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Morgan Burnett's Perfect Complement

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Morgan Burnett's Perfect Complement

The back end of the Packers secondary in 2014 saw a veteran safety entering his fifth year in the NFL and coming off his worst season as a pro. That man was paired with a first round pick playing in his first season in the NFL. The combination couldn't have worked better together.

Morgan Burnett joined the Packers as a talented, but raw, ball hawking safety out of Georgia Tech in 2010. He has had his ups and downs but with the exception of the 2013 season he has shown improvement from each season to the next. The 2013 season was supposed to be the season he took the big step into legitimacy with a solid 2012 season just behind him he was going to step up and be the pillar the team could count on in the back of the Packers' secondary for years to come. The problem is, he didn't do that, and had the worst season of his professional career that year.

Looking at his career I think it starts to show that for Burnett to be successful he needs to have his counterpart on the field with him be someone he can trust and someone he can rely on. 

Burnett's first full season as a starter was in 2011 and he hit the ground running. In his first game as a full-time starter he recorded a sack and an interception. Over the first three games of that season he would pick off three passes while only allowing two completions for 36 yards and no touchdowns. Then the Nick Collins injury began to take its toll. While Burnett thrived in his first three games, he struggled to move forward without his Pro Bowl counterpart. In the final 13 games of the regular season Burnett would allow five touchdowns and would fail to pick off a single pass. He allowed a completion percentage of 72 percent on passes thrown his way over those final 13 games. In that span passers averaged a QB rating of 140.8 when throwing to him.

While he wasn't as dreadful as the stats would make him out to be, he simply couldn't find a rhythm. Going from playing with a Pro Bowl safety to playing next to Charlie Peprah is a big drop off and Burnett struggled with an undefined role on a defense that seemed lost all year. 

With only Burnett and young, raw, unproven players in M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian to play safety the Packers in 2012 decided to make Charles Woodson a part time safety in his evolution to becoming a defensive Swiss Army Knife. The move to put Woodson back at safety worked well for the defense and also allowed the young players to develop without having to carry the burden of the full load on their shoulders. Both Jennings and McMillian put up respectable seasons that year and the Packers seemed to be in solid shape at the safety position for the future.

With the more competent play across from him in 2012 compared to 2011 Burnett had a more defined role and became more comfortable. While he only intercepted two passes all season (they were huge plays though with both coming in one game against Minnesota) he only allowed two touchdowns. The longest pass against him all season went for only 27 yards. Most importantly, for the first time in his career he started to help out and become a force in the run game. He was the solid all-around player the Packers needed him to be. He ended up finishing 5th overall in the NFL among safeties in run stop percentage while in the box. He stopped 10.1 percent of run plays when he was lined up within eight yards of the line of scrimmage.

The next year in 2013 the Packers let Woodson go and decided to roll the dice with the young guys who showed promise the year before and Burnett suffered because of it. McMillian bombed out and in a very non-Ted Thompson like move McMillian was cut mid-season in his second year. That left the job up to a combination of Jennings, Chris Banjo, and Sean Richardson--none of whom were any good. With the three-headed disaster next to him Burnett couldn't make the plays he needed to. He was known for his nose for the ball but didn't intercept a single pass the entire year in part because he spent more time in the box than he had in previous seasons. He lined up within eight yards of the line of scrimmage on 49 percent of plays in 2013, a large uptick from the 40 percent in 2012. This new role for him had some issues but at the end of the day Burnett had the third highest percentage among safeties in the league of runs stopped when playing in the box. His pass coverage failed to meet expectations and he allowed too many big plays, but with focusing on the run and playing up in the box he did start to define a new role for himself that would payoff in 2014. 

I think no play summarized the season Burnett had better than the misplay he had in the week 17 showdown with Chicago that allowed Alshon Jeffery to go 67 yards down to the 1 yard line for an eventual go ahead score. On the play seen below Burnett (at the top of the play, far right of the screen) takes the receiver breaking over the middle instead of giving Shields help over the top as he was supposed to. It was an unacceptable and boneheaded play and I personally thought it was the beginning of the end of his time in Green Bay.

The 2014 season was a big one for Burnett. On the heels of the relatively poor season in 2013 he needed to step up or the Packers would need to accept that it was time for him to step aside. 

Enter Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

The rookie free safety out of Alabama came to Green Bay and had his eyes on the starting spot on day one. They wouldn't give it to him right away, but eventually Clinton-Dix forced their hand. While his season had its ups and downs, he most importantly provided the Packers and Morgan Burnett with stability. Ha Ha played all 16 games for the Packers last season and took over the full-time role in week 7 and never relinquished it.

What Ha Ha did well and seemed to get better at as the season went along was pass coverage. He was actually third in the NFL in coverage snaps per reception allowed at 42.4 coverage snaps per reception allowed. He was only thrown at 25 times all year and allowed a completion percentage of 52 percent on passes thrown his way. For the entire season he didn't allow a single touchdown and only gave up one play of over 20 yards (22 vs Philadelphia). It was definitely a successful first season for Clinton-Dix.

The consistency that Clinton-Dix provided in the pass game allowed Burnett to play up in the box on half of the snaps last season, the same rate he did the year before, and the Packers didn't have to worry about sacrificing anything in pass coverage. Burnett has suddenly become very good at stopping the run from the safety position. He led the Packers in tackles last season and was once again top five among NFL safeties in percentage of runs stopped while playing within eight yards from the line of scrimmage. He was also named a playoff captain for the defense last year, showing the kind of role that he is taking within the team.

