Clay Matthews’ return tilts the field
By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin
~Coach Mike McCarthy knew it during the week: Having star outside linebacker Clay Matthews back had altered the entire vibe of the Green Bay Packers defense. It stood to reason that he’d have the same effect on game day.
And boy, did he.
“You could see it in practice. When Clay Matthews is on the field, we’re a different defense. He’s an impact player. He made an impact today,” McCarthy said after Matthews had two sacks, six tackles (four for losses) and a pass deflection in Sunday’s 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. “He’s clearly one of the best defensive players in the league. I think that says it all.”
Matthews’ play certainly said plenty in his return from the hamstring injury he suffered on Nov. 4 against Arizona, costing him the past four games. He got to work immediately, teaming with defensive end Mike Daniels to stuff Matt Forte – after the Bears back had started the game running right through the Green Bay defense – for no gain on a second-and-1 at Green Bay’s 31-yard line. A false start followed by an incompletion forced the Bears to punt.
Both of Matthews’ sacks on quarterback Jay Cutler came on nifty inside stunts that seemed to catch the Bears by surprise. The first was for a 7-yard loss on a third-down play to open the second quarter and force a punt; the second was early in the fourth quarter and resulted in another 7-yard loss on a second-and-17 play.
“You could tell with how they were blocking in the game and some of the defenses we were calling that we could take advantage of some matchups,” said Matthews, who had 3.5 sacks in the Packers’ Sept. 13 victory over Chicago and now has 11 sacks on the season. “So we ran some other games out there, some one-on-ones, but ultimately I have a pretty good change of direction and quickness, and it’s hard for those big guys.”
While Matthews was frustrated by the time he missed, he admitted that it might turn out to be a blessing.
“There absolutely is some benefit to it,” Matthews said. “You never want to just miss four games in the middle of the season and try to come back, but fortunately we’ve had some success. I can tell there’s still room for my game to improve. Fresh legs, no doubt about it. Hopefully (I can) come back and remain healthy for the rest of the season. I felt good out there, and hopefully that’s the case the rest of the year.”
Asked what he has to do to stay in the lineup, Matthews admitted that he might’ve pushed it a bit more than he should’ve. Although Matthews was supposed to only see part-time action, he came out of the game for only a handful of snaps.
“We need to continue to be smart. You can’t just say you had one game that you made it out safe, let’s take the reins off and let him go at it again,” Matthews said. “As you can see, I took a few plays off – not many. I think they wanted a little bit more but I wouldn’t let them.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting too fatigued, so I was going to continue to be out there. Perhaps (on) longer drives, plays where I’m running a little more, I may have to take a few plays off to keep the body fresh.
“We’ll continue to do that, keep an eye on my physical status throughout the week, but that’s kind of the way it goes. That’s kind of been my problem throughout the years. Hey, if I can come out and have games like this, then it’s a good problem to have.”