expect more of the same. Our Achilles heel this year will be the pass over the middle and in the flats. Packer braintrust is fond of saying good defense starts with stopping the run. Well, in the modern era, teams pass, pass and pass some more i.e., you can stop the run all day but if you can't stop the pass too (or slow them down) you will lose most games against the better teams. Except for our brief play-off run in 2010, that is what we have been seeing from Dom Capers since he was hired.

bomdad's picture

Good gameplan by the Niners to have the combination routes vs the zones. All Kap had to do was look for one guy on most plays.

Tarynfor12's picture

The level and drop of ability at the QB position is expected with a Rodgers and the backup...however,the secondary cannot be represented with the same fall off..the next man up must be close to what you lose to injury....ours are not.

We hear so much about camp battles and are led to believe the players in pursuit of those spots are close and yet..we get this.

Stroh's picture

Except that Burnett is the QB of the D after they break the huddle. He calls the coverages and gets everyone lined up correctly. His importance in that regard should not be understated. It like taking away Rodgers ability to audible! Burnett is extremely valuable for that reason alone. Jennings and McMillan are capable as yet of knowing and making those adjustments.

Stroh's picture

Damn... Jennings and McMillan aren't capable as yet.

Bibbon Hazel's picture

These safeties are backups at best and were not helped by an non-existent pass rush out side of Mathews. Kap had all day and just waited for his savy vets to find the soft spot against a bunch of over-matched back ups. Domfounded refused to stick Tramon on Bolden and stuck to his zone game plan. The zone is fine if you adjust to put a man strictly on Bolden at all times. Nope, not Domfounded, he is as bad as in game adjustments as his head coach Mashed Potato Mike. The run defense and protection by the oline was overall good but until Dom shows the ability to adjust in game and get a pass rush without blitzing the kitchen sink the Packers will have another early exit. There were some positives to take away but also a lot of things that leave us scratching our heads. 9ers had to play perfect to squeak out a win at home while the PAck almost stole one even with the mental mistakes, left room for improvement and I think they will improve. The gap is closed but yesterday showed its not enough, perhaps 42 and 29 would have been the difference but I still think Domfounded would have been exposed regardless due to being out coached, AGAIN!

Kevin's picture

Is Datone Jones still recovering from the ankle injury? Will he be a factor after the bye week maybe? I realize he was asked to contain not pass rush, but as much as us Packers fans love Johnny Jolly, it's not good when he has more of an impact 3 years out of football then our first round pick

C's picture

I wasn't under the impression the defensive line was even attempting to rush upfield on passing downs. Pure containment strategy almost all game. Lane integrity, nothing more. Right or wrong strategy this was a game plan that completely prohibited defensive lineman 'jetting' upfield.

ma linger's picture

Your correct. Capers had them defending the spread run that never happened and feed our d backs to the lions as it were.

Where O where are out inside linebackers. They were supposed to drop back and make those slant passes hard to complete.

O well always next year. One thing for sure, we ain't picking up any d backs that can cover this year.

MLecl0001's picture

The lane integrity wasnt just for the read option, it was also for his scramble ability. You could see it at the end of the game when the defense got desperate and stopped lane integrity and just started attacking. Kaep just ran, wasnt a called QB run he just scrambled and picked up a first down I think.

I think Doms strategy would have been much more solid had Burnett been back there. And yes I whole heartedly believe that we win this game if both Burnett and Heyward play.

If he had played man and attacked Kaep and Kaep scrambles for ridic yardage again, people would have been just as in arms as they are now. People forget that not all the rushing yards he gets are on designed runs.

Tim's picture

We could/should have mixed it up more. For example, play contain with the line whilst playing tight man in the secondary or attack the QB whilst playing zone. It's frustrating that Dom et al doesn't seem to attempt to keep the QB and play caller guessing at all and we have to watch the same plays work over and over.

Bert's picture

Some good points made by most everyone. I tend to agree that the return of Burnett and Hayward will help but with our ILBs so weak in coverage and with whoever playing next to Burnett at SS we still have huge holes on the pass defense. Not sure if there is an answer for this year except to hope the offense can somehow outscore opponents with a top tier QB.

DC Packer Fan's picture

What I saw out there was a team with some important new additions (LT & DL) and holes at safety & cornerback due to injury. That team will get better as the year goes on. Will the Niners improve? Some, but not as much as we will.. Kaepernick might continue to improve, but their D-Line is aging and while they are a great unit, I think we can be excited that we didn't play our best game & still almost won. Does our team have holes? Sure. Every team does. But when we get into the playoffs the second season will begin & we'll be "nobody's underdog."

Hank Scorpio's picture

Yesterday, I saw enough of Jennings and McMillian. I'm all for letting Banjo get some work back there. I'd like to see Hyde go to Safety, too. Even if Burnett comes back soon and plays great, they need to pick things up at the other Safety spot.

Fi crane's picture

Just score more offense

MarkinMadison's picture

You know, I was not happy when TT took Bakhtiari instead of getting a safety or a center. How smart do I look now? I'm not going to kill TT over rolling the dice on the development of a couple of young guys. Remember that just last year everyone was raving about what a find McMillian was.

