Every once in a while, the right player gets into the right scheme and magic happens.
That's the case for Clay Matthews, whose superb rookie season is starting to look rather ordinary.
In two games, Matthews has six sacks. If you want to nitpick, he should have seven — including four on Sunday — because Matthews knocked the ball free from quarterback Trent Edwards before Cullen Jenkins slammed Edwards down for the sack.
The first came in the Psycho package in which Jenkins is the only defensive lineman and is surrounded by five linebackers. Matthews lined up off the ball on the left side, moved up to the line of scrimmage at the snap, then circled up the middle and beat center Geoff Hangartner with a swim move to drop Edwards. The second came when the Bills ran a naked bootleg against Matthews in hopes of his using his aggressiveness against him. Forget about it. Matthews, who was lined up on the left side, didn't bite and had a free pass for his second sack. And in the fourth quarter, the Bills foolishly allowed Packers castoff Jamon Meredith to go one-on-one against Matthews, who was coming off the right side. The result was predictable.
What wasn't predictable is how this has been a perfect storm. Beyond Matthews' obvious talent, he's smart and flat-out relentless. His position coach is Kevin Greene, who got most of his 160 career sacks playing Matthews' position. The defensive coordinator is Dom Capers, who continually finds ways to free up Matthews when every team in the league knows he's the defense's only pass rusher.
"We knew going in (that Matthews was a marked man), just reading the comments coming out of Buffalo last week," Capers said. "They watched Clay in the first game against the Eagles and they were going to have a number of schemes where they were going to have two guys to account for Clay. It's harder to do when Clay moves around as much as he's moved around. Still, you can't base your whole scheme on just one guy. You've got to do what you do. Clay's done a nice job of when he's had his opportunities, he's converted them. Hopefully, he can keep that going."
The excitable Greene talks passionately about his prized pupil, calling him potentially one of the best to ever play the position. This coming from the NFL's all-time sackmaster among linebackers.
"Well, at this point," Greene said of that record. "If Clay continues in this league, then that record will be temporary."
Lordy, lordy: Look at Jordy
Jordy Nelson returned the opening kickoff of the season just 16 yards.
Since then, he's been nothing short of sensational in continually giving the Packers' powerful offense good field position. Among kickoff returners with more than two chances, Nelson ranks second in the league with a 31.0-yard average. His last six returns have all covered at least 20 yards, and he's tied for the league high with two returns of at least 40 yards.
"I think it's pretty obvious that he's close" to breaking one, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "We're getting him up on the safety. I think it's a matter of time that he'll have a chance to break one."
His two returns on Sunday covered 34 and 27 yards, setting up the offense at the 34- and 40-yard lines, respectively.
That production is just part of the confirmation that the added emphasis on special teams has been paying off. Nelson ranked 11th in the NFL in kickoff returns last year with a 25.4-yard average, and Slocum catered the scheme to Nelson this year.
"Jordy's best asset is his speed once he gets going," Slocum said. "He's a big guy, and I think he looks relatively hard to tackle because his knees are high and he's one of those big guys who just chews up grass. So, the thing we have to do is get him started. So, what we're trying to do from a blocking standpoint is be square on blocks and give him options of where to run the ball. ... Without giving away competitive advantage, that's really in a nutshell what we're doing."
Facing two of the NFL's best special teams units to open the season, Green Bay dominated Philadelphia and earned no worse than a draw against Buffalo. That bodes well heading into Chicago, which, like Buffalo, always features a top-notch kicking game.
Change at left tackle
Rodgers surveys the line of scrimmage with Bulaga (75) at left tackle.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
This year, Clifton made it through just five-and-a-half quarters before being removed because his sore knees supposedly didn't have him playing at a high enough level. Upon review, Clifton wasn't great on Sunday but he wasn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Clifton, who allowed a sack on a bull rush last week, was beaten a couple times but never was close to allowing a sack. His run blocking, never a strong suit even on his best days, looked ordinary.
"When you get something that gets that uncomfortable, it makes it harder to bend, sustain a little bit. It was hurting him," offensive line coach James Campen said.
Campen, coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin all took great pains to say that Clifton is their starting left tackle. And at that money, they had better hope so. But can a 34-year-old lineman whose body has taken a beating over the years ever get healthy enough? After all, this was Week 2, not Week 12, so it's not like a season's worth of wear and tear simply got the best of Clifton.
History is on the Packers' side
The Packers are off and running with a 2-0 start to the season. As you'd expect, that bodes well for their playoff aspirations. According to the league, 167 teams have started 2-0 since 1990. Of those, 107 reached the postseason — or 64.1 percent. The combined number of playoff teams that started 1-1 or 0-2? Just 73.
For more recent history, six of last year's 12 playoff teams started 2-0, including both Super Bowl participants. In 2008, five of the 12 playoff teams started 2-0, including both Super Bowl participants.
Of course, look no further than the 2008 Packers to show that 2-0 doesn't guarantee anything. Green Bay beat Minnesota and Detroit to open the season but won just four of its remaining 14 games.
No team has ever won a Super Bowl in September, but a championship most certainly can be lost. Imagine the desperate feeling with two of the NFC's other preseason Super Bowl favorites — Dallas and Minnesota — right now. Starting strong is important but it's not nearly as important as finishing strong. These Packers have shown enough flaws through two games that one of two things will happen. One, those flaws will be exploited and this will go down as another lost season. Or, those flaws will be fixed and January and February could be a heck of a lot of fun.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.