Had the Green Bay Packers had even mediocre safeties last year, the whole season would have been quite a bit more successful. Unfortunately, the duo of Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings were far from mediocre.
The chart below shows how Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Burnett and Jennings last year:
|Burnett and Jennings' PFF Grades|
|Player||Coverage Grade||Run Grade||Overall Grade||NFL Rank|
|Via Pro Football Focus|
We also can't forget about Jerron McMillian, who started the first five games for the Packers last year. Had he qualified for PFF's grading system, his negative-10.4 overall grade would have been good enough for No. 78 in the league, or the 10th worst.
The good news for this year is that the Packers have revamped their safety position with an influx of talent from a draft pick and another player switching positions. Now Burnett is still penciled in as a starter, but it's two youngsters who will ultimately lead the way at the safety position.
Let's take a look at how Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde will be the key to the Packers' defensive success in 2014.
What They Bring to the Field
The first thing we need to establish is exactly what Hyde and Clinton-Dix will bring to the field that the Packers lacked last year.
The most obvious area where Clinton-Dix and Hyde will improve the safeties is with their playmaking abilities. That shouldn't be too difficult considering last year's safeties combined for a whopping zero interceptions on the season and consistently missed tackles.
Both Hyde and Clinton-Dix excel in these two areas. For starters, look at what Rob Rang of CBS Sports had to say about Clinton-Dix leading up to the draft:
He has the aggressive nature to attack ballcarriers and shows the read/react quickness to diagnose and take accurate angles in coverage. He has plus hands for the interception and shows vision and natural open-field running skills with the ball in his hands.
Anticipates the run well, attacking the line of scrimmage to make some impressive stops up close.
With great hands, solid athleticism and the ability to make open-field tackles, Clinton-Dix is poised to make a huge impact during his rookie season.
As for Hyde, he was easily the most consistent tackler the Packers had in the secondary last year. He played on 448 snaps last year for the Packers defense and only missed three tackles, according to PFF. To put that in perspective, Burnett was on the field for just under double the amount of snaps as Hyde but managed to miss 11 tackles.
With Clinton-Dix and Hyde possessing the playmaking abilities that the Packers lacked last year, Green Bay can finally feel good about its safeties.
Why They're the Key to Success
Now that we've established what Clinton-Dix and Hyde will bring to the defense, let's take a look at why they're the key to success for the whole defense.
By having safeties in the secondary that can tackle and create turnovers, the Packers will have the freedom to be more aggressive. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers won't have to worry about protecting his safeties to stop big plays from happening because he has the talent at the safety position for them to handle themselves.
This will ultimately allow Capers to bring more pressure on the quarterback. In turn, this will hopefully create more opportunities for turnovers since quarterbacks will be pressured into making poor decisions.
Capers can also get creative on run downs since he can have confidence in Clinton-Dix and Hyde and their ability to tackle in the open field. He won't have to play it safe in fear of a running back getting to the second level turning into an absolutely huge gain.
What Hyde and Clinton-Dix will ultimately do for Capers is allow him to run the type of defense that he has the most success with. If you look back at the defenses where Capers has been successful, he's always had talented safeties to rely on.
That's what Capers will have in Clinton-Dix and Hyde. And that's why this group of revamped safeties is the key to success in 2014.