As far as getting back Burnett and Co. goes, well, how would the 49ers have been with Crabtree? You go to war with the Army you have. The generals have to assess the capabilities of the troops and make a battle plan that will lead to victory. And yes, the troops have to shoot straight.

Stroh's picture

9eds had the offseaon to prepare w/o Crabtree. Packers gad hours to prepare w/o Burnett who is thd QB of the D!

MarkinMadison's picture

You have a point, same as Toporski. My counters are 1 players need to be ready to step in, and 2 coaches have to adjust to the players they have, and the game as it unfolds.

Stroh's picture

Kinda hard to do on such short notice. Gane plans are installed on tues/wed. No time to adjust the game plan in a matter of hours.

Bearmeat's picture

Amen Brian. Heyward and Burnett will make a big difference. And I agree with some of the commenters above: Barring a miraculous comeback to full health by Crabtree, GB's ceiling this year is higher. We played stupid and still almost won.

However, assuming health (which is always risky with MM's teams), I am concerned with the inadequate pass coverage abilities of out ILB's. TE seam routes could kill us all year long.

hump's picture

i said (on this site)15 times since the playoff loss, that you CANT COMPETE WITH THE BIG BOYS WITH FKN SAFETYS THAT ARENT GOOD ENOUGH TO START ON DIV 1 TEAMS !!!!!!! STROH and all your buddies that think you know football,should WATCH THE FKN TAPE!!! md jennings and jerron mcmillian are the worst safetys in the nfl period!!! and have been since they walked on lambeau for the 1st time!! its not our inside linebackers. we could have signed 7 different vets that could put us over the top,but our beloved GM's fkn EGO wont let him sign one mid priced free agent to maximize our chances of winning more world championships.

Stroh's picture

If hou had a clue you might be dangerous! Burnett is the QB of the D and they had to prepare for the game w/o him in a matter if hours ir a day. I never said either Jennings or McMillan were ready to call the coverages. Put Burnett in that role to lead and communicate the D and align everyone properly and Jennings and McMillan won't be out of place along w the rest of the coverage.

BTW I wanted a safety in round 1 or 2! Not another one in the 4th round! I loved Reid late 1st but 9ers gave up too much and over-drafted him. Yiu need to get your facts straight dumbass!!!

Cow42's picture

The way Reid played, it sure doesn't look like he was over drafted.

ma linger's picture

Your forgetting one thing hump. Those non div 1 players are cheap. We can't go out and get quality free agents to fill gaps when there are all those 5,6 7 round defensive backs available, ones 31 other teams passed on except el cheapo Ted, who are all 5'9, smallish, injury prone and aren't fast.
Our injury issues are a direct link to having a lot of non Div I players who couldn't cut it in big time college football but are OK for the Packers.

ben's picture

House is underrated and now overlooked. House and Tramon on the outside with shields in the slot. Hyde & McMillian or even banjo at safety until burnett comes back. Cut M.D. Jennings already. What over the last 13 months would lead anybody to believe that MD. Jennings should even be on the team.

MarkinMadison's picture

House has had health issues. He is not overlooked. He needs to stay available and develop.

Al Katrz's picture

Only one problem with your scenario: all these guys are lousy no matter who is playing. I would bet money that not one of our dbacks could be starters on any other team. NONE

Unless you count the ones we have who are 6'1, great tacklers and have some speed.

Hotlanta Packer Fan's picture

Admittedly, missing Hayward and Burnett; two of our best in the backfield hurt. All in all, I was encouraged by our O and D line play. We'll see them again in the fall.

One has to keep this in perspective - the Niners are benefiting from two decades worth of high first round picks. Good luck paying and keeping all those guys.

denniseckersley's picture

Really, it's only been one decade....but your point is well received.

Runn Fourett's picture

The 9ers two best receivers (the tall fast ones) didn't even play and Kaperdink put up over 333 yards. I don't think a couple of so so dbacks who are out with hammies will do that much to change the fact TT put his faith in guys that were available in the later rounds for a reason.

Evan's picture

I see the multiple personality douchebag has arrived. What are the odds that three different commenters make the same asinine arguments within 10 minutes of each other.

When is this new commenting system launching??

hump's picture

ben is right, hyde has safety written all over him,he hits,tackles and takes direct path to the ball carrier. no doubt that he will be the real deal. not sure if thompson just got lucky or is just that good. im guessing lucky,cuz he sure as hell cant see that jennings is a waste of space and we all knew that a year ago. sorry stroh, i know your a die hard,but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. no way jennings should be on the field no matter who is lining up the defense. the kid cant play period. p.s.... this defense could be damn good if we can just get decent safety play,and yes,green bay wins that game if burnett and hayward play. go geen and gold!!!

4thand1's picture

22 thru 32 worst defenses after week 1. 7 are playoff teams from last year. Better fire all of their coaches according to Cow's logic.

jmishik's picture

Hyde is an up an coming C. Woodson
I look forward to more of him in the future. He was in on a lot of plays.

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