Clay Matthews, as linebackers coach Winston Moss put it, “is doing the best that he can.”
His best, however, hasn’t been anywhere close to good enough. An injured shoulder has turned one of the NFL’s most feared defenders into just another player.
In the three full games since being leveled by Philadelphia’s Allen Barbre, Matthews’ impact has been practically nonexistent: Zero sacks, one quarterback hit and two tackles, according to the coaches’ stats. He’s played 82 snaps, most of them coming on passing downs, but hasn’t been able to beat two-armed offensive tackles with only one healthy arm.
Which begs this question: Should Matthews even be in the game if he isn’t able to deliver production?
“Based upon Clay’s history and expectations and what he could do, you never know,” Moss said on Wednesday evening. “It’s very easy to sit here and either critique or say that he hasn’t done anything based upon the opportunities he’s gotten so far. Let’s say he goes out this Saturday and makes one game-changing play but he doesn’t do anything the rest of the game ...”
In other words, Matthews is on the field in hopes of contributing that game-turning play.
Even if he’s scarcely been noticeable while playing 29, 24 and 29 snaps the past three weeks.
“Obviously, any time we can get Clay on the field, we'd like to because Clay is one of those guys that he can make that one, two, three plays a game that can change the game,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “A lot of guys wouldn't have been out on the field the last couple weeks. When Clay says he wants to try it, you're going to look at him and maybe limit what he does at certain times, which is really what we've done.
“I certainly appreciate Clay going out there, understanding the importance of each and every one of these games.”
Matthews was listed as full participation at Wednesday’s practice, showing that he’s slowly progressing from the injury. Would the Packers be better giving Matthews a week off in hopes that he’d be better able to contribute at Detroit in a potential NFC North title game? Perhaps, but it’s not as if the Packers are overflowing with options.
Julius Peppers is 36 and, while he’s delivered some of those game-changing plays, he’s no longer a snap-after-snap difference-maker. He’s been holding down the fort with Datone Jones, who had five quarterback hits vs. Seattle but had no hits and just one tackle vs. Chicago. Nick Perry, the team’s best outside linebacker this season, has missed the last two games with an injured hand and, if he returns on Saturday, it would be with a club-cast on his left hand. Jayrone Elliott also was sporting a club at practice. Rookie Kyler Fackrell, who returned last week from a hamstring injury, has one quarterback hit all season.
So, Matthews is going to have to play and the Packers are going to have to hope that his best effort translates into a noteworthy play or two.
“It’s tough,” Moss said, “but that’s what we’re here for.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.