Packers Lean On Morgan Burnett, Ultra-Young Secondary In Big Games
The 15-1 Green Bay Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions and the favorite to win another crown. For the Giants to pull off a shocking upset Sunday they will have to attack the young secondary through the air and create big plays down the field, in order to keep pace with the Packer offense. With the exception of future Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson, Green Bay features a slew of youth on the perimeter and at safety with second-year pros Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has relied heavily on this core to make plays all season. It has been a shaky decision; for all its good, this is a club ranking dead last in pass yards against. But while Shields and Williams played an integral part last season, Burnett -- a 2010 third-round draft pick -- did not. In fact, he didn’t play at all after suffering a season-ending knee injury in early October 2010.
"Every time I get to step on the field, I cherish every moment," Burnett told The Huffington Post. In a league shifting more and more to the aerial attack, having a 22-year-old as your last line of defense is quite the gamble, but Burnett, with his 107 tackles and 3 interceptions, has kept his end of the bargain.
Facing a pass-happy Giants team with a hot hand in Eli Manning, the young safety will once again be asked to take on a crucial role. It is a role he embraces.
"They are led by a great quarterback and their offense has a lot of playmakers, including the running game, but we have to treat it like a normal week," Burnett says. "We need to focus on our game plan. Everyone do their job and be accountable out there."
Being "accountable" against Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Manning has been about as hard as anything over the past month. When Cruz -- who just set the single-season franchise record for receiving yards -- was finally held in check last week, Nicks proved to be an unstoppable force, going for 115 yards and two touchdowns. It is exactly the type of production Nicks' talent suggests he should provide on a more frequent basis and something Burnett is keenly aware of approaching his first-ever playoff game.
"You can tell they're on a little hot streak right now," Burnett says.
In other words, looking past New York is simply not in this team's framework.
"From day one, coaches told us that the only thing we can worry about and control is the Green Bay Packers. Don't try to overlook anything. Our crowd is amazing, knowing that it's a playoff atmosphere. Intensity level is going to be taken up another level. You've got to trust your technique."
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