Gameday Notebook: Outside LBs Key Pass Rush

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The Green Bay Packers fielded the worst pass defense in NFL history last season.

They also fielded the worst pass rush in the NFL.

Clay Matthews had just six sacks — he had 13.5 in 2010 and 17 including the playoffs. Desmond Bishop was second on the team with five sacks but he's out for the season with a torn hamstring. Jarius Wynn tied for third on the team with three sacks but is no longer on the team.

If the Packers are going to become a true championship contender and not just a regular-season powerhouse, they face the daunting task of rebuilding a pass rush that plunged from fourth in sack percentage (7.97 percent during the Super Bowl championship season) to 32nd (4.28 percent).

"Obviously, being a part of that makes you appreciate what we were able to do in the year we got to the Super Bowl," Matthews told's Alex Marvez this week. "That being said, with all the guys we brought in and refocusing on what we want to accomplish and being given a clean slate, there's a new sense of urgency. Hopefully, that turns out a top-tier defense again like we're used to."

The key player will be first-round pick Nick Perry. For the Packers to become that top-tier defense again, they'll need Perry to post a lot more production than last year's starter, Erik Walden, who had just three sacks.

Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene expects Perry to be "bouncing off the walls" as he makes his NFL debut.

"I think there's an animal inside of him and I think he's got to let that thing happen," Greene told Packer Report on Friday.

Perry had a sack in the preseason opener against San Diego but otherwise was quiet. Greene said Perry improved throughout training camp and the preseason.

"Let him roll," Greene said when asked if he might need to calm Perry down for his first game. "I'm always reminding my kids about fundamentals and technique but, no, they're on their own. I'm not calming them down. Obviously, if I see a look in their eyes and they're blinking and they're kind of lost, of course a coach's job is to recognize that and pull kids back in and get them back on the same page. I do not foresee that happening. I'm throwing him out there and letting him run, letting him go."

Matthews, meanwhile, had a fantastic camp, even by his standards. Greene wouldn't go so far as to say Matthews had a chip on his shoulder after a relatively quiet year, but there's no doubt Matthews is ready for the challenge of facing the opposing left tackle.

"He had a fine camp," Greene said. "I see Clay being as hungry as he has always been. He is a driven man. He is a hungry man. He is a very passionate man. He is stoking that fire and he plays the game with heart. That's the way you need to play it."

No quarterback was sacked more often last season than San Francisco's Alex Smith (44 times), and the 49ers ranked 28th in sack percentage allowed at 7.97. Perry will face right tackle Anthony Davis, the 2010 first-round pick who allowed eight sacks and ranked 36th out of 51 offensive tackles in's pass blocking efficiency rankings. Matthews will battle left tackle Joe Staley, a first-round pick in 2007 who allowed six sacks and ranked 24th.

If Matthews and Perry can routinely win those matchups, the defense will be in great shape against San Francisco's diverse attack.

"Any time you've got seven guys available to cover, I just think that's kind of the standard," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "If you can rush four and make the quarterback thrown the ball on timing, that's the ideal situation."

NFC Championship jinx

Conventional wisdom would be teams like the 49ers and Ravens, who lost in their conference championship games last season, would be front-runners to get to the Super Bowl this season.

That, however, hasn't always been the case. According to research by, 32 of the 90 conference championship game losers in the Super Bowl era failed to reach the playoffs the following season. That's a surprisingly high 35.6 percent. On the other hand, eight championship game losers bounced back to win the Super Bowl, including Green Bay, which lost the 1995 NFC title game at Dallas but beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI in 1996. An additional four teams went from conference championship losers to Super Bowl losers.

In the case of San Francisco, it'll have to buck this trend: Six of the last seven NFC Championship Game losers failed to make the playoffs the next year.

"You can't dwell on last season," Smith said in a conference call. "In that sense, you really do have to press delete and forget about all of that and you have to relearn everything. There's no easy games in this league. If anything, the success you had last year, people are going to get up and get ready for you. You've got to go out there and earn everything and fight for all of those games. So many games come down to final possessions in this league. The teams that are there making plays in the end end up pulling those games out, and that's what we did a lot of times last year. We have to continue to keep that going."

In Smith's defense

In 2005, the 49ers made a colossal draft blunder by choosing Smith with the No. 1 overall pick instead of Aaron Rodgers. To be fair to Smith, though, he hasn't exactly been given the best chance for success.

Starting with then-offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy's departure following Smith's rookie season to take over in Green Bay, Smith has had a different offensive coordinator every season for his career.

Until now.

On the heels of a 13-3 season, the coach-coordinator combination of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman are back. Under their tutelage last season, Smith posted a career-best passer rating of 90.7. With 17 touchdowns against five interceptions, he was plus-12 — his previous best season, 2009, was plus-6.

"It's been great," Smith said. "You put in all the work last season, through camp and the season and you grow with the offense, so it's been great to come back in the offseason and this camp and really just build on that and not having to press delete and start all over. We've got to go back and look at all of our film from last year. Where do we need to get better? What can we change? All those little things that you get to use instead of wasting that tape by having to learn a new offense."

Young at heart

The NFL will not release league-wide information until next week, but here's a look at the age and experience on the Packers' 53-man roster:

By age: 25 players ages 21-24, 21 players ages 25-28, four players ages 29-32 and three players ages 33-plus.

