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.