Gameday Notebook: Matthews is the Key

The Packers need Clay Matthews to pressure Jay Cutler and thwart Mike Martz's aggressive scheme. Plus, Dom Capers goes Psycho, third down, that 'brutal' schedule and much more as we clean out our jammed notebook in time for Monday night's showdown.

The NFL is the ultimate team sport, but one Green Bay Packers player stands out among all others heading into Monday night's showdown at Chicago: Clay Matthews.

To stop any passing attack, it takes equal parts pressure and coverage, but in the case of stopping the Mike Martz-coordinated Bears passing attack, it's about pressure, pressure, pressure.

Martz favors seven-step dropbacks by his quarterback to buy him time for all of those deep-breaking passing routes to develop. Thus, it's incumbent upon Matthews and Co. to get to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler before his speedy receivers have had a chance to complete their routes.

Matthews has been a one-man wrecking crew, with his league-leading total of six sacks in two games standing up through all of Sunday's Week 3 games. Cullen Jenkins has been playing a mean second fiddle with two sacks, and B.J. Raji and Frank Zombo have the others. Matthews' six sacks and 10 quarterback hits represent about half of the team totals of 10 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.

"He has more athleticism than I ever had," said outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, whose 160 career sacks are the most by a linebacker in NFL history. "He really is a special outside linebacker in the history of outside linebackers playing the 3-4 defense. I've said this before, I've never seen another outside linebacker possess the all-around quality of abilities that has. I'm talking about the best ones that have ever played this position."

That's remarkable praise from a Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate. So far, Matthews deserves it. He's off to an incredible start, even though he said he's been double-teamed on about 50 percent of the snaps this season. Martz historically has been reluctant to spend extra blockers in protection. Either way, Matthews will be ready.

"The great ones always win," he said on Friday in an interview that will be the basis of the Cover Story of next month's Packer Report Magazine. "They always find a way to win. And they may not win every play, but I think if they continue to play at the level that has gotten them to that point, I think they can still stay on top and eventually beat double-teams, triple-teams, who knows? But one-on-one, they should win the majority of those, and in regards to doubles and fan blocks and chips and whatnot, obviously you're not going to win as much as you like, but if you stay after it, you're going to free up other people and I think you'll end up making some plays on that, too."

More Matthews

Some perspective on Matthews' season-opening sack-a-thon:

— Matthews is the first player in Packers history with back-to-back three-sack games since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 and the first player in the league to do so since Seattle's Patrick Kerney in November 2007.

— Matthews' six sacks are the most by a Packers player in the first two games of a season, and those six sacks are the most in a two-game span since Bryce Paup notched 6.5 sacks in 1991 against Tampa Bay (4.5 on Sept. 15) and Miami (2.0 on Sept. 22).

— In just 18 career games, Matthews has five games of two-plus sacks. That's better than Reggie White, who had four two-sack games in his first 18 contests with the Packers in 1993 and 1994.

— Matthews has 16 sacks since 2009, which trails only Denver's Elvis Dumervil (17) and the Colts' Dwight Freeney (16.5).

— Thanks to Matthews, the Packers entered this weekend tied with Detroit with a league-high 10 sacks. That's the best two-game stretch in Mike McCarthy's four-plus years as coach. The 2001 team had 12 sacks in the two season-opening games.

— Last year, the Packers didn't bag their 10th sack until Week 6 against Detroit.

Debut of Psycho


Clay Matthews sacks Jay Cutler last year.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unorthodox Psycho package — one defensive lineman (Cullen Jenkins), five linebackers and five defensive backs — threw the Bills for a loop last week. That probably won't be the case against Chicago. Capers unveiled that look during last year's Dec. 13 game at Chicago.

So, will Capers have to keep it under wraps or are there so many variations to Psycho that Capers can still catch the Bears off-balance?

"Every game that you get into the season, you put more on tape so people will have more things to study," Capers said, deftly (and wisely) avoiding answering the question. "That's why you have to have a wide variety of things that you do. There's certain things that are going to be staples of your system and you're going to do those things every week, no matter what. You have to have enough variation. And it's based on opponent, too — what their strengths are, what they do well."

Monday night lights

Tight end Jermichael Finley was a star in the Packers' two Monday night games last year, with 13 catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns against Minnesota and Baltimore.

This season, Finley ranks second on the team with eight receptions with team-leading figures of 150 yards and 18.8 yards per catch. Entering this weekend, his yardage figure ranked fourth among NFL tight ends (just 13 yards behind the Colts' front-running Dallas Clark) and his average per catch ranked second (New England's Aaron Hernandez, 20.9).

With Finley's emergence down the stretch last season — including five catches for 70 yards at Chicago on Dec. 13 — he's receiving more attention from defenses. That doesn't mean quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs to look elsewhere.

