Gameday Notebook: Matthews Sacking History

Clay Matthews' ability, intelligence and health has him on a record-setting pace. Plus, the impact of Seattle's fans, third-down worries, a major challenge in the run game and much, much more in what we guarantee is the biggest, best and most informative game preview anywhere.

Dom Capers has been around great outside linebackers throughout his coaching career, ranging from Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling in New Orleans to Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd in Pittsburgh.

As the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator, Capers has maybe his best pupil in Clay Matthews.

"I hate to compare guys," Capers said with a smile on Saturday. "Clay, being in the the Pro Bowl his first three years speaks for itself. One thing about Clay is his versatility. He can rush, he can drop into coverage. He's smart, so he can play a lot of different spots. He's a true pro. This is his profession, so he invests a lot. When you have ability and you make a big investment and you have that drive to where you want to be the best, I think that's a good combination."

Matthews has six sacks in the first two games of this season compared to six sacks all of last season.

"That's pretty sick," said Seahawks coach Pete Carrolll, who coached Matthews to a career total of 5.5 sacks at USC. "That's a little bit too much, and you can tell him to back off that pace."

You could see this monster start coming. He was routinely the best player on the field at training camp, and during extremely limited action in the preseason, Matthews was superb.

It's not that Matthews had a bad season in 2011. To the contrary. Based on's study, Matthews had a combined total of 67 sacks, hits and hurries. That ranked third among 3-4 outside linebackers, even while getting Week 17 off.

"I didn't change up anything in my plan," Matthews said. "There's nothing there. It's just me being me. I've been the same over the last four years and I will continue to be."

To start the 2010 season, Matthews had three sacks against Philadelphia and three more against Buffalo to give him a two-game total of six sacks. He finished with 13.5 sacks, missing one game with an injured hamstring and being slowed throughout the second half of the season with a stress fracture in his shin.

For the first time since being a first-round pick in 2009, Matthews was healthy throughout training camp. If he stays healthy and the Packers continue to get contributions from other defenders, he could threaten Michael Strahan's NFL-record 22.5 sacks.

"This is the level I expect to play at," he said. "Obviously, sacks, enough can't be said about them, but this is the level I expect to play. That doesn't mean it's going to be an average of three every week. It just means that's the level I hold myself to as far as making plays. If it's hitting the quarterback a second late, putting hits on him (without getting sacks), so be it."

It's not a library

The Packers are hoping their "Wall of Sound" at the renovated Lambeau Field will give them something approximating the CenturyLink Field advantage.

First, there's the numerical evidence: Since the stadium opened in 2005, opponents have been guilty of a league-high 112 false-start penalties. That's 1.96 per game. Minnesota (105), Detroit (100) and St. Louis (97) are next on the list and they play in domes.

Then there's the anecdotal evidence, with Greg Jennings recalling a 2006 game at Seattle: "I remember the first time I played out there, we were in pregame and I'm standing next to Brett (Favre) and I'm going, ‘Oh, my gosh, I cannot hear you right now and it's pregame.'"

The Packers, however, have been outstanding in road games since Mike McCarthy took over as coach in 2006. Green Bay is 28-20 away from Lambeau, the .583 winning percentage ranking fifth in the league. While Seattle's not a dome, the noise level is comparable. Over the last three seasons, the Packers are 8-4 in dome games (including playoffs but not the Super Bowl) while averaging 29.6 points per game.

"I think first you have to start with the offensive line and the quarterback," McCarthy said. "That's the biggest stress point, in my opinion, when you play in loud stadiums. The perimeter group has to keep their eye on the ball. Aaron does a very good job with the cadence in a loud stadium. This will be a big challenge. We've been talking about it all week. This is a very loud stadium."

The Packers will lean on the experience of a veteran-laden offense.

"No. 1, we practice in it," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "We have crowd noise out there in practice, so you get used to it during the week. We have veteran players on offense and they understand it and they've been through it before and they just work through the noise. It's difficult at times but, if you have people who have been there before and worked through and have experienced it, it's helpful."

Height's not an issue

At a shade over 5-foot-10, the knock on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was obvious. However, Wilson had two passes batted down in the first two games, far behind Drew Brees (five) and John Skelton (four), and one less than Blaine Gabbert (6-foot-4) and Jay Cutler (6-foot-3).

"They play-action pass enough and he's got enough movement," Capers said. "Guys that have good movement can move within the pocket. Drew Brees is not a very tall guy but they sense (pressure) and they can move in the pocket and see the throwing lanes within the pocket. They're doing a nice job with their overall scheme and the run game, and he's got enough movement and vision. He can get outside the pocket, but even when he's in the pocket, he has the instincts to slide and see the open throwing lanes."

Third-down worries

One reason why Green Bay's offense hasn't been productive is the relative shortcomings on third down. Last season, the Packers finished third in the league with a 48.1 percent conversion rate, a figure that ranked second in NFL history. This season, the Packers have moved the chains 37.0 percent of the time, which ranks 16th in the league.

"That's a big part of keeping drives going and points," MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Two pretty obvious statistics are the third downs and the red zone. If you're scoring two-thirds of the time touchdowns in the red zone, and if you're converting those third downs, you're going to extend drives and give yourself more chances to score points. We're not doing a good enough job yet at that, and hopefully we can improve in those two areas and put some more points on the board."

As Rodgers said, the red zone is a problem, though to a lesser extent. The Packers have scored touchdowns 60 percent of the time, which is tied for 13th. Last season, the Packers were third at 65.2 percent.

