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Burnett At Inside Linebacker Making All The Difference For the Packers

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Burnett At Inside Linebacker Making All The Difference For the Packers

On Seattle’s third offensive play from scrimmage in the second quarter last Sunday, Packers safety Morgan Burnett executed perfect coverage on tight end Jimmy Graham’s dig route by jumping in front of Russell Wilson’s ill-advised throw. At first glance it appeared that the 7-year pro was a beneficiary of Graham falling, but after replay it was clear that Burnett would have intercepted the pass either way.

This play proved early that Burnett’s impact at inside linebacker could be monumental for the struggling unit.

The Packers have consistently failed to stop opposing teams’ tight ends as they have given up 73 receptions to the position, tied for fifth most in the NFL. Tight ends have racked up 878 receiving yards against the Green Bay defense, the fourth most among teams. Graham, the 7-year veteran, is fifth in the league in receptions and third in yards among tight ends.  On Sunday, Burnett’s efforts neutralized Graham to the tune of 1 catch for 16 yards. Even more impressive, Burnett held Graham without a catch until the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand.

Moving a safety to play linebacker is a trend in the NFL and the Packers seem to be a perfect fit for utilizing this defense full time, as indicated by the past two games. Long struggling to find athleticism and pass coverage at middle linebacker, it appears Green Bay found its’ solution. Burnett’s presence on the inside has increased Micah Hyde’s role at safety and reduced Jake Ryan’s snaps at linebacker. While Hyde has had some lapses in play, the changes provide the defense with an extra defensive back that makes the team look and play faster.

This was shown with Joe Thomas as a “spy” on Russell Wilson throughout the game. This helped reduce his effectiveness running out of the pocket as he was held to only 19 yards on four runs. His first scramble was primarily because Mike Daniels had too much pressure and got into the backfield deep and left a running lane in his spot wide open. It was also evident that Thomas backed up too far and didn’t stay honest with Wilson. None of the four Wilson runs were game changers and Thomas did a good job keeping him under control all afternoon.

The athleticism at linebacker leaked into the secondary as they had a season high five interceptions in the game. While it was evident that Wilson’s accuracy was off on Sunday, the Packers still took advantage of all opportunities. Damarious Randall showed tremendous range on his first interception, right before halftime. Wilson stepped up in the pocket towards the left and thought he had Doug Baldwin for the touchdown, but Randall appeared out of nowhere in the zone defense and snagged the ball for a beautiful interception. This play, among many others, kept the Packers’ foot firmly on the throat of the Seahawks.

The effectiveness was apparent up front as well as they dominated the line of scrimmage routinely during the game. Mike Daniels man-handled the opposition and was consistently putting pressure on Wilson and the passing game. Rookie Dean Lowry also made an impact as he had three plays in which he put pressure on Wilson, and he also recorded a sack. He is continuing to look less like a rookie and more like a contributor. Rushing linebackers Jayrone Elliott and Datone Jones were also effective in the pass rush game recording a sack each. Elliott always seems to have flashes of explosiveness, and it always seems to be against the Seahawks. It would be a boost if Elliott could carry over his performance into the remainder of the season. Jones made some splash plays as well, but had a penalty that took away from his performance a bit.

This defense is far from perfect. They were gashed in the running game, and Wilson missed on a couple of homerun passes in addition to being off-target all night. However, the Packers played with the attitude and athleticism on defense that is needed for them to be competitive the rest of the year.



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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (16) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Green 19's picture

I agree. Both Burnett and Thomas at ILB are better against the pass cause they can run, but they are both a bit light in the britches to play effectively against the run.

Seattle was able to run the ball effectively(over 5 yards per carry I believe) against the smaller Joe Thomas and Morgan Burnett.

dobber's picture

Given that the Packers played with a significant lead most of the game on Sunday, it makes sense that they would've been playing mostly nickel and dime. More power to Seattle if they want to run the ball and burn clock when they're playing from behind....

Razer's picture

...It only works if they have a lead...

While the defense played well, it was directly related to the offense scoring early and scoring often. We forced Seattle to abandon an effective running game and made Russell Wilson play under pressure. If we can do this against the Vikings we will see much the same result.