"He's not going to force it to Jermichael, but we do say a lot of times that even if he's covered, he's still open because he's a big target and he can body guys up and make the catch," quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. "If he's double-covered, that's a different deal. But if he's single covered and it looks like tight coverage, he can still make a play."

Rodgers' history shows that he doesn't play favorites when it comes to throwing passes, as evidenced by a league-high eight players catching at least 20 passes last season. Nonetheless, Rodgers echoed Clements' thoughts.

"Open is open for different guys," Rodgers said. "Jermichael wasn't really open in the playoff game in Arizona, but put his hand up and when it was third down and we got about 50 yards and pass interference. Now, the guy might not be open, but that's the chance we have to take. The other guys, you might not think that way. I'm going to play the way I've been playing, and I'm going to throw it to the guy who is open in my progression. But, different situations when you have a guy like Jermichael, you can make some of those throws you couldn't make otherwise."

Third down


Aaron Rodgers is off to a slow start on third down.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
It's no secret that third down is the money down in the NFL. Not so for the Bears, who scored 27 points at Dallas last week despite converting only 1-of-11.

"It's a pretty amazing stat when you think about that they went down there and beat the Cowboys," Capers said. "That tells you how good they were on first and second down. I'm sure that they've probably worked on that this week. Their first and second down in terms of threatening you vertically, they're an outstanding screen team, they've got very good people to throw those screens to. That's always been a big part of Mike Martz's game. They're certainly utilizing it there."

Chicago ranks 29th in the NFL by converting just 28 percent of third downs while Green Bay is fourth at 50 percent. Defensively, Green Bay is ahead of Chicago, too. The Packers are 11th at 36 percent while the Bears are 16th at 37 percent.

"It's just not about third down," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "You make that mistake sometimes, ‘Hey, we did good on third down.' But that doesn't tell everything. You have to do good on all three of the downs. That's a point of emphasis for us this week to improve on the third downs and I think we will."

Rodgers — who led the NFL last year with a third-down passer rating of 133.5 with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions — has a rating of 65.1 this year with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Rodgers ranks fourth in the NFC in converting third downs (47.6 percent) while Cutler is 12th (29.4 percent).

Right on schedule

Remember that "brutal" schedule the Packers were supposed to be playing? The cumulative 2009 winning percentage of this year's opponents was a so-so .488, but it looked much more challenging on paper with the Packers swapping the woeful NFC West and AFC North for the superior NFC East and AFC East.

Well, through three games, the cumulative winning percentage of this year's opponents is a dreadful .413. The NFC East is 5-7 and the AFC East is 6-6, and San Francisco, Detroit and Buffalo are a combined 0-9.

Seven points

— Since the 12-team playoff format began in 1990, 107 of the 167 teams that started 2-0 (64.1 percent) reached the playoffs. That's compared to 111 of the 273 teams that opened 1-1 (40.7 percent) and 22 of the 169 teams that opened 0-2 (13.0 percent).

— Running backs coach Edgar Bennett, on what he saw from his running backs against Buffalo: "Definitely got to make the most of our opportunities. I think, watching the tape, there were some good things we did but not enough, not enough. We've got to be more consistent as far as pressing our aiming points and doing the little things from the run game standpoint. Pass protection was great. Obviously, our standards are extremely high and we expect more."

— To win the division, you've got to win division games. McCarthy has done that better than anyone else, with a 17-7 mark against NFC North foes since he was hired in 2006. Chicago is next during that span at 15-10. McCarthy, however, is 4-4 against Chicago while Smith is 7-5 against Green Bay.

"I still remember, back when their coach, Lovie Smith, first got the job," Jenkins recalled. "He said their No. 1 thing they needed to do was beat Green Bay. I don't know if a lot of people around here were around for that, but you still realize how big of a game it is between us and them."

— Speaking of the division, Rodgers is 8-4 against the NFC North with 68.1 percent accuracy, 3,184 yards, 22 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 107.1. He is 3-1 against the Bears, with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

— Green Bay is 5-4 against Chicago on Monday night, including 5-1 in the last six matchups. All-time, the Packers are looking to get back to .500 on Monday nights; they're 27-28-1.

— Even though the Packers have dominated since the Brett Favre era began — including a series-best 18-2 from 1994 through 2003 — Chicago leads 90-82-6. That doesn't include the Bears winning the only playoff game, 33-14 at Wrigley Field in 1941. Green Bay, which had a championship three-peat in 1929 through 1931, last led the series at 11-10-5 in 1932. The Packers, however, are 19-18 at Soldier Field.

— Capers vs. Martz is an intriguing matchup, with both coordinators among the most aggressive play-callers in the NFL. "Oh, this game's not about us," Capers said. "It's about the Packers and the Bears. I don't know — I never read any of those things until the weekend comes. This is all about the Packers going to Chicago and playing a Monday night  football game against the Bears."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.


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