None other than the legendary Yogi Berra famously said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”
That will be the Green Bay Packers’ approach to Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans.
With a short turnaround to get ready for Sunday and 12 players on the injury report, the Packers did not practice on Wednesday. That meant an extra day of rest and recovery for the two biggest names on that injury report: quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Matthews sustained an injured left shoulder on a crunching first-quarter block from Eagles lineman Allen Barbre on Monday night, and Rodgers injured his left hamstring while extending a play during the third quarter.
“Talking to the trainers and everybody involved, they fully expect to play Sunday,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday.
Teams usually begin their on-the-field preparation for a Sunday game on Wednesday. The Packers typically practice about 1:45 on Wednesdays. McCarthy, however, limited his team to walking through plays in the CRIC located inside of Lambeau Field, rather than a full-speed practice outside at Clark Hinkle Field, as it got to work for Sunday’s home game against Houston. Even the Thursday practice has been trimmed from the usual two hours to about an hour-and-a-half.
After back-to-back prime-time games, including Monday’s 27-13 win at Philadelphia, McCarthy is putting his focus on mental preparation this week as the Packers (5-6) try to stay in the NFC playoff race.
“Stress, it adds up,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, this plan was in place in the spring when the schedule came out. We knew this was going to be a difficult stretch for our football team. We moved everything back, gave those guys a chance to sleep in today.”
Of the injuries to the team’s star players, Matthews’ is the biggest concern. With starting inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez inactive in Philadelphia, Matthews moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker – where he had spent the previous season-and-a-half. However, on the sixth play of the game, Matthews was leveled by Barbre on an end-around.
“I wasn’t a fan of it,” Matthews said. “I have a lot more to say about it (that) I’m going to say behind closed doors. I mean, it was a cheap shot.”
Matthews missed three plays and returned, then missed the next series while receiving a pain-killing injection. He returned for the Eagles’ third series and played most of the rest of the game. Matthews recorded a fourth-quarter sack, his first since the fourth game of the season.
“As long as you have a numbing agent, it feels good,” Matthews said. “But it’s real difficult, especially making that switch inside and having to take on blockers with two hands, two arms. As the film shows, I was kind of tentative throwing it out there and everything. We’ll try to get the swelling down and, hopefully by the time game time rolls around, it will feel that much better.”
The injury is the latest to limit Matthews. Matthews missed the Week 3 game against Detroit with a hamstring injury, played in the next three games, then missed the Atlanta, Indianapolis and Tennessee games – all losses – after injuring the hamstring again. He returned for last week’s loss at Washington but didn’t record a tackle.
“I was feeling good on that first series” against the Eagles, Matthews said. “I was playing a little faster with the position change and everything, feeling good about what I was able to do on those first couple of plays. I realize it was only a handful of plays. Yeah, it was frustrating. Part of the game, though. We’ll battle through it and just deal with it, I guess.”
As for Rodgers, the hamstring injury is a concern because he’s been so effective either extending plays or scrambling. Rodgers said it’s “improving” but wasn’t sure if the injury would impact his mobility. McCarthy said he wouldn’t have a handle on whether the injury would impact the game plan until Thursday’s practice.
Even without three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who’s on injured reserve because of his back, the Texans (6-5) rank fifth in total defense and 12th in points allowed. A wounded Rodgers would certainly help their cause as they cling to a half-game lead over Tennessee (6-6) and a one-game lead over Indianapolis (5-6).
“There’s no question it will definitely help out if he can sit in the pocket and doesn’t really feel like running, because there’s nothing more defeating than on third down covering everybody and then the quarterback runs right by everyone for the first down,” Texans linebacker Brian Cushing said. “If it limits him, obviously that’ll be a big plus for us. There’s no question about that.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.