In 2013, Green Bay’s safety tandem of Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings failed to record an interception.
That’s right, zero.
That was the first time since at least the 1950s that happened in Green Bay. The Packers were also the only team in the NFL that didn’t have a single interception from any of the safeties on the roster that season.
Jennings, an undrafted free agent from Arkansas State, never played another NFL snap after the 2013 season ended. Burnett, a heady, assignment-sure player, rarely made big plays and had just nine interceptions in eight seasons with the Packers.
As bleak as things were for Green Bay five years ago, they’re even worse today.
Kentrell Brice, an undrafted free agent like Jennings, has given up long touchdowns in each of the last two games. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a first round draft choice in 2014, hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft standing.
The result is that opposing offenses are attacking the Packers’ safeties — and Green Bay hasn’t had an answer.
Now, Buffalo Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde — a Packer from 2013-’16 who was lowballed by Green Bay in free agency — brings his Bills to Lambeau Field Sunday. And with the Packers’ safety position a mess, it will undoubtedly pain them to see Hyde on the opposite sideline.
“You’ve got to have a short-track mind,” Brice told reporters Monday. “I learned when I first got here, you can’t get too high with the highs, you can’t get too low with the lows. They’re going to praise you when you’re up, they’re going to knock you down when you’re down. So you have to stay even-keeled and not worry about it.”
The Packers have every reason to be worried, though, particularly about Brice.
In Green Bay’s Week 2 tie with Minnesota, Brice needed to give help to cornerback Davon House when Vikings wideout Steffon Diggs ran a go-route. Instead, Brice leaned to the wrong side of the field, arrived late, and was no help as Diggs hauled in a 75-yard touchdown reception from Kirk Cousins.
Last week, Packers’ passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. said, “What I always tell guys is when you give up the ball like we did to (Diggs) over the top, you’re going to get tested at least the next four weeks because it’s on everybody’s tape for the next four weeks.”
Washington certainly followed a similar blueprint in its 31-17 win over the Packers in Week 3.
On the Redskins’ first series, Brice couldn’t locate a deep ball for wideout Paul Richardson. Brice took a bad angle, overran the play, and was completely out of position as Richardson hauled in a 46-yard touchdown.
Brice also missed four tackles, and according to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 70th out of 76 qualifying safeties in Week 3.
Despite Brice’s struggles, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday he plans to stand by his man.
“I’m all for Kentrell,” McCarthy said. “I think in the big picture of things you’ve got to look at his whole body of work. I really like the way he’s taken his opportunity and what he’s done with it throughout the spring and the summer.”
Clinton-Dix, who will become an unrestricted free agent after this season, hasn’t been much better.
Clinton-Dix missed two tackles Sunday and allowed a 20-yard reception to 34-year-old tight end Vernon Davis. Clinton-Dix takes terrible angles, can’t be trusted to make the defensive calls and lacks the physicality the position requires.
A year ago, Clinton-Dix had the second-most missed tackles on the team (13) and blew far too many assignments for an experienced player. Barring a remarkable turnaround in the next 13 games, Clinton-Dix’s days in Green Bay will be over after the 2017 season.
With Green Bay weak in the deep middle, foes are exploiting it — and it won’t stop in the weeks ahead.
“Yeah that’s just part of the game,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “That’s just part of the game. You definitely have to prove yourself week in and week out, but the good thing is its week-to-week and you get a chance to prove yourself differently from week-to-week.
“If you want it to change you’ve got to prove it on that day. It’s not going to stop just in one game. If you prove it one game, guys are still going to attack you the same way for a few games and then once you see that you have it taken care of then they may do something different.”
The Packers would undoubtedly like to do something different. But aside from trading for a player like Seattle’s Earl Thomas or signing controversial veteran Eric Reid, there aren’t many options.
Josh Jones, a second round draft pick in 2017, had a forgetful rookie season and has been inactive the first three weeks of 2018 with an ankle injury. Former undrafted street free agent Jermaine Whitehead is intelligent, but undersized (5-11, 195).
And rookie Raven Greene, another undrafted free agent, is the only other safety on the roster.
Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine coordinated high-level defenses with the New York Jets (2009-’12) and Buffalo (2013). In New York, Pettine had outstanding safeties that included Jim Leonard, LaRon Landry and Kerry Rhodes. In Buffalo, Pettine’s safety tandem of Aaron Williams and Jairus Byrd formed one of the top duos in football.
Green Bay doesn’t have anyone in the same league as those players. And the Packers are unlikely to find quality safeties until the offseason arrives.
“You’ve just got to figure out what you messed up on, come back, fix it the next week,” Brice said.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, this mess might not be fixed until 2019.
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