RCPackerFan's picture

I like Burnett playing ILB. He is a good in the box type of safety.
I think next year they need to upgrade over Hyde. I really like Brice and maybe he will be that guy next year. I don't think they trust him enough this year.
Though with the starting CB's back, and Burnett playing ILB perhaps Brice would be better.

I hope moving forward we see more Elliott as a pass rusher. He just makes plays. With Perry hurt, why not get Elliott on the field more. At the very least make him the Dime OLB, or 3rd down pass rushing specialist.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

With a lead like that, yes, I agree that more snaps for Elliott would be good. Snaps: Thomas 71, Peppers 53, Jones 45, CM3 24, Elliott 20, Ryan 8.

Looking at the snaps, I'd increase Jones more than Elliott, but I'd increase both. I'd reduce the snaps of Peppers, and perhaps CM3 depending on his shoulder/effectiveness. I would watch the run defense closely when Burnett is at ILB and Elliott is at OLB to see how that works.

A blow out would be really nice (I don't particularly expect one given the extreme cold). I'd like to see more of Lowry, and to a much lesser extent, Brice.

RCPackerFan's picture

I really don't know why they had Mathews playing as much at the end of the game. If he couldn't play earlier in the game, why play him late?

yeah, Jones really played a good game. He does deserve more playing time. As does Lowry.
I just want to increase Elliott's snaps more on 3rd downs and passing situations. He is our most explosive pass rusher outside of Mathews.

I keep going back and forth on Hyde vs Brice. Hyde has the experience, but Brice I think has better skills. Do you sacrifice Hyde's experience for Brice's skills? Hyde may have more experience, but as seen in games Hyde misses a lot of plays.

ray nichkee's picture


RCPackerFan's picture

For the record I haven't watched him closely enough in the run game to see if he is pushed around or not. When i have focused on him in the past he has been good in run defense. He chases the ball carrier down the line. Earlier this year he played the reverse perfectly. He didn't lose contain on that play.

I just want to see him more in pass rush situations.

Since '61's picture

I think the key point in your article is that the defense is playing faster. As the Packers get healthier and with giving more snaps to Lowry and Elliot they are playing more aggressively and with more speed than earlier in the season. I wish Fackrell were healthy as he brings more speed on defense as well. If the defense can maintain their level of play and hold opponents to 13 points or less this team will reach 10-6. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

PETER MAIZ's picture

Good article that shows considerable improvement at defense

Razer's picture

I like the move to bring Burnett up into a hybrid role. Just as we throw teams off with Montgomery in the backfield, we change the dynamic on defense with Burnett at LB. He also helps with our chronic over the middle weakness on defense. My fear against Seattle was Russell running and Jimmy Graham down the middle. Both were kept to a minimum.

Furthermore, it shows that our defensive coaching staff is working to evolve the play of this unit. In fact, we are seeing a progression on both sides of the ball. Ultimately, we are getting more talent and more speed on the field and involved in the game. Glad the MM, Capers and other coaches are taking it to the next level.

Bearmeat's picture

Cow is right though - it doesn't work against massive running teams, or when the good guys are behind. Thomas is small enough. Thomas paired with Burnett would not be effective at stopping the run.

This is why it's a part time defense. Against DET yes. Against MIN with AP? Probably not going to be used.

MarkinMadison's picture

It definitely will not work against the Cowboys.

Hard to say where AP is at right now. We'll see. Guy is coming off of a torn meniscus. GB will probably be his first game back. Depending on conditions, he may not even be willing to suit up.

Bearmeat's picture

Yeah. I was just trying to point out that it won't work against a team with a good OL and a halfway decent RB. I don't even know why I said AP, as neither he nor the Vikings fit those criteria anymore.

Fortunately, in the NFC playoff field, there's really only 1 or 2 good running teams. Dallas and Seattle... and the latter isn't great. Maybe the Falcons, but their passing game makes their offense go.

Colin_C's picture

The problem I have with the switch is Hyde is on the field more. I like the guy, but he's become a complete liability in coverage.

stockholder's picture

Can't Suck. TT said he was a good football player.

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