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Packers Need Burnett To Return More Than Hayward

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Morgan Burnett could be the key to the Packers' defense in the coming weeks. Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images.
Morgan Burnett could be the key to the Packers' defense in the coming weeks. Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images.

The Green Bay Packers have dearly missed the presence of Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett in this young 2013 NFL season. The two key members of the secondary have yet to play a game due to hamstring issues, and the defense has paid the price. The Packers rank 28th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (311) and 31st in opposing quarterback rating (113.7).

It would seem both players’ return to the field would be of the utmost importance, especially with a matchup against the Detroit Lions coming up this weekend. But the way I see it, it’s much more important for Burnett to return than Hayward.

Of course, the biggest reason is the depth at each player’s respective position. Without Hayward in the lineup, the Packers still trot out Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as the starting corners. A lot of teams in this league would love to have a starting duo like that. Davon House comes after them, and while he is no star, he’s done very well for a third-stringer.

Behind Burnett, however, the safety position’s depth does not look very pretty. Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings played so poorly in the season opener at San Francisco, the focus on getting undrafted rookie Chris Banjo ready for the upcoming games became one of the big storylines the next couple weeks. And that’s all they have at safety. Should Banjo get hurt, the Packers would be stuck with McMillian and Jennings as the only true safeties until Burnett returned.

Looking past just the depth at each position, the schedule dictates a need for safety more so than a slot corner. The Packers’ next three opponents are the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.  Those three teams share one thing in common – a burner for a number one receiver who excels at stretching the field (Calvin Johnson, Torrey Smith and Josh Gordon), but no good depth behind him. How do you defend those types of receivers? You put a fellow speedy athlete on him and keep a ball-hawking safety over top. Shields has the speed to keep up with all three of those receivers, and Burnett is the type of guy you want as a safety net.

It’s Week 8 when Green Bay faces a true test from a slot receiver, and it’s none other than former Packer Greg Jennings. But even if Hayward somehow isn’t back by then, Williams has shown recently he’s capable of playing in the slot and should do a good job shutting down Jennings.

You never want to rush players back from hamstring injuries too soon. The possibility of reinjuring a hammy skyrockets after your first trouble with one. Yet, NFL teams seem to do so all the time. I’m not saying the Packers should do that to Burnett, but they’ll be tempted to with the way the pass defense has performed and with Johnson coming to town. Hayward, on the other hand, should take his sweet old time. I’d much rather have him 100 percent late in the season than 90 percent against teams when his presence isn’t quite as vital.