With Clinton-Dix ranking in the top five among safeties in receptions allowed per coverage snap played and not allowing a single touchdown all season the Packers seem to have found the perfect complement to Morgan Burnett. As Burnett has become a very good run stopping player over the last three seasons, having a pass stopping partner to provide consistency back there with him will only allow him to become more comfortable.

Here's hoping that the young combination Burnett and Clinton-Dix can grow together and continue to get even better for years to come.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (22) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RCPackerFan's picture

'Here's hoping that the young combination Burnett and Clinton-Dix can grow together and continue to get even better for years to come.'

Amen to that.

I really look forward to seeing Clinton-Dix in year 2. He played his best game in the NFC championship game, but he still had mistakes that can be corrected. Also I am looking forward to seeing Burnett playing alongside another good safety.

I really like Clinton-Dix, but I would have loved to have seen what kind of player Burnett could have became if he could have played with Collins longer. Clinton-Dix is far and away the best safety they have had next to Burnett since Collins, so hopefully that keeps elevating Burnett's play.

Idiot Fan's picture

Sigh. [pours one out for Nick Collins...]

I still think we win the Super Bowl in 2011 with a healthy Collins.

Tundraboy's picture

I hear you on that one. But Clinton Dix sure showed a hell of a lot last year. So I'm drinking to his health. Everyone's really.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

It is interesting that Burnett's play has been affected so much by who he plays with. In the video, it's does not look like other safety's action (looks like McMillan) pulled Burnett inside, and the slot receivers are also well covered. I wonder how much of it is mental.

WKUPackFan's picture

Always thought that Morgan was playing injured most of 2013. He had the hamstring the week of the SF opener and missed at least 4 games to start the season. Nothing was ever said to my knowledge, but it was necessary for Morgan to come back as soon as possible.

The TKstinator's picture

I think Ha Ha and Morgan are very similar in size and speed/quickness (cue the combine numbers response post) and eventually they will be interchangeable in terms of playing in the box or playing away from the LOS vs the pass.
More Swiss army action is on its way.

DrealynWilliams's picture


I think HHCD is a better roamer than Burnett. Although, Burnett does diagnose plays quicker than HHCD (experience).

RCPackerFan's picture

I think Clinton-Dix comes down and closes faster then Burnett. He can move up really fast to make plays.

Right now I think Burnett is better playing down in the box, where Clinton-Dix is better playing deeper and covering a lot of area.

I would like to see them become interchangeable in moving up and staying back. It will make the defense a lot less predictable and will allow them to disguise coverage's better.

vj_ostrowski's picture

I'm delighted to say how wrong I was about HHCD. I preferred Pryor to Ha Ha going into the draft, and while I still think Pryor is going to turn out to be a good safety, with 20/20 hindsight vision, there is ZERO doubt in my mind that HHCD made us a better defense last year than Pryor would have. Going forward, I hope and believe that that trend will continue.

I place minimal blame on him for the 2-pt conversion play. That's as flukey a play gets in the NFL. 99 times out of 100, he'd have prevented it somehow. The Seahawks had a clover up their ass, or maybe Russell Wilson made god the offer to not have sex with his girlfriend right there on the field. Whatever the case, HHCD will always remember that play, and learn from it, despite it being to unlikely to ever occur again.

I'm excited about what he showed in that NFC Championship game. He made Wilson look like a JV player.

Evan's picture

That one handed INT was in-sane.

I feel like that wasn't talked about nearly enough.

Tundraboy's picture

Agree. Maybe someone has a link.

ray nichkee's picture

Does anybody remember how many people were bad mouthing burnett last year? Everybody knew TT had to draft a safety in the first round and he did. I dont recall a bad word about burnett last year. Funny.

I hope the new DBs can make an impact this year and TT picks a good DL or LB with the 32nd pick next year. The offense will be good enough to score enough points in the next few years, so i hope to see some more play makers show up on defense to stop other teams.

Steve Cheez's picture

As difficult as it is to have the 32nd pick, it sure is nice when you do.

ray nichkee's picture

I wont get my undies in a bunch if it dont happen but as usual i get excited when preseason comes around. When the temp starts dropping i come back to normal, enjoy, and hope for not too many injuries.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

If Burnett falls on his face again, (which I don't think is likely) the Pack may drop him in 2017. He'd only count 1.65 in dead cap that year vs a 7 million dollar cap hit. If that were to happen, I'd wonder if they'd move Randall back to safety. He and Ha Ha could potentially have a better ability to play mirrors off one another, better disguising the 2ndary's coverage. Who's in the box? Who's playing deep?

This is not necessarily a wish of mine or anything, just food for thought.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Yes, I wondered about that, but really about whether Randall might be the FS should Clinton Dix get nicked up. Mind you, I think GB should focus him on CB for now, so I am talking more about the 2016 season, or late this season. Most rookies would have trouble handling learning the ropes for both positions simultaneously. I do think that Randall is a FS, not an SS. I am not sure whether he can replace Burnett. Yeah, I know GB likes their safeties to be interchangeable, but I think Burnett is much better than Clinton Dix and/or Randall looks like he'll be near the line of scrimmage.

ray nichkee's picture

Im thinking just like OL, DL, and LB the DB will be crosstrained as well. if they perform the will play. But yeah, i think thats what they were thinking when they drafted both DBs this year.

EdsLaces's picture

A few years ago I wore a #21 jersey on gameday I rock a different 21 jersey. Man I love that number....

Crackerpacker's picture

I'm hoping 21 is the new 36

ray nichkee's picture

That sounds like a reality show i would actually watch. If not i still will.

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