GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews was in this position two weeks ago, fully expecting to return from his hamstring injury and get back on the field.
Now he just needs to survive the final steps.
Matthews had a rehab setback two weeks ago Friday, and it forced him to sit out the past two games. All he could surmise was he did “a little too much” in his final preparation, a turn of events that was “tough to swallow.”
Barring another setback, he plans to be out there Sunday night at Washington after missing three straight games and now four total on the season.
“It’s difficult to watch,” Matthews said, with the Packers having lost three in a row in his absence. “You want to have a hand in whatever’s going on out there, as an accountable teammate.
“Now is better than ever to get back in the win column and start progressing in the second half of the season.”
Green Bay’s defense has sorely missed its biggest playmaker. The Packers have allowed their last three opposing QBs a collective 118.2 rating while recording just six sacks, 2½ of them by blitzing defensive backs.
The four-man rush has struggled to get home, and the Packers need it to with a banged-up defensive backfield trying to match up in the back end week after week.
With Washington’s wide variety of weapons – six Redskins have caught at least 25 passes this season – and their mixed attributes, Green Bay’s secondary will have its hands full. Receivers Jamison Crowder and DeSean Jackson (if he plays through a shoulder injury) are speedy, explosive types, while tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis can stretch seams and might be the most productive duo in the league.
In the Packers’, and perhaps Matthews’, favor is the Redskins will be without Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. He’s been replaced by Ty Nsekhe, who held up well against Minnesota’s Everson Griffen last week.
“You’re not going to hear me complaining about that,” Matthews said regarding Williams’ absence. “We have to find ways to take advantage of that.”
Green Bay’s defense also appears it will be without inside linebacker Jake Ryan, who hasn’t practiced this week due to an ankle injury, but Matthews said the idea of him moving back inside hasn’t been discussed. Joe Thomas and Blake Martinez are expected to be the inside tandem going forward.
“He’s going to bring some energy, he’s going to bring his playmaking ability, he’s going to bring his leadership,” fellow veteran outside linebacker Julius Peppers said of Matthews’ return. “We’re going to be happy to have him back out, and it’s going to be good to see him flying around.”
On a personal note, Matthews has experienced good news lately, too. He and his wife recently had their second child, and Matthews’ father was named a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist this week for the second time.
The elder Matthews, whose brother Bruce is in the Hall of Fame, played 19 seasons at linebacker for the Browns (1978-93) and Falcons (1994-96) and was a four-time Pro Bowler who recorded eight seasons with at least 100 tackles.
He previously made the cut to 25 semifinalists in 2012. The next step is to be among 15 finalists in January.
“It’s a proud moment for me as his son and to see his accomplishments be recognized,” Matthews said. “Obviously, people call me biased, but I think if you go back and look at the tape and the numbers, compared to your favorite linebacker, he should be up there as a finalist.”
Matthews went on to playfully push the local media to start up a campaign for his father’s induction.
In a more serious vein, though, his primary job is to help Green Bay’s struggling defense. Beginning Sunday, his teammates will be counting on him again, and he knows what for.
“The same thing they rely on me to do, which is make those one or two plays that can change the course of the game,” he said. “Hopefully it’s no different this weekend.”
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