Jerron McMillian making most of increased opportunity

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Packers rookie S Jerron McMillian
Packers rookie S Jerron McMillian

There’s no way around it–the Packers’ defense dominated the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

Tramon Williams caught as many Jay Cutler passes (two) as Brandon Marshall,  the Packers nearly doubled the Bears in total yards, and Clay Matthews had his arms wrapped around Cutler as if he were a certain cast member on Laguna Beach. If not for an ugly miscommunication between Aaron Rodgers and James Jones, the Bears may not have scored more than three points all night.

Just four days prior, Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers sliced through Green Bay’s defense for 30 points, spoiling the Packers’ season opener at Lambeau Field. Predictably so, much of Packer Nation reached for the “Panic” button.

But the Packers’ performance on Thursday night couldn’t possibly have been more different. The Packers held the Bears’ talented offense to just 10 points and 168 total yards, while intercepting four of Cutler’s passes and sacking him seven times. Suddenly, the Packers defense doesn’t look all that bad.

Matthews (3.5 sacks) and Williams (two INT) will surely continue to receive the bulk of the credit for Thursday night’s surprisingly dominant display of defense, and rightfully so, but it took a total team effort for the Packers to embarrass the Bears the way they did.

And while there were a handful of “unsung heroes” in Week Two, safety Jerron McMillian may top the list.

The rookie fourth-round pick was constantly around the football–as the play ended, No. 22 was near. As a small-school prospect from Maine, McMillian was viewed as an in-the-box safety coming into the league. And on at least two separate occasions against the Bears, the 5’11” safety proved that he isn’t afraid of anyone.

With 9:42 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Michael Bush took a handoff  and followed his blockers along the left side of the offensive line. Bears left guard Chris Spencer pulled as a lead blocker and laid his head into McMillian. The rookie invited the contact, put the 312-pound lineman on his backside, and made the tackle for a one-yard loss.

Then, on the second play of the third quarter, the Bears again pulled the play-side guard as a lead blocker, except this time, it was 305-pound right guard Lance Louis. The result, however, was more of the same. McMillian maintained low pad level and moved Louis backward, allowing D.J. Smith and A.J. Hawk to bring down Forte after a short gain.

The box score only rewarded him with one assisted tackle on those two plays, but McMillian did exactly what he needed to do on both instances. And you can bet the coaching staff has taken notice.

Although he dropped the first opportunity at a “gimme” interception of his NFL career a couple plays later, McMillian made up for it by picking off the first pass of his professional career with just over three minutes remaining in the game.

The pass rush from the front-seven was terrific throughout the night, but a couple of the Packers’ seven sacks were due to tight coverage downfield. The secondary, as a whole, performed far better on Thursday than it did on Sunday. McMillian played just 15 defensive snaps against the 49ers, before his snap count rose all the way to 44 on Thursday.

Seeing as M.D. Jennings didn’t play a single defensive snap this week, it certainly appears as if McMillian has separated himself from the pack as the Green Bay’s other safety in the nickel alongside Morgan Burnett. And judging by the grades from Pro Football Focus, the early returns on McMillian have been pretty impressive.

McMillian graded out with a positive grade in both run defense and pass coverage. His overall grade of +3.6 is the second-highest single-game grade that PFF has given out to a safety through 17 games thus far.

It’s still much too early to tell just how good McMillian is, but the 23 year-old has clearly filled a hole in the Packers’ secondary. And if he continues to do his job and be where he’s supposed to be, his opportunities will continue to increase.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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  • Michael

    just plain old 22 !!! not m22, just 22! sweet nickname!!!

    • PackersRS

      I prefer Wife.
      McMillian and Wife would be too long…

      • Michael

        She was so hot !!!!!!!

  • Robert Fischl

    How many times have Packer fans seen interceptions when receivers don’t run their routes? Not often with this fine group. Unfortunately, it used to be a frequent occurrence and aggravation. Let’s hope that it is rare in the future. With Greg on the sidelines, we need James Jones to step up to his capabilities – which are better than he is given credit.

  • Bearmeat

    I said it in the offseason and after last week’s terrible loss: This D, with all the youth on it (like McMillan) will get better and better as the year goes on. They’ll be formidable (not legendary, but formidable) by December.

