The new and improved Green Bay Packers defense showed more than a few cracks against the run game during Thursday night’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, buckling under the one-two punch of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders and raising concerns about how they will fare against the Dallas Cowboys‘ more ruthless rushing attack in Week 5
All the more reason the Packers should be happy to have linebacker Oren Burks back at practice.
Burks returned to practice Monday after spending nearly two months recovering from a torn pectoral suffered in the Packers’ preseason opener, reinserting a promising piece into an inside linebacker group that has struggled since he was hurt.
The second-year pro was a projected starter in the early days of training camp before his season was nearly ended on the sixth snap against the Houston Texans on Aug. 8, an injury Burks was fortunate did not require surgery. Whether he participates in full-pad practices later in the week, though, should better indicate how close he is to seeing game action.
“It was huge,” Burks told Packers reporter Wes Hodkiewicz after Monday’s unpadded practice. “Just kind of mentally being away from the team a little bit, it was cool to get back out there with the guys. In terms of prognosis, I don’t really know exactly when I’ll be 100 percent, but I’m taking it one day at a time and trying to get better.”
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The Packers Could Use Oren Burks’ Help
While the Packers’ defensive front — still missing starter Montravious Adams — between pass rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith remains an issue in need of correction, no position group has struggled more since the preseason than the team’s inside linebackers.
After losing Burks to start exhibition action, the Packers also were forced to place rookie Curtis Bolton on the injured reserve list two weeks later after he tore his ACL against the Oakland Raiders in Winnipeg. They then traded the New York Giants for B.J. Goodson to offer some help for signal-caller Blake Martinez, who currently has more than twice the number of tackles as any of his teammates, while rookie Ty Summers rounded out the thin group.
Such a lack of depth, as The Athletic’s Mike Sando pointed out, affected how the Packers were able to call their defense against the Eagles’ 12 personnel packages. Green Bay was gouged for 176 rushing yards in the 34-27 loss.
“At least partly because of those linebacker issues, the Packers stayed in their nickel defense against the Eagles’ 12 personnel packages featuring one back and two tight ends. Philly ran the ball 13 times for 82 yards when its 12 personnel faced Green Bay’s nickel defense. That’s the most carries and rushing yards any team’s offense has gained against any team’s defense this season when using 12 personnel against nickel defense.”
—The Athletic’s Mike Sando on Sept. 30, 2019.
The Packers rank seventh worst in the NFL at stopping the run through the first four weeks of the season, allowing 142.3 yards per game and 569 yards combined. Dalvin Cook alone ran for 154 of those yards, counting a 75-yard touchdown run among his big afternoon at Lambeau Field for the Minnesota Vikings.
Burks could be part of the solution — when game ready, that is — after coming in as a third-round pick in 2018. He racked up 24 combined tackles as a rookie, but his production was noticeably disproportionate with him playing 81 snaps in his first four games and just 18 in his final eight. Burks also missed last season’s first two games with a shoulder injury.
The Packers defense will have to patch several holes before superstar Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard take turns trying to bust their defensive line wide open with the Cowboys on Sunday, starting at 3:25 p.m. C.T.