By experience: 12 players who are rookies/first-year players, 19 players in second or third years, nine players in fourth or fifth years, nine players in sixth through ninth years, and four players with 10-plus years.

By draft round: Nine players in the first round, 10 players in the second and third round, eight players in the fourth and fifth rounds, seven players in the sixth and seventh rounds, and 19 players who went undrafted. In other words, the Packers have as many undrafted free agents as first- through third-round draft picks combined.


History lessons

— The Packers (15-1) and 49ers (13-3) won a combined 28 games last season. That's the most for a Week 1 matchup since the Vikings (15-1) and Falcons (14-2) squared off to start the 1999 season.

"Well, on a scale of 1-to-10, we always place the importance of a 10 on it," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said in a conference call. "Is there another word? Is there a 10-plus? Is there an 11 out of 10 that you could go?"

— This marks the first time the Packers have kicked off the season against a team that won at least 13 games the previous season.

 — The playoffs are a long way away, but these are two of the best postseason teams in NFL history. Green Bay's .630 winning percentage (29-17 record) and 13 world championships are No. 1. San Francisco's .591 winning percentage (26-18) is fourth and it's tied for fifth with five championships.

— The Packers have outscored their opponents by at least 145 points in each of the last three seasons. The last team to accomplish that? The 49ers, from 1991 through 1995.

— The Packers have owned this series, with eight consecutive wins over the 49ers overall and eight in a row at home. Streaks are not uncommon. Before Vince Lombardi arrived, the 49ers beat the Packers 13 times in 15 tries from 1950 to 1958. Then Lombardi showed up and turned the tables, winning 10 of 11 the next six seasons.

— In two career starts against the 49ers, Rodgers has completed 70.7 percent of his passes for 642 yards, with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 118.9 rating.

— In the last matchup, a 34-16 Packers win, Rodgers threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns, including a 57-yarder to Jennings and a memorable 61-yard catch-and-run by Donald Driver.

"It's fun to play well when you need to," Rodgers said. "This is the type of game, like the other two I've been in, where me playing well has been necessary for us to win. They've put up some points both times we played them. It's my role on this team to get us in good situations, to make plays that are there, and make the most of our opportunities. Because there's not going to be a ton of opportunities out there against these guys, you're going to have to be patient, realize they're going to make a lot of plays, but when the opportunities do come up, you have to make the proper throw. The last couple times we've played them we've made the most out of those one or two or three or four opportunities, and turned them into big plays."


On your marks, get set ...

The Packers have been fast starters under McCarthy:

— Green Bay and New England are the only teams to have won their last five season-opening games.

— McCarthy is the only coach in franchise history to win five consecutive Week 1 contests.

— The Packers are 7-2 in September the last three seasons, tied with Baltimore, New Orleans and the New York Jets for tops in the league.

— Expand that to the totality of McCarthy's tenure, and the Packers are 14-6 in September over the last six seasons. Only Baltimore (14-5) and New England (13-5) have been better.

 "Good coaching," was McCarthy's explanation. "No, the first thing is you try to come out of training camp healthy and haven't really had to deal with any major issues going into the season. That's helped us. Our players do a good job of preparing. We have a process we go through. We're able to spend some time on the home opener in training camp and going all the way back to the spring. We definitely put the time in. And the emphasis is play well for the first game. That's what I hope will happen this week."


Noteworthy numbers

— 10: Last season, Jordy Nelson became the first player since the debut of the 16-game season in 1978 to score a touchdown in all eight home games. The league record for consecutive home games with a touchdown catch is 10, shared by Cris Carter (2000-2001) and Bob Hayes (1965-1966).

Will Nelson remind Rodgers when they get inside the red zone?

"He better already know it, honestly. He needs to stay up on my stats," Nelson joked. "No, it's crazy how things like that happen. We're just out playing, and if it happens, it happens. That record, I don't know what anyone has that record. That's such a random thing.

— 29: Speaking of scoring at home, Rodgers has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 29 consecutive home games, a franchise record and the longest current streak in the league.

— 50: Greg Jennings needs one touchdown for 50 in his career, which would break a tie with James Lofton for sixth place in Packers history.

 — 200: When Charles Woodson steps onto the field, he'll become the 32nd defensive back in NFL history to have played in 200 regular-season games. Only Ronde Barber (225) has played in more among active defensive backs.

— 25: McCarthy said 25 percent of plays in a Week 1 game are unscouted looks — plays a team hasn't put on film. That's especially true for San Francisco's new-look offense, and that should be a challenge for Green Bay's new-look defense.

"I'm counting on them relying on their training," McCarthy said. "It was part of their presentation (on Thursday). We actually had a presentation that illustrated all the snaps we've gone against each other starting in the spring, throughout the summer, that prepared them for this game. We have a multiple-pressure defense, we line up a lot of different formations and a lot of different personnel groups offensively, so it's excellent training against one another to prepare us for these type of situations. Frankly, we just need to trust our training, trust our awareness and play football. This game will come down to fundamentals, like it always does."

The last word

Or, the best quote that didn't find its way into a story

"The potential thing is killing me right now. I'm tired of that, tired of hearing it. I'm just ready for my game to speak for itself. And do it for 16 consistent games. That's the thing that chaps at me, the potential side of it."

— Tight end Jermichael Finley, echoing our Thursday story, said on Friday.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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