The Green Bay Packers (4-2) have shown resurgence on the football field in the last three weeks of the regular season, and it is no coincidence that they’ve played their best football with safety Morgan Burnett (pictured above) in the lineup.
Burnett suffered a hamstring injury at the tail-end of training camp in August, and the Packers ruled him out for the first three games of the 2013 season. Defensively, Green Bay’s first three games of the season were rough, as the Packers’ early Week 4 bye was a blessing in disguise.
In their first three games without Burnett, Green Bay was 1-2 and the defense had significant trouble finishing off games. Against the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay was outscored 39-7 in the fourth quarter. Essentially, the defense was an easy target for blame.
Without Burnett, the Packers’ defense had allowed 29.3 points and 404.3 yards per game (314 passing, 93.3 rushing) while registering seven sacks. Opposing offenses converted on 40 percent of their third-down conversions and scored at least 20 points in each game.
Since Burnett returned to the Packers’ lineup in Week 5, Green Bay is 3-0 and has pulled into first place in the NFC North. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy anointed Burnett as the “quarterback of the defense” during training camp, and his presence has certainly been felt, as the defensive production has improved at an impressive rate.
With Burnett’s presence in the past three games, the Packers’ defense has allowed 13 points and only 287.3 yards per game (22.6 passing, 64.6 rushing) while recording 13 sacks. Opposing offenses are only converting on 34 percent of their third-down conversions and the Packers haven’t allowed more than 17 points in any of the last three games.
What’s most amazing is that the Packers’ defense has continued to play at a high-level, even without their some of their best defenders. Cornerback Casey Hayward, outside linebacker Nick Perry, inside linebacker Brad Jones and All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews have all missed significant time since Burnett returned to the field.
Matthews, one of the NFL’s most feared defenders, is clearly the best player and he is arguably is the heart and soul of the Packers’ defense. Burnett, though, is clearly proving that he, not Matthews, is the most important player on Green Bay’s defense.
With so many injuries on the defensive side of the football, Burnett is the reason why the Packers’ defense has taken a step forward instead of falling apart. Burnett, not defensive coordinator Dom Capers, has kept this defense together while continuing to produce at a high level.
The Packers winning with defense without Matthews? Yep. Burnett, not Capers, rightfully deserves some tremendous credit.