GREEN BAY, Wis.– If Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is going to miss a game, this would be the week to do it.
Since entering the NFL in 2009, Matthews has sat out six games – five because of injury and one a rest going into the playoffs – and of those six, three have come against the Detroit Lions. In those three games, the Packers are undefeated.
The reality, however, is that the Packers couldn’t need Matthews more than this Sunday, when they host the Lions at Lambeau Field. Owners of a 1-2 record and in danger of falling 2½ games behind the 3-1 Lions, the Packers don’t want to leave anything to chance.
And it doesn’t appear they will.
Matthews was back on the practice field in full pads Thursday, 11 days after pulling a left hamstring muscle that has been the culprit all five of the times he has missed a game due to injury. After fully taking part in practice, Matthews declared himself ready to play against the Lions.
“I’ll be out there this Sunday,” Matthews said after practice.
Matthews credits a decision that was made late in the first half of the Packers’ 34-30 loss to Cincinnati for avoiding the kind of long-term effect he felt last season when he missed four games with the same injury.
The Packers were ahead of the Bengals, 16-14, and had forced four straight turnovers when Matthews departed. Two of the turnovers were the result of Matthews-forced fumbles, one of which safety M.D. Jennings returned for a touchdown.
Matthews probably could have returned in the second half, but he decided it was wise to pull back.
“It was both my decision as well as the medical staff and the coaches,” Matthews said. “I just told them where I was at and how I felt and moving forward what the smart thing would be. At that point in the game, with that lead, too, I felt like it was the wise decision.”
It turned out to be a disastrous one for the defense.
Matthews was on a tear in the first half, with a sack and the two forced fumbles, and probably would have forced the Bengals to do more to contain him, had he stuck around. But in the second half, the Bengals scored touchdowns on two of four possessions, including an 80-yard, fourth-quarter drive that put them within striking distance of the Packers with just under 11 minutes to go.
With Matthews in the lineup, the Bengals gained 119 yards and quarterback Andy Dalton had a passer rating of 39.2. Without Matthews, the Bengals gained 178 yards and Dalton posted a passer rating of 150.0.
Though the Packers have won four of six games with Matthews out, the opposition has piled up big numbers when he is gone and, in all but one case, kept their quarterback mostly upright.
In the six games without their star, the defense gave up an average of 408.8 yards, had an average of 1.67 sacks, and allowed a combined passer rating of 126.4. Just as importantly, was the breakdown in run defense, an underrated part of Matthews’ game.
Teams averaged 142.5 yards rushing in those six games.
In other words, Matthews is a pretty important guy.
"He’s really, really, really good,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Thursday. “We have to be aware of him, but they’ve got other players. If you spend too much time on him, they will affect the game as well.
“It’s a tough challenge for our guys. He presents a little different type of player. He’s more of an active rusher, never out of a rush, not a very big guy but big enough. He can rush from anywhere, he can rush from inside, they can start outside and come under, he can speed rush you, so it’s a tough challenge. Our guys are doing a lot of studying on him.”