Clay Matthews’ pain is opponents’ gain : Packers Insider

Clay Matthews’ pain is opponents’ gain

December 11, 2010 by  
Filed under News

By Jason Wilde, ESPNmilwaukee

~GREEN BAY – The pain in Clay Matthews’ shin is getting worse, which might explain why the Green Bay Packers star outside linebacker hasn’t been the pain in the neck for opposing quarterbacks that he was during the first half of the season.

Dom Capers: "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."

Matthews said Friday that he’s not sure when he first injured his shin, but it got bad enough in the week after the Packers’ Oct. 31 victory over the New York 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 – despite missing the team’s Oct. 17 loss to Miami after aggravating his troublesome hamstring – but has managed just two sacks since the victory over the Jets: One against Dallas on Nov. 7, and one when Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre slid short of the line of scrimmage in the Packers’ Nov. 21 triumph over the Vikings. 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’ work has generally been limited to the jog-through portions of practice – Matthews disputes the notion that he hasn’t been as productive, even though he enters Sunday’s game against Detroit at Ford Field not leading the NFL in sacks. That’s the first time this season that he hasn’t been on top, having fallen a half-sack behind Miami’s Cameron Wake.

“I do wish I was practicing more. It’s a myth that you’re getting out of practice and, ‘Oh, he just shows up on game days.’ You want to be practicing,” Matthews said as he sat at his locker Friday. “In a sense, you are more fresh for the game in that you’re not beating yourself down, but you have to make sure you keep yourself sharp mentally and physically. I’d like to be out there, but at the same time, what’s smart right now is to try to have me as close to 100 percent as we can come Sunday.”

Against San Francisco last Sunday, Matthews came close to sacking quarterback Troy Smith twice. On one play, he beat running back Brian Westbrook and had his arms around Smith but the quarterback was able to get the ball to tight end Vernon 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.

According to a breakdown done by blogger Al Bracco, Matthews rushed quarterback Troy Smith on 17 of San Francisco’s 25 passing plays last week, and on 10 of 17, Matthews was double-teamed in some form. And when he wasn’t double-teamed, the play-call was generally for a quick pass that got the ball out of Smith’s hand before Matthews would have a chance to get to him.

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.

“Some people may look at it like, ‘Oh, well, he’s hurt, so he’s not making plays.’ But you’ve got to look at the teams we’ve been playing and the concepts around getting pressure,” Matthews explained. “Last week was a different game from the simple fact that we knew we had this mobile quarterback, we were going to challenge him to beat us with his arm. That’s exactly what we did. We didn’t have to put too much pressure on him as far as bringing the house. I thought we did a fantastic job on our rushes when we had our opportunities.

“On those two (near-sacks), Vernon had a heck of a catch on one, and the other I don’t remember, I was on the ground holding on. 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, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, outside linebackers coach Kevin 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 games to start the season, which made him a marked man.

“I can tell you this: With the name that he developed early in the year, when you game plan, you say, ‘OK, we cannot let this guy have an impact. So we’re going to put one, two, three guys on him,’” Greene said. “To get a sack, a lot of (stuff) has to line up. The moon has to come together. You need time to work your move, you hopefully don’t get held. I don’t see any dip in Clay’s play at all, whatsoever.

“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.”

That said, Capers did acknowledge that he wishes Matthews could practice more. But Capers said Matthews has the mental acuity to play well with limited work during the week, a la cornerback Charles Woodson, whose practice snaps have been limited all season because of a toe injury, age and the sprained ankle he suffered Wednesday in practice.

“Clay’s a bright guy, and I think he’s a lot like Charles in terms of being able to picture things and see ’em. He picks things up well,” Capers said. “But, there’s no question, he’s still a young player and not being able to go out and work on your skills and techniques every day, it’s going to affect you. Now, he’s a guy that I think because of a lot of the other things he has, (he) can go out and play at a high level for us. But, would he be just as sharp as he’d be if he was out there taking every one of those reps? Probably not.”

Matthews said he couldn’t pinpoint exactly when he injured his shin, but said it started to hurt against the Jets and has gotten worse ever since. He wouldn’t say exactly what the injury is but said it wouldn’t heal until after the season.

“It was constantly getting irritated and getting pain,” Matthews said. “It started earlier in the season, so I think the more it continued to get aggravated, it was to the point after that Jets game where I was coming out at practice and just noticeably not moving as well. So we took some time off and I was ready for the Dallas game and have been on that (limited practice) schedule ever since.”

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