Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is tied for third in the NFL with 12.5 sacks and is the top player on the NFL's second-ranked scoring defense. Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, who has eight sacks, has been the difference-making addition for a team that ranks fourth in the league in points allowed.
"It'd truly be an honor, but in all honesty, it's the least of my worries right now," Matthews said on Thursday. "Obviously, we've got a big game this weekend, so anything I can do to help my team win, put us in playoff contention is obviously more important. The awards will fall where they may. I'm just worried about getting this win."
Matthews looked like a lock for the award, with 8.5 sacks in the first five games and 10.5 after nine games. But with an injured shin and an increased focus from opposing offenses, Matthews' production has been on the wane. He's had just one sack in the last five games.
It's not like he's disappeared, though. His production has helped Cullen Jenkins (seven) and B.J. Raji (6.5) combine for 13.5 sacks, and the Packers are tied for fifth in the NFL with 41 sacks. Plus, Matthews' hustling forced fumble against the Giants was a huge play.
"Frustrated is not the right word," Matthews said of the Giants' frequent use of double-team and chip blocks. "That was probably the most attention I've seen in a long time, but I'm just doing my job. If I'm not getting that kind of attention, then I'm not doing my job. Was close to the quarterback a few times, but it's part of the game plan. Overall, I thought we did pretty well on defense and came away with a big victory."
There are other players in the race, such as Atlanta's John Abraham (13.0 sacks on the fifth-ranked scoring defense) and Pittsburgh's James Harrison (10.5 sacks on the top-ranked scoring defense). But Peppers, with three forced fumbles, two interceptions and 11 passes defensed, has had a big year and, like Matthews, helps set up his teammates. Fellow end Israel Idonije has eight sacks — equaling his total in 86 career games before this season.
"Physically, he's a freak," Matthews said of Peppers. "I got to see him in person at the Pro Bowl last year, and I couldn't believe a guy could look like that. More so than that, just the attention he garners out there. He's a physical presence. It's hard to run his way. It's hard to run away from him because he's got the speed. He can rush the passer and, when he's asked, drop into coverage. Overall, he's a great athlete and physically is a mismatch for every tackle he goes against."
Jenkins not sure
Jenkins has been out since suffering a strained calf in the final minutes against San Francisco on Dec. 5. The hope was Jenkins would return for this game but he called his status "up in the air."
"It's getting better," Jenkins said. "I'm just trying to progress it along, trying to push forward but just making sure that we don't push too much forward too fast. But it shows some promising signs."
Jenkins, who is playing for a new contract as an unrestricted free agent at season's end, has missed four games this season. The Packers are 4-2 when he gets a sack, and with a playoff berth at stake, he'd obviously be a key contributor even in a limited role.
"It's tough because you want to (play)," he said. "There's a lot at stake here, you want to get out. But I have all the confidence in the world in the team. And I don't think that me alone is going to make a difference and I don't want to go out on the field and one, put the team in jeopardy (by) trying to play if I'm not ready. And then two, end up messing up myself for future, for a run later on. We're really going to be smart about the decision with whether or not to go."
Packers injury report
Out: S Atari Bigby (groin); FB Korey Hall (knee). Did not participate: DE Cullen Jenkins (calf); G/T Marshall Newhouse (back); CB Sam Shields (knee); LB Frank Zombo (knee). Limited participation: S Nick Collins (rib); LB Clay Matthews (shin); DE Ryan Pickett (ankle); CB Charles Woodson (toe). Full participation: T Chad Clifton (knee); LB Erik Walden (quad); C Scott Wells (back).
McCarthy is optimistic that Shields will play.
"I don't have a very high concern level, just based on the communication with Sam and the medical staff," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We'll see how he goes through the treatment today, and he'll be re-evaluated in the morning. He'll potentially practice. He seems very positive about it."
Bears injury report
The Bears are remarkably healthy, especially in comparison to the Packers. Center Olin Kreutz, who did not practice yesterday for a non-injury-related reason, has been removed the report.
— With Hall ruled out, rookie running back James Starks probably will be on the gameday roster after being inactive the last two weeks. "It has been tough, but it's part of my own fault," Starks said. "I've just got to get better in practice and do things that I need to do to play."
— Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said Wells and right guard Josh Sitton have been the best linemen this season. "Scott's had a heck of a good year. He's just been as steady as can be and played very well," Philbin said.
— There are 10 candidates for the Packers Fan Hall of Fame, with voting to begin on Sunday.
— No team has swept through the NFC North/NFC Central since the Bears in 1987.
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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.