GREEN BAY—He’s the “quarterback” of their defense and they need him back, but the Packers say they’re much more prepared to play without Morgan Burnett this week than they were a week ago.
The Packers were blindsided when Burnett’s hamstring injury flared up last Friday, causing him to miss Sunday’s game in San Francisco. Unexpectedly, the player who makes the critical pass-coverage calls and adjustments was gone from the Packers secondary. Burnett’s importance became obvious when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick then threw for 412 yards in the Packers’ 34-28 loss at Candlestick Park.
“He sets all of the calls to formations, motion and shifts. When you get a guy who’s assertive and confident, they depend on a guy barking the signals out. Morgan is excellent at that. Everything happens in a split second. You want to be aggressive, not be hesitant. The defense relies on that,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday.
The hope is that Burnett will return to his safety position on Sunday when the Packers host the Redskins in the Packers’ home opener at Lambeau Field. Head Coach Mike McCarthy painted a more positive picture for Burnett’s return than he did a week ago, when McCarthy’s body language was subdued when he announced that Burnett had been downgraded to questionable for the game in San Francisco.
“Morgan is farther ahead than what he was last week,” McCarthy said on Friday. “What goes on over the next 48 hours will be key to whether he plays. He’s like a quarterback out there. He makes a difference when he’s there.”
Burnett is officially listed as questionable, again, on the Packers’ injury report. What if he can’t play on Sunday?
“We’re prepared to go either way. We’ve had a week to prepare,” Capers said.
Should Burnett be unable to play, rookie safety Chris Banjo might see his role increase.
“I feel Chris is ready to play. He’s done nothing but answer the bell when given the opportunity. I look for him to take a step, like all of the other rookies need to,” McCarthy said.
“He’s getting there,” Safeties Coach Darren Perry said. “He has a much better feel for what he’s doing.”
Perry said the biggest problem the Packers faced when Burnett was unable to play last Sunday was having to cast players in unfamiliar roles, “especially when we played dime. That was probably the biggest adjustment,” Perry said.
“When you miss back there, it usually goes for a big gain. You want your best players out there, but we don’t make any excuses.”
Capers has prepared a game plan to face a Redskins team that wants to run the ball, but has an athletic quarterback that became famous last season for making big plays outside the pocket. Quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Redskins are coming off a 33-27 loss on Monday night to the Eagles.
“Run the ball,” Capers said of Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan’s mantra. “If you can’t stop the run, he’s going to keep running it, and make plays off play action.
“The second half of (Monday’s) game was pretty much a two-minute drill. Because of the way the game went,” Capers said, referring to the Eagles’ 26-7 lead at halftime, “they weren’t able to run the ball.”
Meanwhile, Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements would like to see the Packers do something they haven’t done in three years: produce a 100-yard rusher. Brandon Jackson is the last Packers runner to rush for 100 yards in a regular-season game; ironically, it was against the Redskins in 2010.
“I think we had our moments against San Francisco,” Clements said of the Packers running game, which came to life late in that game. “We’re continuing to work with it and we’re confident we’ll be effective with it.” Additional coverage - Sept. 13