If you want to gain perspective on the responsibilities of a 3-4 safety, then read this. It will definitely give some context to what I say below. http://www.acmepackingcompany.com/2013/4/15/4226880/safety-is-a-big-need-and-other-draft-strategy
I wish the Packers had drafted a safety. Granted Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett didn't play (disclaimer: I think the Packers win the game if they are both playing—this post is mainly discussing the options at safety if Burnett is out for a significant amount of time) but the glaring weakness in yesterday’s loss was the Packers inability to defend against Boldin and Vernon Davis especially in the middle of the field. Sure, Tramon Williams gave up some completions, but in general the slot corner and safetys played terrible the entire game. I wrote a fanpost before the draft outlying the Packers need to select a safety in a safety-rich draft. You can see how well Eric Reid played in his debut for the 49'rs. There were a lot of good safetys in last years draft. In the post, I outlined what a safety in the 3-4 needs to be able to do. I included the link so I won’t go over it again, but suffice to say after a pass rusher and run stopper, a safety is the most important player in a 3-4 defense.
So why am I bringing this up? I am not sure if I have seen worse play from Packer’s safetys. I am fairly concerned about the Packers secondary if Hayward is not playing the slot, but I am terrified of the prospect of watching Jennings and McMillian both back there. I wish I was technologically savvy because I would make several GIF’s to illustrate my point. There were so many occasions where M.D. Jennings did not drive on the ball or the WR/TE. The ball would be in the air, and Jennings was very slow to react. When he did get close, he demonstrated no physicality or ball skills. Jennings looked terrible on the first touchdown pass to Davis—it’s not the fact that he allowed the TD (Vernon Davis is an elite athlete) but the fact that it took him the NFL’s equivalent of a lightyear to break and drive towards Vernon Davis. He is supposed to be the better of the two in pass coverage, and I saw a tentative, slow, weak player in pass coverage.
Well at least McMillian had a decent game right? Wrong. He took terrible angles to the ball the entire game, missed tackles, and was poor in coverage. He’s more physical than Jennings, but get’s lost easily and time after time allowed Vernon Davis to gain inside leverage to the middle of the field. Did I mention his terrible angle to the ball on Boldin’s TD, and missed tackle to boot? Collin Kaepernick has a rocket of an arm, but we gave him the easiest possible throws in the middle of the field. Our outside corners played pretty well, in fact, I think Shields had a very good game. What’s worse is that the Packers were continually confused on bunch formations. It’s the safety’s responsibility to call out who has who, and obviously that was not getting communicated effectively.
As Packer’s fans, we need to stop blaming Capers. He put the Packers in positions to make plays and our safetys got destroyed by Boldin and Davis. Micah Hyde also had a rough day and was replaced by Jarret Bush, but I put the majority of the blame squarely on Jennings and McMillian. This might be disappointing to fans, but I thought we needed help back there this offseason and we didn’t get anything. Why does it matter? We have Morgan Burnett you might say. Well in case you haven’t noticed, hamstring injuries can take a long time to heal. There is no guarantee that Burnett plays until after the bye which means we could have some long days in the secondary against two good passers in RG3 and Andy Dalton. We cannot start 1-2 or 0-3 to start the season and expect to dig ourselves out of that hole. Our schedule is too tough. Unfortunately, we wasted a great defensive effort by our front 7, and yes that includes A.J. Hawk. If Morgan Burnett is out for any length of time, I believe the Packers will regret not getting help at safety in the draft.
So what are the options? If Casey Hayward was healthy, I would consider giving Micah Hyde a shot at SS, but we can't do that with Hayward hurt. To be frank, I don't think Hyde would be that great at safety anyway. He is a play maker, but not great in coverage either. Really our only hope is if Burnett comes back ASAP, and try and use Jennings and McMillian in situations that fit their strengths (although I'm not really sure what either's strengths are after yesterday). Another solution would be to pick one of the two,and just stick with them. I would be in favor of McMillian just because he is more physically gifted, but honestly I would take Charlie Peprah over either of these two guys. I just hope Burnett returns for next Sunday.