Defenses Revolve Around Wagner, Matthews

Underrated Bobby Wagner of Seattle and flashy Clay Matthews of Green Bay are the pulse of their defenses and will play key roles in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)

RENTON, Wash. — If it seems as if Clay Matthews is omnipresent off the field, well, yeah. No NFL linebacker has a higher profile than the Green Bay star, thanks to his commercials and his flashy persona.

If you barely know anything about Bobby Wagner, that's understandable, too. He's not into snazzy, leaving that to his Legion of Boom teammates in Seattle.

On Sunday in the NFC championship game, their performances will go a long way toward determining which team goes to the Super Bowl. And while Matthews may add a touch of the ostentatious, Wagner will do things far more quietly, yet just as fiercely.

Indeed, he might be the least-ballyhooed member of this season's All-Pro team.

"With Wags, just killer instinct," fellow All-Pro Earl Thomas said Thursday. "Some guys just have that nasty streak to him, and I want another guy beside me with killer instincts. He has that, Sherm has that, Kam has that, and that fired-up passion is contagious."

Essential, too, for the most feared defense in the league, one that helped the Seahawks win it all last year and has them on the verge of a repeat title — something not accomplished by anyone in a decade.

But, consistent with his nature, Wagner doesn't make a big deal of it all.

"My job is to be in the middle of everything," said the 2012 second-round draft pick from Utah State. "Also, the signal caller, making sure everybody's in the right spot, making adjustments when I need to, being as vocal as I possibly can on the field."

Of course, Wagner does far more than that. Even though he missed five games with a right foot injury, he still managed at least 104 tackles — he had 140 and 119 the previous two years. When he returned in late November, the Seahawks became immovable again. They didn't allow a fourth-quarter point from Week 12 through the end of the regular season.

It's hard to argue that Wagner is the fulcrum of a unit that includes fellow All-Pros Thomas at safety, Richard Sherman at cornerback, and Kam Chancellor intimidating opponents from his safety spot, and a deep, versatile front. But it's not impossible to make that case.

Wagner wouldn't make it, though. He takes pride in the stinginess of his defense, but sees himself as a cog, nothing more, in that frugality on the scoreboard.

"That's what we do, we finish," he said. "Whenever a fourth quarter comes around we understand those are when games are won. That's when big-time players make big-time plays. And that's when the good teams show up."

The Packers will show up at CenturyLink Field with a good but not great defense. Indeed, its only consistent playmaker is Matthews, who made his fifth Pro Bowl in six seasons by being a factor at outside and inside linebacker.

Matthews has displayed throughout his six pro seasons he is much more than a media star capable of ripping on himself in TV ads. He's capable of ripping apart offensive schemes, and his value in Green Bay has been increased with how coordinator Dom Capers used him in 2014.

When Capers began moving Matthews around in the Packers' alignments, it caused opponents to guess — something no offense or quarterback is comfortable with. Matthews had 6 1-2 sacks in his final four games and 11 for the season.

"I think if you look at the change of where we were in Week 8 and the bye week into now, and obviously, statistics will show that we're moving in the right direction," Matthews said. "Both individually and as a team, as a defense really. So, you know, it seems to be working in the right direction. Obviously, we're winning games and I'm making plays, so as long as that's happening, we're doing something right."

Enough right to be in their third conference title game in eight seasons, and enough to complement their high-powered offense led by All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers.

Matthews, who played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at Southern California — Carroll admits he misjudged Matthews skills there, not starting him until he was a senior — is confident enough to believe Green Bay can do as much shutting down on defense Sunday as can Seattle.

"With a defense with as many playmakers as they have, and has played as well as they have, you know obviously the onus is going to be on our defense," Matthews said. "So we understand that going into it. So obviously we're going to be trying our best to limit their big plays, limit the times they score in hopes that we score more."


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