Clay Matthews leads the NFL with seven sacks.
Playing a mean second fiddle is Cullen Jenkins, who has overcome a broken hand to rank fifth in the league with four sacks — one in each of the four games.
"My kids said that I needed to keep playing with the club (cast) the whole year," Jenkins joked this week.
Jenkins' play is exactly what the Packers needed. As expected, Matthews is drawing extra attention from opposing offenses, with double-team or chip blocks on about half of the snaps. With all of the attention being given to Matthews, Jenkins is having a career season. He had 4.5 sacks last year, and in 2007, he had 2.5 sacks before a torn pectoral ended his season after four games. His career high of 6.5 sacks came in 2006, when he supplanted Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as the starter down the stretch.
In addition, he's got seven quarterback hits, which trails only Matthews' 15.
"I thought he had a hell of a year last year, too," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac told Packer Report on Friday. "His problem is he misses a lot of sacks. He is an excellent pass rusher. He's probably one of the most pure pass rushers from the inside position that I've ever coached — if he would just tackle guys. Sometimes, you've got to gear yourself down a little bit when you're ready to tackle him or you just fly by him, like he did (last week). I don't think he would have made that tackle even if he wouldn't have had the club. He's just got to learn to gear it down a little bit when he gets near that quarterback. I know sometimes that's hard when you get that target in sight and you want to go for it. But he's an excellent pass rusher."
Cullen Jenkins has a sack in four consecutive games.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"As a matter of fact, we really wanted to get him down there," Trgovac said of Cullen Jenkins. "I don't know what happened. When he didn't get drafted, we talked to management about trying to sign him as a free agent. He had some explosiveness to him. He's a very fast-twitch player."
Jenkins' production hasn't surprised the coaches, with Trogvac calling him a "very educated pass rusher." While 4.5 sacks last year wasn't eye-popping, Trgovac remembers the December game at Pittsburgh. Jenkins didn't record a sack but spent most of the game in the Steelers' backfield, with Trgovac calling that game a "highlight tape." Trgovac, who coached Julius Peppers in Carolina, said he'd never seen a lineman with so many pressures in one game, including on the final drive, when he had Ben Roethlisberger all lined up but missed, with Roethlisberger winning the game moments later.
So, knowing that Matthews was their only big-time sacker, the coaches schemed up ways to free up Matthews — and Jenkins.
"I think both Clay and Cullen have benefitted from moving around," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I think it makes it harder to sit down and plan to where you say, ‘Hey, we've got to really account for these guys.' I think their ability to move around gives our defense more versatility and hopefully we become tougher to prepare for."
With a sack in four consecutive games, Jenkins is one off the team record set by Gbaja-Biamila spanning the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Jenkins' feat is all the more impressive in that he's playing with one hand. To compensate, he's playing harder and playing smarter.
"You don't want to be the weak link out there because you know there could possibly be some limitations," he said. "You don't want to do anything where the defense or the coaches may not be confident in putting you out there. You feel like you have to try to go twice as hard to make sure you're doing everything right so that you don't put the defense in a bad spot."
The injury has been both good and bad when it comes to Jenkins' playing time. Last year, he played about three-quarters of the defensive snaps. This year, it's down to just more than half.
"That's good for him, though," Trgovac said. "The whole theory that we had going into this was have Mike Neal in there to try to take some snaps off of him so he is fresher throughout the whole game. There's times when I'd really like to have him on the field but you're trying to guess run and pass and trying to keep him off the field on the obvious run downs. To his defense, when they have run the ball at him, he's played it pretty decent. It's hard when you've got a club instead of a hand."
When Jenkins was hurt, Trgovac jokingly said that Jenkins might learn to like the club. You know, in case Jenkins "accidentally" hit someone with the cast. Jenkins laughed at Trgovac's line but will be happy when he can play with both hands again.
"I've missed some plays, missed some sacks, when I would reach out like my hand was still there but not being able to grab with the club," he said. "You just have to try to make up for it with other areas of your play. It's something, it's a little adversity that I have to go through, and I have to try to make it through it."
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