Burnett Helps Masks Packers' Second-Level Deficiencies

Whether with Micah Hyde or without him, the Packers don't have to look far to find another jack-of-all-trades defensive back. They just have to glance in Morgan Burnett's direction.

Entering his eighth season in the league, Burnett has helped bolster the Packers' secondary alongside fourth-year safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The duo is rapidly gaining notoriety across the league as one of more recognizable up-and-coming safety pairings.

Burnett's ability to play deep in his natural safety spot and implement his new hybrid role into Dom Capers' scheme - the defensive coordinator who is mostly responsible for transforming Burnett into a part-time linebacker, makes him one of the top priorities as far as team-building goes. A fact that may prove important once Burnett's contract expires at the end of the upcoming 2017 season.

You know all about Burnett's efficiency. He's either led or finished second in team tackles in five of the last six seasons, and the only time he didn't was when he missed five games in 2015. However, that may not be the most ideal stat line.

The last thing you want is for a safety to be leading your team in tackles. Even in Burnett's case while playing in the box to get a more hands-on approach in helping deter the opponents' run game, a majority of his tackles also come when runs are bounced outside or when pass plays are given up down the field. On running plays, specifically, the opponent's running back shouldn't even crack through the second level often enough to help a safety build up his tackling numbers.

In fact, it may speak more to the deficiencies of the Packers' front seven and their notoriously weak inside linebacker position.

Ted Thompson doesn't value inside linebacker; that has become evident during his 12-year reign as the team's general manager. Even more prominently during the last several years.

Since drafting two inside linebackers in the early rounds of the 2006 NFL Draft, the recently-retired A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge, the Packers have drafted just seven middle linebackers since 2007, and not many, if not all of them panned out to the expectations set upon them.

Desmond Bishop, Brad Jones, D.J. Smith, Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. Carl Bradford was also drafted in 2014, however, he didn't start a regular season game until late in the 2016 season. Ryan was also drafted as an outside linebacker before being swapped inside early on in his rookie stint with the team. Martinez is the most recent of the group, and while his ceiling is high, his rookie season did leave a bit to be desired. Of course, a rookie is a rookie and to expect efficiency right out of the gates in a complicated scheme that even veterans may have a difficult time grasping would be asinine.

Bishop, Jones, Smith, Barrington and Bradford are five of the seven that are no longer with the team.

Remaining, maybe not oblivious, but completely neglectful of a position that has plagued the Packers for years may have attributed to their lack of fundamentals in pass coverage in the middle of the field.

It may be the reason why the Packers allowed 70.27 percent of opponent completions across the middle of the field for 1,187 yards. Teams averaged 8.02 yards per completion when targeting the middle of the field against the Packers a season ago. They allowed 68.12 percent of completions in 2015 and 70.90 percent the year before that. For as long as most can remember, the Packers have locked solidity at inside linebacker. Solidity that will remain as a foreign concept in Green Bay until the position is rightfully addressed.

It isn't to say that the Packers need somebody at inside linebacker. Clay Matthews' short stint inside for a season-and-a-half didn't do many wonders for both the pass rush and the security in the middle of the field in the long run. It's why he was moved back to the edge where he can utilize his pass-rushing technique to help the Packers, but he didn't provide much help last season. It may be why, once again, he could be shifted back inside.

Matthews believes he's best used all over the field, moving around both inside and outside where he can put his athleticism to use, even at 31 years old. He's made that much clear.

The Packers likely won't aim for an inside linebacker high in the upcoming NFL Draft; in fact, you can bet on that. With the edge and cornerback positions in high need of maintenance, there may be a continuous weakness in Green Bay. Likely not a weakness that will keep the Packers from contending in January considering they've done so in eight straight seasons, but it's definitely a poor inadequacy to have.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (7)

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BPEARSON21's picture

April 25, 2017 at 02:48 pm

I wonder if we're the only team whose most consistent leading tackler is a safety. What a joke. Good article though, I love Burnett. Makes me wonder if Jabril Peppers would be a good fit for our miserable defense? After all, the word is he's a combo middle linebacker/safety right? Could be a nice fit, Lord knows we could use a boost in our return game too.

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dobber's picture

April 25, 2017 at 03:22 pm

"I wonder if we're the only team whose most consistent leading tackler is a safety. "

For a team that plays as much nickel/dime as the Packers do, and as a team that has had such a revolving door at ILB due to ineffectiveness and injury over the last several years, I'm not surprised at all...

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Matt Gonzales's picture

April 25, 2017 at 04:33 pm

This. Even with good ILB play, when you only have 2 DL at least one ILB is probably engaged with a blocker and not able to flow to the ball. His tackle count means nothing unless you can look at where they actually occur (at/near the line, behind the line, or actually at the second level).

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

April 26, 2017 at 02:51 am

I'm recall looking into this and finding that quite a few teams' leading tackler was a safety. SF, Carolina, Atlanta, Arizona, GB, TB, MN, NYG all had a S lead them in tackles. NE had CB Logan Ryan lead them in tackles. A couple more teams have a safety that was close: Jacksonville's SS Cyprien had a 127, but was nosed out by MLB Posluszny with 133. If you count only solo tackles, add TB, Philly, Denver and Dallas to the list.

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KenEllis's picture

April 25, 2017 at 03:35 pm

If the statement from the article that the Burnett- Clinton-Dix "duo is rapidly gaining notoriety across the league as one of more recognizable up-and-coming safety pairings," is true, and I tend to think it is, it only serves the highlight just how truly horrible the CB play was last year when the Pack finished 31st against the pass.

This offseason, the Packers have, to date, added House and lost Hyde. I look for a CB in round 1 or 2 to be added to the mix and pray that Randall & Rollins improve dramatically in 2017.

Otherwise, the Packers secondary will continue to suck no matter how great the hometown press makes Burnett & Clinton-Dix out to be.

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dobber's picture

April 25, 2017 at 04:11 pm

What does it tell us that Burnett could very well be a cap casualty when his contract runs out after 2017?

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Matt Gonzales's picture

April 25, 2017 at 04:34 pm

That the Packers found a younger, cheaper version of him in the 2017 draft or that our improved ILB and DL play no longer necessitates his role.

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