GREEN BAY – In more ways than one, the Packers’ defense got better this past week without playing.
Green Bay climbed two spots to No. 1 in the league in scoring defense over the bye. The Packers have allowed 101 points through six games for an average of 16.8 per game, ahead of division rival Minnesota and this week’s opponent, fellow unbeaten Denver, by the narrowest of margins.
The Vikings and Broncos have allowed 102 points in six games (17.0 avg.) to tie for second, while the league’s previous No. 1, the New York Jets, allowed 30 points on Sunday to New England and dropped to fourth.
More important, signs are pointing to the return of Morgan Burnett to the lineup, though the veteran safety was making no guarantees on Monday.
“It felt good today,” Burnett said of his troublesome calf, which has kept him out of all but one game this season. “Now my main focus is to keep progressing and not have any setbacks.”
Defensive lineman B.J. Raji (groin) is taking the same day-to-day approach, saying he didn’t push it too much in Monday’s practice. He’s waiting for later in the week to test his readiness. Outside linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) also was back in full pads at practice on Monday.
Better health is just one way the defense feels it can find another gear, and Burnett’s potential return could be coming at the perfect time, following San Diego QB Philip Rivers’ 503-yard passing performance and with Denver’s Peyton Manning up next.
The secondary’s depth has passed several tests in Burnett’s absence, with rookie cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins making their share of key plays. That bodes well for whatever the rest of the season holds, but getting the unit back to full strength with Burnett will be a boost, too.
“He’s one of our leaders,” cornerback Casey Hayward said of Burnett. “Six years of experience, and that experience holds a lot of weight, especially in this secondary. He’s like the quarterback of our defense. Everything runs so smooth when he’s in there.”
The offense hasn’t been as enthused with its own outings of late, but the hope is receiver Davante Adams can return this week to change things up. The second-year pro hasn’t played since the opening series against Kansas City in Week 3.
Adams said he tried a couple of different tape jobs on his bum ankle in Monday’s practice to find the right comfort level. While not fully healed, he sounded optimistic about his chances to be ready on Sunday in Denver.
“It’s still not quite where I want it to be, but it’s a lot better,” he said. “I just want to get to where I don’t have to think about it.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has mentioned the absence of Adams, whom he referred to as a Pro Bowl-caliber player, as a factor in the offense’s inconsistencies. Over the past three games, the Packers have not hit the 30-point plateau – their scoring average a year ago – despite scoring a touchdown on their opening drive each game and reaching 14 points by the end of the first quarter in the last two contests.
Conventional wisdom says Adams’ return should help open some running lanes and reduce the double-teams seen by receiving mate Randall Cobb. Adams agrees but knows it’s on him to prove it.
“I hope so. I hope that’s accurate,” Adams said. “I can say whatever I want to say, but once I get out there, I have to make plays.”
Coming out of the bye undefeated, chances are the Packers won’t have a major scheme shakeup, such as the move to inside linebacker by Clay Matthews last year, but the status quo isn’t likely, either.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy indicated the team’s self-scouting process was revealing. He applauded his players for weathering the injury storm thus far – and they’re not done yet, with rookie receiver Ty Montgomery (ankle) and running back James Starks (undisclosed) sitting out Monday’s practice – but changes and adjustments are coming, too, even if they’re more subtle than a year ago.
“That’s how you improve,” McCarthy said. “The worst thing we can say is, ‘Hey, we’re 6-0. We’ve got this thing figured out. Let’s keep it rolling.’
“That’s not how it works.”