Senior writer jclombardi profiles OLB Matthews.
OLB Matthews, Performance & Shin Injury: Matthews said he’s not sure when he first injured his shin, but it got bad enough in the week after the Packers victory over the Jets that he hasn’t been able to fully participate in practice since. Coincidentally or not, Matthews recorded an NFL-leading 9.5 sacks through those first eight weeks, but has managed just two sacks since the victory over the Jets. He was shut out in the past two games. Whether it’s the injury itself or the lack of practice time he’s getting, Matthews disputes the notion that he hasn’t been as productive. Against San Francisco, Matthews came close to sacking quarterback Troy Smith twice. On one play, he beat running back Westbrook and had his arms around Smith but the quarterback was able to get the ball to tight end Davis for a 25-yard gain; on the other, he was on the ground and had Smith around the ankles, only to see Smith dump the ball to running back Anthony Dixon for a 4-yard gain. While Matthews has been shut out the last two games, the Packers as a team have registered six sacks: Three by defensive end Cullen Jenkins, two by outside linebacker Frank Zombo and one by nose tackle B.J. Raji. “On those two (near-sacks)….But Jenks got two sacks, Zombo, B.J (got one each). There was pressure all around. We’re getting it done, and if it’s not me, it’s somebody else.” Indeed, DC Capers, outside linebackers coach Greene and Zombo, Matthews’ running-mate on the opposite side, all swore that Matthews’ lack of sacks are the result of attention he’s getting from opponents, not from his injury or lack of practice reps. “Everyone’s talking about Clay’s numbers being down, but he’s taking so much attention,” Zombo said. “That’s why a lot of us other guys are able to make some plays. Clay’s an animal and it’s going to take a few guys to block him.” Greene pointed to Matthews’ back-to-back three-sack game which made him a marked man. “I know he’s getting a lot of attention, and it’s coming from a wide variety of people. It comes with the territory. He just has to be relentless and it’ll come around. The reality is, other guys are seeing the benefits of having a guy like Clay Matthews as a teammate.”
Are injuries behind Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews reduced sack numbers?: Clay Matthews had 9½ sacks in the first eight games this season, and only two in the last four weeks. Sack production can dip for any number of reasons. Maybe the Green Bay Packers’ outside linebacker is facing more double teams or other game planning to keep him from the quarterback. Maybe tackles have studied film and found better ways to block him. Maybe he’s wearing down, or maybe his shin injury is slowing him. The drop-off in sacks doesn’t mean Matthews hasn’t performed. He has five or more tackles in each of the last four games and returned an interception for a touchdown in one of them. More importantly, the Packers have played some of their best defense of the season. In the last four weeks — against Dallas (No. 10 in points scored), Minnesota (No. 27), Atlanta (No. 6) and San Francisco (No. 30) — the Packers have allowed an average of only 11.5 points. Matthews is their most important defensive player, so he must be making a difference, sacks or not. The issue with his current shin injury doesn’t seem to be on game day.
Matthews plays through pain as shin worsens: Matthews’ coaches and personnel people across the National Football League rate his toughness and hustle as superior. He goes non-stop, attacking blockers with a ferocity that seldom has been witnessed from a Packers player. For the first time in weeks, Matthews doesn’t lead the NFL in sacks. He has 11½, one-half behind Miami’s Wake after registering just one in the last three games. “A lot of people are making a big deal about sacks,” said Matthews. “I don’t think it’s hindered my play at all.” Probably a better indicator of Matthews’ pass-rushing production is “pressures,” which is defined as the combination of sacks, knockdowns and hurries. Through the Jets game, he was averaging 4.07 “pressures” in seven games. In the last four games, he has averaged 2.38. Matthews manned the left outside linebacker position during the walk-through portion of practice Friday. When formal practice started, free agent Walden took his spot. DC Capers has said the missing practice time probably affects Matthews most in the timing of fire-zone pressures. His pass coverage has been solid all season. “I’ve been able to do some reps, even if you’re just going through the motions,” Matthews said. “When it comes to that first play on Sunday, I haven’t skipped a beat in my preparation. I feel good. I’m just kind of hoping for the best.”