Run game battle

The Packers came out of the Chicago game feeling much better about their running game after Cedric Benson carried 20 times for 81 yards.

If the Packers legitimately found a running attack, it will show up against the Seahawks. Entering Week 3, Seattle was second in the NFL with 46.0 rushing yards allowed per game, fourth with 2.6 yards allowed per attempt and fifth with six rushing first downs allowed.

Just how much respect has Seattle's run defense earned? On 20 third-down plays of longer than 1 yard, opponents have attempted to pass every time.

"They've got guys who fly around to the ball and guys piling on the running back and trying to get that ball loose," left guard T.J. Lang said. "A lot of talent on that side of the ball. We took a good step last week with Chicago with where we want to go with the run game. It's up to us up front to make sure that we're getting our running backs some holes and make that defenses respect our run game so they can't just sit back and try to take away the big play."

It's not Hester, but ...

Devin Hester found some running room on one kickoff last week, but other than that, the Packers won their matchup against the best kick returner in NFL history.

Green Bay faces another challenge against Leon Washington. With seven kickoff return touchdowns, Washington trails only Cleveland's Josh Cribbs in NFL history. Washington is the only player with three kickoff returns for touchdowns in two seasons (2007 and 2010) and one of three players with two 99-plus-yard touchdowns in the same game (101 and 99 vs. San Diego in 2010).

In Week 1 against Arizona, Washington had a 52-yard punt return and 83-yard kickoff return.

"I think he's a very good north-south runner," Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "He gets his speed built up quickly, he's very quick and he makes quick cuts running wide open. That's what makes him unique. He has the ability to break tackles. His big runs have been runs have come when he hit the thing running straight up the field and either outrunning the pursuit angles or he broke a tackle."

Numbers to note

— Green Bay's Randall Cobb is special, too. He is the only player in the league with 90-plus yards in receiving (97), punt returns (96), kickoff returns (94) as well as 25-plus yards rushing (28).

— The Packers have held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 64.7, which ranks third in the league. During Capers' tenure, the Packers are 29-2 when they hold in the quarterback to a rating of less than 80. In two games, Wilson's rating is 81.1.

— Seattle has run the ball on 55.6 percent of its offensive plays, the highest rate in the league. Green Bay has thrown the ball on 66.9 percent of its offensive plays, the fourth-highest rate, according to STATS.

The other sideline

— Behind Washington and stellar coverage, Seattle's special teams have been outstanding. Opponents' average starting field position following a Seahawks kickoff has been the 19.3-yard line, good for third in the league. On kickoff returns, the Seahawks' average starting point of the 28.9 ranks second. Moreover, Seattle blocked a punt for a touchdown last week and forced a turnover on a kickoff.

— Seattle is 13-2 when scoring more than 21 points since Carroll took over as coach in 2010. For what it's worth, Green Bay is 56-16 when scoring at least 21 under McCarthy.

— Former Packers punter Jon Ryan boasts one of the strongest legs in the league, with his 50.0-yard average ranking eighth. However, it's the consistency and placement that's finally showing up. Last season, he set Seattle records for average (46.6), net (36.8) and inside-the-20s (34). Contrast last year (eight touchbacks) to Ryan's two years in Green Bay (2006 and 2007), when he had 35 inside-the-20 punts but 23 touchbacks.

History lessons

— The Packers lead the series 10-5, which includes playoff wins in 2003 and 2007. Green Bay has won six of the last seven matchups, including a 48-10 romp at Lambeau Field on Dec. 27, 2009, in which all six touchdowns were scored by running backs (Brandon Jackson had three, Ryan Grant two and Ahman Green one). The teams have split the four games in Seattle. McCarthy is 1-1 in Seattle, losing 34-24 in 2006 and winning 27-17 in 2008.

— The Seahawks' 17-8 mark on "Monday Night Football" gives them a league-best .680 winning percentage. Seattle has won five in a row on Monday night, including the aforementioned 34-24 game and shutouts of Philadelphia, Oakland and San Francisco.

— McCarthy is 6-0 in his first road game of the season, the best streak since Chicago's Mike Ditka won eight in a row for the Bears from 1984 through 1991. Vince Lombardi also won eight consecutive road openers (1960 through 1967).

— Rodgers has been spectacular on the road. In games away from Lambeau last season, he led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating and was second with 21 touchdown passes and 9.00 yards per attempt. For his starting career, he's got a 99.9 rating and a league-high 59 touchdown passes on the road.

Four-point stance

An extra point to this week's story on the dink-and-dunk Packers passing game: Last season, the Packers led the league with 13.7 yards per completion. This year, the Packers are 28th with 10.4 per completion.

— Seattle is ranked last in the league with a pitiful 9.2 yards per completion. Their 136 passing yards per game was last in the league by nearly 40 yards entering this week's games. Wilson is averaging 5.6 yards per attempt after topping 9.0 yards in each of his three preseason starts.

— This game features two of the league's top pass rushers. Since the start of the 2010 season, Matthews ranks fifth with 25.5 sacks while Seattle's Chris Clemons ranks ninth with 23.0 sacks.

— Both teams feature young defenses. As of Week 2, Seattle fielded the fourth-youngest defense, with an average age of 26 years, 148 days among its starters. Green Bay had the ninth-youngest starting defense, with an average age of 26 years, 344 days, though the Packers' numbers are skewed by Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett. Woodson will turn 36 on Oct. 7 and Pickett will turn 33 on Oct. 8.

Quote of the week

Or, the best thing that was said that we couldn't work into a story.

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements, on how to combat the Seahawks' tall cornerbacks: "Just eat more and try to get bigger before the game."

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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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