Senior writer jclombardi profiles OLB Clay Matthews and CB Sam Shields.
Matthews’ burning desire fuels quest for greatness: In just his second year in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers linebacker has combined that scrapper spirit with a 6-3, 255-pound build, natural talent and relentless motor to lead the league in sacks. A year ago he was in the running for defensive rookie of the year. This year, he’s probably a front-runner for the NFL’s defensive player of the year honors and maybe even the league’s overall MVP. Fans at Lambeau Field began that chant Sunday after Green Bay’s defense destroyed the feeble Dallas Cowboys. Since Matthews returned three weeks ago from an injured hamstring, the Packers have won all three games and have allowed just seven points in the last eight quarters. As the Packers head into Week 10 enjoying a bye, the defense leads the league with 28 sacks. Matthews, with 10.5, would love to end the season as the overall sack leader. “Obviously, I know statistics aren’t everything,” said Matthews. “I’m trying to help my team win. The Super Bowl is what we play this game for. Leading the NFL in sacks is one of those individual achievements, personal goals, that I have.” Matthews was named the NFC defensive player of the week. He played on another level against the Cowboys: four tackles, including two for a loss, a sack, two passes defensed and a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Packers coaching staff impressed with rapid rise of cornerback Shields: Three months ago Sam Shields was an undrafted rookie who could not catch and whose best attribute was the ability to run fast. He could not hold onto punts or kickoffs and had played cornerback for less than a year. Nine weeks into the 2010 NFL season, Shields’ play gave the Green Bay Packers the flexibility to cut a two-time Pro Bowler. That’s an awfully rapid ascension for a 22-year-old. Meanwhile, Shields climbed the depth chart during training camp and started the season as the team’s nickel back — a job he has yet to relinquish. The Packers cut Harris on Monday and coach Mike McCarthy explained the move was in the best interest of the “big-picture” plans of the team. Shields has become a huge part of the painting. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said he never expected Shields to transition so quickly. “When we first got him, he didn’t understand coverages,” Whitt said. “Just base coverages and base techniques. Now he’s a defensive back. He’s not a receiver playing defensive back. “It’s a credit to that young man because he came in here and he does not act like a rookie. He acts like a guy who’s been in the league 3-4 years. He doesn’t know defense very well yet, but he’s learning. He’s a mature man that’s taking a professional approach at his game and his profession.”