Several members of the Green Bay Packers' 2012 draft class locked up more prominent roles on defense with strong showings in Green Bay's 23-10 throttling of the Chicago Bears Thursday night.
Four rookies from the Packers' 2012 class played significant roles on defense: first-round linebacker Nick Perry, second-round defensive end Jerel Worthy, second-round cornerback Casey Hayward and fourth-round safety Jerron McMillian.
Perry and Worthy both started, while Hayward got snaps at dime cornerback and McMillian at safety in the nickel and dime looks. Hayward and McMillian both played well enough to think their respective roles will stay in place for the short-term.
Below, we use NFL's Game Rewind to evaluate the four prominent defensive rookies and provide context to their play Thursday night against the Bears.
OLB Nick Perry
Played 20 total snaps.
On Chicago's first series, Perry was pancake-blocked by the strong-side tight end. He came out for the second, third and forth series after being replaced by veteran Erik Walden. Perry came back on the fifth series, but was again single-blocked by the tight end, then pancaked by Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi. He was replaced again by Walden.
Walden started the first series of the second half. Perry came back in during the series, but he was well blocked on both pass rushes. For the third time, Walden replaced him at left outside linebacker. It was clear that Perry was struggling to disengage, and a wrist injury was to blame for part of those struggles.
Walden and undrafted free agent Dezman Moses then split snaps on the seventh and eighth series. Perry was back on the ninth series, providing a pressure and helping to clean up one sack. On two other pass rushes, Perry beat Carimi clean with speed off the edge. Perry also played coverage on a deep seam well, running stride-for-stride with the receiver.
Signature play: Beating right tackle with speed
Perry didn't provide much Thursday night, but he did win a few one-on-ones with Carimi by simply pushing upfield around the former first-round pick.
Here's one instance where Perry's explosion is too much for Carimi to handle. First, the pre-snap look.
The Packers line up in their standard nickel defense, with five defensive backs, two down linemen and four linebackers. Perry (circled) is off right tackle in his primary left outside linebacker alignment. The Bears' blocking assignments are also shown.
Watch as the play unfolds. Perry blows past Carimi with nothing more than a speed rush and slap of the hands. Carimi (circled here) and the right guard (assigned to double Perry) are completely out of position to block Perry, who is bearing down on Jay Cutler as he gets to the end of his drop.
Cutler does step up and avoid Perry's sack, but Cutler's hurried throw is incomplete and Carimi is charged with a holding penalty (though it was more phantom than anything). Either way, Perry's initial pressure blows up the play.
DE Jerel Worthy
Played 37 total snaps.
On the first series, Worthy was pushed out of position on a third-down draw, but he took the double-team on. From there, he alternated snaps in the nickel with Ryan Pickett.
Worthy stood up and rushed off left tackle on one second-quarter passing play; he looked explosive and pushed J'Marcus Webb into the backfield. He took on double-teams all night regardless of where he lined up, and also stunted with Clay Matthews a few times on the right side.
His best play of the night came with 9:35 left in the third quarter. We'll diagram it below.
In the third quarter, Worthy held the point of attack on a second-down run for A.J. Hawk to clean up behind him. He also retreated back during a zone blitz and almost put himself into position for an interception. He was just a second late getting to the zone.
Worthy started providing pressure upfield later in the second half, including on Cutler's third pick.
His sack was a result of good coverage downfield; Cutler worked up into the pocket as Worthy broke free off his block.
Signature play: Spins into backfield for TFL
Worthy's most impressive play wasn't his pressure play. He was gifted his first career sack when the Packers played glue-like coverage downfield and Cutler stepped into the pressure.
Worthy's signature play came against the run on a third-quarter play.
The situation: 2nd-and-10 from the Packers' own 25-yard line. The screen grab of the offensive/defensive alignment is below.
The Packers are in their base 3-4 look, with three down linemen and four linebackers. Worthy lines up at right defensive end, over the Bears' left tackle. The Bears have a two-back set with the fullback lined up off the weak side.
The Bears blocking assignments are also shown here. The right guard pulls to take on Matthews on the edge, while the Bears want to double-team Worthy at the point with a tight end and the left tackle. The fullback leads the counter play to the strong side.
As the screen grab below shows, the Bears do a terrible job of blocking at the point—partly because Worthy spins off the block to clear out two blockers.
With both play-side blockers tied up, A.J. Hawk is flowing free to the ball-carrier. The fullback on the play has three potential blocking targets but fails to put a hat on any of them. While Hawk doesn't wrap up Michael Bush, Worthy explodes into the backfield to clean up the play.
The result: -2 yards and a 3rd-and-long situation for the Bears. Chicago eventually kicks a field goal two plays later.
