Burnett Blossoming Into All-Around Standout

Burnett (Brian Kersey - Getty Images)

Few safeties in the league are making as much of an impact against the run as Morgan Burnett. Between his play against the run and how the pass defense has improved upon his return, Burnett is earning his contract extension.

Morgan Burnett arrived from Georgia Tech with a reputation as a ballhawk.

With the Green Bay Packers, Burnett has developed into one of the best run-defending safeties in the NFL.

Even while missing three games, Burnett ranks third on the team with 40 tackles, by the Packers' count. More than any safety in the league, Burnett's tackles are of the impact variety.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Burnett is third in the NFL among safeties in run stops. That metric parallels the coaching staff's grading system of wins and losses. For Pro Football Focus, a run stop is a solo tackle that hold a first-and-10 play to 3 yards or less, a second-down play to less than half the remaining yardage and any third-down tackle that prevents a first down.

According to Pro Football Focus, Burnett has 12 run stops in 106 snaps defending the run, a rate of 11.3 percent. Washington's Reed Doughty is first with a run-stop percentage of 15.6 and Minnesota's Andrew Sendejo is second at 12.2 percent.

"I think he's just grown into it," Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said on Friday. "The older you become, the more experience you get, the slower the game becomes and you understand where you're supposed to fit and you have a better feel for where the ball's going to go. He's making the plays that he's supposed to make."

While the Packers' run defense had a rough night against the Bears, Burnett was one of the better performers. At one point, Burnett took on rookie offensive lineman Kyle Long and dropped the ball-carrier for a 1-yard loss.

"That's just part of doing my job as a safety," Burnett said. "Whatever the defense asks, you have to be accountable, whether that's adding to the run game or helping out in the pass game. Whatever the defense allows you to do, you have to trust the defense, trust the scheme and be accountable and do your job."

More often than not, that's meant Burnett playing as more of an in-the-box safety, where his size makes him a better option than M.D. Jennings. When he's lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage, Burnett's run-stop percentage of 22.2 is No. 1 in the NFL.

"Sometimes, formations dictate that," Perry said of Burnett's alignment. "He's kind of grown into that role. Morgan is a complete safety. I don't think he's just a  box safety. With that being said, you might see him (in the box) more than you have in the past. He has a good feel for the game. When he feels he needs to be in a certain spot, then he usually gets there and tries to be where he thinks the ball might be going."

Burnett's return after missing the first three games with an injured hamstring has made a big difference. Not only has he been an impact player against the run, but the pass defense has greatly improved. While Burnett doesn't have an interception, his play in coverage is undeniable. According to the NFL's media-only stats site, the Packers have allowed 6.67 yards per pass play without Burnett but 5.53 with Burnett. That's the biggest differential in the league among regular safeties.

"I think there's been a big difference with him being back," Perry said. "He brings a certain level of comfort. He's played well. We know we're not there yet. We still need to keep climbing. We need to play our best ball in December and January."

That's what Burnett — who signed a $24.75 million contract extension through 2017 in July — has in mind.

"I've still got room to improve," Burnett said. "I look forward to finding ways to get better on the practice field and be able to show it on game day, then use the game as a learning experience from the good and the bad. That's just my main focus going into this season. Just be accountable and do my job."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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