    The offense is not going to score 560 again. Even for today’s NFL rules, 35 pts/gm is a statistical outlier.

    We’ll be a much more balanced run/pass offense this year, and a much more balanced team on D/ST this year too.

    Which will be a good thing come playoff time. GB will be in the handful of teams that will get into the tournament and has the talent to win it all come January. That’s all any of us can ask.

    Great to be a Packer Backer!

    • Marques Eversoll

      Hey dude, be careful. I got RIPPED for predicting the Packers would score “only” 479 points this year.

      But for the record, I’m with you. Packers will still be “Aaron it out,” but they’ll be more emphasize a commitment to the running game as well.

      • Bearmeat

        Any group that is far outside the mean, either below or above, usually comes back within the bell curve the following season. It’s proven fact.

        IMO GB’s O will be very good this year. Not great. But they WILL be more consistent – just less explosive.

        And, combined with the D improving, I’m more than fine with that.

  • http://cox.com/phx retiredgrampa

    I’m VERY happy win the big win. My only ? why the Pack didn’t score more given their dominance in the game.

  • Ron LC

    The young guys in the DB have a chance to establish themselves during this season, Mc Millan being one. This is contingent on the aggressive play of the front 7 continuing, however. If the QB gets too much time it will make their learning process that much more difficult (See Cutler for confirmation). With Williams back to his 2010 levels and the experience of Woodson, they have guys they can learn from.

    Be aggressive and keep up the predsure and that raw talent will be developed.

    • PackersRS

      Yeah, I’m waiting till House gets healthy, he looked like the best young DB in preseason.

  • Mr. Bacon

    Ill say this about Safetys, they are probably the less glamorous of the Defense. Since McMillian is a rookie, I wouldn’t expect to hear much of his name this year.

    McMillian basically gets to be Woodson’s understudy it seems for at least 2 years. I mean that’s not bad for a Secondary person, as they take the longest to in a sense get the game. They have the hardest task in the league. Tramon took like 3-4 years to get skills into form.

    I stated like a few weeks ago, that the Rookies will get alot of game film because of this happening. Cutler having to throw the ball more because we are forcing them.

    McMillian did the two things he did right: Don’t give up the long pass for a TD and if you see the ball when you have help, try to snag it. It’s nothing eye opening, but it shows you are complacent.

    Having him as a all-pro safety would mean that you can put him on a island and he would make a interception (Ed Reed). He is just a rookie though, and I would expect him to play like one at times.

    Which is a good thing, because the way how Packer “fans” can be, you don’t want them getting all upset over you after a bad game.

    Ask poor Dom Capers after the 49’ers, the angry mob arrived with pitchforks, shovels and torches. They burned down his hut, and shoved it over the cliff. When it exploded against the rocky shore, they remembered it was only Week 1.

  • FITZCORE1252

    RS, totally with you on House. I just wonder how he’s going to be with the brace. I read somewhere he said he felt really good with it in practice about a week back, hopefully that’s the case.

  • Oppy

    McMillian is a small school Safety that is a physical freak of nature, drafted at a position than many draft gurus felt was a stretch..

    I think the Packers have some previous experience with that scenario.

    A lot of worries about McMillian’s coverage abilities (although i don’t know exactly why), but the kid is greased-lightning fast (4.35 forty) and hits like a ton of bricks.

    Here’s hoping he develops like that other small-school, physical freak of a Safety the Packers drafted a few years ago.

    • Mojo

      And check out in the picture the guns this guy is toting.

      • Turophile

        I was surprised at McMillian’s listed weight (203lb). He looks a little heavier.

        Perhaps it is just that he is a physical dude when he plays, in your mind’s eye he is bigger. He is Nick Collins fast as well, which gives him very good range.

        Kudos to TT and crew, for checking him out properly at Maine.

    • Michael

      Collins is deeply missed !!

    • PackersRS

      It did take Nick Collins 3 years to be a good player. He was a flat out liability his first 2 seasons.

  • I bleed green more

    I think Jennings is going to get pushed, right out the door.

  • Adam

    Nick Collins #2… MD is not the answer…