Youngsters in secondary stepping up for Packers in 2012
By Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel
~DETROIT – M.D. Jennings returned an interception for a touchdown. Casey Hayward broke up five passes and intercepted another. Davon House had a sack and a tackle for loss. Jerron McMillian recovered a fumble.
Average age of those players: 23.2.
They’re young. They make the occasional mistake.
They’re also making a lot of big plays.
The Green Bay Packers’ secondary, still missing starters Charles Woodson (collarbone) and Sam Shields (ankle), once again rose to the occasion Sunday in a 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
“They’re some ballers,” linebacker Erik Walden said. “You just give credit to them and to their position coaches who prepare them to play. Any guy that’s in our defensive room is expected to make plays when they’re called upon.”
The biggest play of the bunch was Jennings’ 72-yard interception return in the third quarter.
The Lions faced third-and-10 from the Packers’ 44-yard line and were trying to add to their 10-7 lead. Quarterback Matthew Stafford dropped back and saw Tony Scheffler open for what would have been about a 12- to 15-yard gain.
But House undercut the tight end’s route, forcing Stafford to deliver the ball high and a bit behind Scheffler. It glanced off his hands and into the arms of Jennings, who is filling in for Woodson.
Jennings veered to his right, picked up some blocks and sprinted down the right sideline.
“I was just playing the defense,” he said. “We always talk about tips and overthrows, and the ball was tipped and I was in position to make a play on it.”
Coach Mike McCarthy called Jennings’ return “probably as big of a play or as exciting a play that I’ve seen in my time in Green Bay.”
“It was huge,” said cornerback Tramon Williams. “We needed to get points wherever we could get them and however we could get them.”
Without arguably their top two defenders – Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) – the Packers still made it tough on Stafford. He was sacked five times, completed just 17 of 39 passes (43.6%) and threw two interceptions for a rating of 54.0.
“That’s a credit to the guys who stepped up,” said safety Morgan Burnett. “All the backups are tuned in and focused.”
Lions receiver Calvin Johnson did catch five passes for 143 yards and a touchdown, and his 53-yard reception in the first quarter put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
But no other receiver had more than 35 yards, and Scheffler caught only two of the 10 passes thrown his way.
On Detroit’s final two possessions, Stafford was a combined 1 for 7. His only completion was a 33-yarder to Johnson on the last play of the game, with the Packers in a prevent defense.
As he was being tackled, Johnson tried to lateral the ball to a teammate but his desperation pitch landed in the arms of McMillian, a rookie safety.
The Lions went into the game ranked No. 1 in the NFL in passing yards (307.3 per game) and No. 1 in total offense (406.1).
“We weren’t clicking,” said coach Jim Schwartz. “We had a couple times where we misfired on passes. A couple times we had chances (and we) dropped balls and a couple times we had miscommunication of route adjustments.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of pass protecting, either. So, yeah, our passing game definitely wasn’t clicking. I’ll give some credit to the Packers.”
Late in the game, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson appeared to argue on the sideline.
“I’d rather not go into it,” Schwartz said.
The Packers’ defense finished with nine pass break-ups, seven quarterback hits in addition to the five sacks, five tackles for loss and four takeaways.
Hayward, filling in for Shields, made his fifth interception of the season in the second quarter. He leads all NFL rookies.
“Guys got their hands on a lot of balls,” Williams said. “Some of them we made plays on and some of them (Stafford) might have missed. But at the end of the day guys played their technique, guys were in the right position and we made the plays we needed to win the game.”
When the Packers get Woodson and Shields back for the stretch run, they’ll have perhaps the deepest secondary in the NFL.
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