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Morgan Burnett Works Overtime During Packers’ Pick Parade

It was a banner day for a Packers defense that needed it. They recorded six turnovers – five by interception – in a stunning blowout of the Seattle Seahawks that saw “safety” Morgan Burnett fill a big hole.

Try to typecast Morgan Burnett and he will have absolutely none of it.

So what then was Burnett lining up next to middle linebacker Joe Thomas nearly all game?

Or flexing out to cover the fullback along the boundary?

Or running inside blitzes normally reserved for Blake Martinez or Jake Ryan?

“It’s more like a dime package, just an extra defensive back in the game,” said Burnett of his primary role against the Seattle Seahawks. “I was just playing the call of the defense that’s called.”

But first he added, “No, I don’t see myself as a linebacker.”

By official roster status, Burnett is right. He is listed as a safety. But on Sunday at Lambeau Field, there was a need for change.

Adaptability on the back end has always been a big part of coordinator Dom Capers’ defense in Green Bay – from Charles Woodson to Micah Hyde – and Sunday’s stunning 38-10 victory over the Seahawks was a great example of that.

A linebacker group that had been drained by injury over the last few weeks was hit hardest this week. Inside backer Martinez and outside backer Kyler Fackrell were again inactive (for the third straight game). Outside linebacker Nick Perry joined them after injuring his hand against the Houston Texans last Sunday. Ryan (ankle) was suited up but limited, as was Clay Matthews (shoulder), who was relegated to a third-down pass rusher off the edge.

That left the Packers paper thin with essentially five linebackers full-go for a base defensive scheme that features four of them on the field at one time. But perhaps as fate would have it, Burnett moving inside would be the right matchup on this wintry day with an elusive quarterback and a tight end that plays like a wide receiver.

“It brings another element to our defense,” said Thomas. “It adds speed and more coverage ability on the inside.”

Burnett’s second-quarter interception, on which he made an aggressive decision to undercut a route in man-to-man coverage on Jimmy Graham, and subsequent 19-yard return set the Packers’ offense up to take a 14-3 lead.

“It set the tone a lot,” said Burnett of his big play. “Anytime you can steal a possession from the offense, that’s big. And then steal the possession early in the game, to gain the momentum, and then our offense goes down and scores? That’s really big. And once you get one, they start to come in bunches and that’s kind of what we had today.”

That was not the case last week, when Burnett recovered a fumble in the first quarter against the Texans. This game, the Packers proved to be much more opportunistic. Damarious Randall swooped in for an interception to save what would have been a 40-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin just before halftime. Quentin Rollins picked off another deep pass in the end zone off teammate LaDarius Gunter’s back. Randall capitalized a second time when the sure-handed Baldwin let a pass go through his hands and off his helmet. And finally Micah Hyde got into the turnover party when backup running back Troymaine Pope could not handle a high, dump-off from Wilson late in the fourth quarter.

In addition to Wilson missing some deep throws early, the Seahawks certainly did their part to help out.

“We’ve always been the team (this season) that wasn’t getting the bounce,” said Randall. “Today we got the bounce.”

The Packers’ five interceptions were their most in a regular-season game since the 2006 season. The cornerbacks registered three of those picks after coming into the game with just one on the entire season.

“We needed a game like that,” said coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s the way we play, that’s the way we train. I can’t say enough about, starting with our defense, keeping the quarterback contained, keeping him the pocket and then when there were extended plays to take advantage of the opportunities and making plays on the ball. I thought our defense was outstanding.”

As laid out in Packer Report’s World’s Best Preview on Sunday, the Packers have had their issues with tight ends this season. Graham, however, caught just one pass – that coming with just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter – to equal his lowest single-game output of the season.

Wilson’s five interceptions set a new career high. His previous high of four in a game also came against the Packers, albeit in the NFC Championship game of the 2014 postseason.

While it was Thomas’ job to keep an eye on Wilson in and out of the pocket – the shifty quarterback had a long run of just 8 yards – Burnett worked overtime for the Packers. Though he had lined up at an inside backer spot before and had practiced some there since training camp, this was his most extensive game action.

“I feel in our room, we’re all interchangeable,” said Burnett. “It allows us to line up and do different things back there. But whatever the scheme is for the week, you have guys that are all hands on deck and are willing to play wherever needed.

“It helps us understand the defense even more. At the end of the day, that’s going to help us all out.”

Burnett recorded seven tackles and a pass defended in addition to his interception. He also made a special teams tackle on kickoff coverage and was on the onside kick “hands” team. But his play was most noticeable at inside linebacker, even though he may not want to call himself that.

“I just treat it as a way of me doing whatever’s asked of me,” he said. “I just feel like that’s my job description, whatever you ask me to do, I’m here to do a job and I have to find a way to get the job done by any means.”


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