GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It wasn’t until Nick Collins' fourth NFL season that he became a major playmaker for the Green Bay Packers.
The team’s former safety intercepted just four passes in his first three NFL seasons.
In Year 4, the 2008 season, Collins picked off seven passes to begin a three-year run of Pro Bowl appearances. In those three seasons, he combined for 17 regular-season interceptions before his career was cut short by a neck injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season.
The Packers were hoping for the same kind of progression by safety Morgan Burnett, whose interception totals in his first three seasons (six) actually surpassed Collins’ first three seasons. They were banking on it when they gave Burnett a four-year, $24.75 million contract that included an $8.5 million signing bonus in July.
But late in Burnett’s fourth season, it hasn’t happened yet.
While the coaches have vigorously defended Burnett’s play, he’s been noticeably absent in the big-play department. He doesn’t have an interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery in seven games this season since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Weeks 1-3.
“He’s a good football player, and we have no doubts about him,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said. “We just have got to keep him going and making sure as a unit that we’re playing together and we’re not giving up the big play, because that’s where you want to make sure that you’re not slipping, because that just demoralizes a defense.”
Burnett has been at least partially responsible for giving up big plays in each of the past two games. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, he misplayed the coverage and then collided with cornerback Tramon Williams on DeSean Jackson’s 55-yard touchdown pass. He and Williams also got crossed up in last Sunday’s game against the Giants, when they allowed a 35-yard completion to Hakeem Nicks.
“My main goal is just to go out and do my job and be accountable,” Burnett said. “That’s all I can do, just go out and do my job and be accountable, because you’ve got 10 other guys that’s relying on you to do your job. That’s my main focus. I don’t pay attention to anything else.”
Big plays have been hard to come by for the entire defense. The Packers are tied for a league-low four interceptions this season. In Dom Capers’ previous four seasons as defensive coordinator, the Packers led the league in interceptions with 103.
When asked if he needs more big plays from Burnett, Capers said: “I think everybody on defense when you haven’t made them. I think our pressure has been consistent, but the thing that’s been missing that’s kind of been our staple is taking the ball away. Up till this year, our opponent quarterback ratings were in the top five, we’re in the top five taking the ball away. We have to get back to that. We know we’re capable of doing it. We just haven’t done it.”