The Green Bay Packers (1-1) have played rather well two weeks through the 2013 NFL season. The Packers lost 34-28 to the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers (1-1) in Week 1 and bounced back on Sunday with a 38-20 thumping over the Washington Redskins (0-2), but Green Bay is missing a very important presence on defense: safety Morgan Burnett.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has anointed Burnett as the “quarterback of the defense,” as McCarthy said he believed Burnett became a better leader and better voice on the Packers defense in the offseason. In the season opener at San Francisco, safeties M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian looked lost and confused in space while trying to orchestrate the Packers’ defense, as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick shredded Green Bay’s secondary for a career-best 412 passing yards and three touchdowns.
In Sunday’s Week 2 win over the Redskins, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns. Through two weeks entering Monday, the Packers’ passing defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for an average of 359 yards per game – only the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles have allowed more yards.
In support of Green Bay’s defense, though, the secondary improved from their first game, as the game was unofficially over by the time the Packers built up a 38-7 lead over the Redskins in the third quarter. Also, many of Griffin completions were “dink and dunk” passes, and there seemed to be very few communication breakdowns in the secondary.
So why do the Packers desperately need Burnett back in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals? Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, a.k.a “The Red Rifle,” has the serious ability to carve up the Green Bay secondary. Let’s face it, RG3 is not himself right now. RG3 is a fantastic talent and one of the game’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, but the Packers were lucky to play the Redskins at this time of the season, as RG3 continues to heal from offseason knee surgery.
The point is, Dalton can chuck the football better than RG3 right now. Yes, Dalton did throw two interceptions in the Week 1 loss at the Chicago Bears, but he finished completing 26-of-33 passes for 282 yards and threw two touchdown passes, while averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt (his career average is 6.8). The Bears arguably have a better defensive secondary than the Packers, and if it weren’t for a fumble by Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in the fourth quarter, Dalton and the Bengals would have walked out of the Windy City as winners.
Dalton’s top target, wide receiver A.J. Green, is a game changer at wide receiver and an offensive weapon who could make any quarterback better. The difference between the Bengals now compared to when both Dalton and Green first entered the league in 2011? Dalton can throw the deep ball, as he connected with Green for 40-plus yards on three different completions against the Bears. Dalton struggled with the vertical passing game in his first two seasons, but the Red Rifle showed he is much better throwing the football down the field in his third year.
I understand the Packers bye week trails this week’s game at Cincinnati, but if Burnett’s hamstring is somewhat better than the previous two weeks, the time to bring back 2012’s leading tackler and voice of the defense is now. The Packers will have to play the Cowboys, Giants, Ravens, Bears (twice), and Falcons after the bye week, and Burnett’s void must be filled by the long-dreaded quarterback of the defense himself. If not, the Packers and the fans may have to live with a 1-2 record for the next two weeks.