Talking Tackles: Chad Clifton

Veteran Chad Clifton, feeling better than he has in years, will have a major challenge on his hands against James Harrison in Sunday's Super Bowl against Pittsburgh.

Like his team, Chad Clifton has had a remarkable stretch of success since late December.

As the Green Bay Packers have won five straight elimination games, the 34-year-old left tackle has eliminated some of the best pass rushers in the NFL by playing his best football of the season.

On Sunday, in the Super Bowl, he will face arguably his toughest test yet in outside linebacker James Harrison. Harrison, who finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, had 10.5 sacks and forced six fumbles.

"I will be blocking Harrison for the majority of the game," said Clifton. "My film study has been on him for the most part. He is a phenomenal player. He is like a pit bull out there. You have to really admire the way he plays the game and the passion he plays with. He is going to give it 100 percent on every play."

Clifton played a large role in shutting down the Giants' Osi Umenyiora, the Bears' Julius Peppers, the Eagles' Trent Cole and the Falcons' John Abraham in recent weeks as the Packers clinched a playoff spot and then made a run to the Super Bowl. Combined, those four pass rushers could muster only 11 tackles, two quarterback hits and one sack in five games.

And as is Clifton's routine, he has done it while dealing with injuries. He suffered a neck stinger that forced him to leave the NFC Championship Game temporarily on Jan. 23 and is listed again this week on the injury report with recurring knee issues that nearly sidelined him for good earlier in the season.

In a Week 2 game against the Bills, Clifton was benched for ineffective play. In his place, rookie Bryan Bulaga finished the game in what looked like a possible long-term change at left tackle.

"The Buffalo game was kind of a low point for me for this season just with the knee injury," said Clifton. "But I was able to bounce back from that and come in and play some good football and so was the team."

Dealing with aches, pains and injuries are nothing new for Clifton. After an extensive and successful rehabilitation from a devastating pelvic injury in 2002, Clifton has battled nagging injuries – shoulder and ankle included -- ever since, which regularly sideline him for practice.

To his credit, however, he has shown up on game day, missing just six games over the last nine seasons.

This his 11th season, Clifton has not missed a game in 2010, moving him into the top 20 for career games played in Green Bay with 170 (including the playoffs). Only three offensive linemen in the history of the Packers (Forrest Gregg, Larry McCarren, and Ron Hallstrom) have played in more regular season games.

The improved condition of his knees has been a big reason.

"They feel good. They really do," said Clifton. "Night and day compared to the beginning of the season."

For the first time in his career, Clifton was voted into the Pro Bowl after being an alternate three times. It what was an astounding bounce-back season, Clifton's penalty totals went down from nine (in 12 games) to five (in 16 games). Only once in 19 games was he called for holding, that coming in the NFC Championship.

In his only matchup with Harrison in 2009, Clifton fared well. Harrison, the reigning defensive player of the year at the time, had just one tackle and no sacks. If he can do that again, he would go a long way toward helping his team achieve the ultimate goal.

"This is my 11th season, finally getting to the Super Bowl, getting down to Dallas," said Clifton. "That is the reason each and every one of us play the game to get to the Super Bowl and have a chance to win the Super Bowl ring and win the Lombardi Trophy. So, yeah, (I'm) just extremely thrilled."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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