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Clay Matthews nearing point of return

Posted Oct 30, 2013

Defense finding ways to rush passer in Matthews’ absence

GREEN BAY—Clay Matthews wasn’t predicting when he would come back from his broken thumb, but it’s a safe bet he’ll be on the field as soon as the doctors let him.

“I’m not a patient guy,” Matthews said on Wednesday in a brief session with reporters at his locker. “I’ll never learn to be patient.”

Matthews, who has missed the Packers’ last three games after getting injured on a sack of Detroit QB Matthew Stafford in Week 5, will clear one significant hurdle on Monday, when the pins are removed from his surgically repaired thumb. From there, he’ll look into “clubbing up” the hand and seeing what he can do.

Matthews said playing with the pins in wasn’t an option, even though he believes he could deal with the pain, because of the potential for long-term damage.

“I’ll have more news when they take the pins out,” he said, meaning presumably whether or not he can return to practice at some point next week.

“I feel a rush to get back, from within, but winning definitely helps. I have to be smart. The doctors are being very smart and cautious with me as well. So we’ll see. It’s obviously very frustrating, but I’ll try to be back in there as soon as I can.”

The Packers have won all three games Matthews has missed thus far. Perhaps most surprisingly, the defense has managed 11 sacks in his absence. One came from fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry, but he was injured on his sack at Baltimore and has missed the last two contests.

During this stretch, inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Jamari Lattimore have combined for five sacks on inside blitzes, while Micah Hyde and Tramon Williams have one apiece on corner blitzes. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels has contributed three sacks in the last two games as a traditional inside rusher in the nickel package, and he now has a team-best four sacks on the season, one ahead of Matthews and Hawk.

“You can’t replace a guy like Clay, he’s such a presence out there, but you have to find a way,” Hawk said. “I think the coaches have found a good way of bringing different guys (on the blitz) and keeping teams off-balance and trying to be deceptive a little bit, and then guys are winning one-on-ones.

“We need to keep it up, though. We can’t stop that.”

Daniels has been the best at winning those one-on-ones, recording the first two-sack game of his career last Sunday in Minnesota. He actually felt he left a few other sacks out there, too.

Daniels attributes his impact to having a full offseason to train this year. A fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa in 2012, Daniels had shoulder surgery after his college career ended, missed all of OTAs and minicamp his rookie year, and then dealt with a related shoulder injury in his first training camp.

This year, he’s been healthy and a noticeable presence from the get-go. He also credits the job his fellow defensive linemen are doing against the run to create more pass-rush chances.

The Packers, whose base defense is anchored by linemen B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, are ranked fourth in the league against the run so far this season.

“If it wasn’t for those guys stopping the run, those opportunities to get those pass-rush one-on-ones wouldn’t be there,” Daniels said. “It’s definitely a collective effort. I actually told B.J. today, you big boys tenderized (the Vikings) for us when third down came around, so keep it up.”

To the defense’s credit, it has actually climbed from 19th in the league in total yards allowed to 11th, and from 13th in sacks percentage to sixth, with Matthews out of the lineup.

That’s partly due to playing deposed starting quarterbacks the past two weeks in Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, but there’s more to it.

“This defense has a chemistry about it,” Williams said. “Everyone trusts one another to do their jobs. Over the last few weeks, that’s been the case. At this point, all we want to do is continue building off of that.”

Additional coverage - Oct. 30

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