CB Casey Hayward
Played 24 total snaps, all in the dime defense.
On the Bears' second series, Hayward covered up Alshon Jeffrey underneath. He played soft zone on third-and-long and then came up to stop Jeffery for a short gain with a sure tackle.
On a 1st-and-15 play late in the first half, Hayward read Bennett perfectly on a 10-yard out. If the ball was catchable for Bennett, Hayward would probably have intercepted it and returned it for six points. Perfect coverage.
Later, he played trail coverage on Jeffery on Tramon Williams' first interception. Cutler looked Hayward's way, but there was nothing there. He went underneath and was picked off on his second or third read.
Hayward gave up one catch in man-to-man coverage on the Bears' final series, but it forced a fourth down. Overall, Hayward consistently played the slot well on both seam and out routes.
Signature play: Perfect coverage on out route
We already touched on this play in the rundown, but it's worth a closer look here.
The situation: 1st-and-15 from the Chicago 15-yard line, with 1:50 left in the first half. Again, the pre-snap screen grab is provided below.
The Packers counter Chicago's three-receiver, single-tight-end look with their dime defense. Hayward lines up in the defense's right slot against Earl Bennett. As the route depiction shows, Bennett runs a 10-yard out.
Hayward stays step-for-step with Bennett as he pushes upfield, then perfectly breaks underneath the route as Cutler is releasing the football. It's picture-perfect technique from Hayward on the out-route.
As was mentioned above, a catchable ball from Cutler probably results in Hayward intercepting the pass and walking the ball into the end zone for a pick-six. However, the ball is basically thrown out of bounds by Cutler. Bennett can't haul it in and the Bears face a long second down.
S Jerron McMillian
Played 44 total snaps as the safety in the nickel and dime looks.
On D.J. Smith's pass interference call in the first quarter, McMillian played a flat zone. It wasn't at all his fault on the throw down the seam, but he was tentative early on.
Later in the first half, McMillian set the edge well on a first-down run, then spun around off the blocker to wrap up Michael Bush at the line of scrimmage. It was perfect run support for a safety. He did the same on the first series of the second half. McMillian stuck the tight end on the edge, then helped bring Forte down at the line.
A few plays later, he did a nice job playing the deep half as a single safety and should have had a pick. McMillian baited Cutler into thinking the seam was open, then covered up the ground. He also jumped both slant routes on Charles Woodson's eventual pick, forcing Cutler to look elsewhere.
He got a little lost on an underneath zone look in the fourth quarter, but Cutler's scramble and throw didn't result in a completion. The touchdown to Davis on fourth down obviously wasn't his fault, but he did cheat up. The fault was with Smith and Morgan Burnett. Overall, Davis' touchdown was the only play of the night where there were problems over the top.
On his fourth-quarter interception, McMillian made a perfect break on Cutler's fourth-down throw. He read the out and made the play. Exactly what the coverage asked for in that situation.
Signature play: Baiting the quarterback
McMillian's best look came when he should have intercepted Cutler's throw down the seam.
The situation: 2nd-and-9 with 12:26 left in the third quarter. Again, the pre-snap screen grab is below.
The Packers give Chicago a nickel look, with Burnett pressing the line of scrimmage to the right of the defense and McMillian playing the single-high safety. The Bears have three receivers and one tight end, with three of the targets lined up to the right of the formation.
At this point, Cutler probably thinks he can manipulate the young McMillian into opening up one of the four-vertical routes. Right before the snap, McMillian cheats over further to the right half.
After the snap, the receivers push upfield against man-to-man. The tight end, Kellen Davis, has A.J. Hawk in man coverage—a plus matchup for the Bears. Cutler sees the advantage and lets the ball go, thinking McMillian has cheated too far to the right receivers to make up the ground.
Not so fast.
McMillian makes up the ground in a hurry, and he's in perfect position to intercept the poorly-thrown ball. Even on a good throw, McMillian is in place to make a play on the ball. In this instance, McMillian has the ball bounce off his bread basket for an incompletion.
Down the road, you'd have to assume McMillian will be able to turn this innocent incompletion into a game-changing turnover. He read the play perfectly; the next step is turning a read into a turnover. Either way, it's a plus play for the rookie safety.
Overall, there was a lot to like about the way the Packers' defensive rookies played Thursday night, especially in the secondary. McMillian has clearly won the sub-package safety job, and Hayward couldn't have been better in the dime.
Perry is still a work in progress, especially as a pass-rusher. He needs to develop some counter moves at the point of attack. Worthy is a space eater who did his job Thursday night. He'll get better as a penetrator as the experience comes.
And that's the big key here: Experience will only help these young players on defense. Through just the second week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has to like what he's got in Perry, Worthy, Hayward and McMillian.
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