Matthews Makes Major Impact

A general manager who covets draft choices as the primary building blocks of his team, Ted Thompson thought enough of Clay Matthews to trade a second-round and two third-round picks in this past April’s draft to move up 15 spots and bring the USC standout to Green Bay with the 26th overall selection. On Sunday at Lambeau Field, Matthews showed why. - More Packers-Lions Game Center

A general manager who covets draft choices as the primary building blocks of his team, Ted Thompson thought enough of Clay Matthews to trade a second-round and two third-round picks in this past April's draft to move up 15 spots and bring the USC standout to Green Bay with the 26th overall selection.

On Sunday at Lambeau Field, Matthews showed why.

Getting his first NFL start at outside linebacker, Matthews was the Packers' defensive star early on in their 26-0 shutout of Detroit. The first-round draft pick finished second on the team with five tackles, including two sacks and another for loss on a key fourth-down stop. He also broke up a pass and seemed as disruptive as he was in finishing his college career a year ago.

"That's what they brought me in here for, is to bring a different aspect to this team and I look to do that," said Matthews, who had nine tackles for loss, including 4½ sacks, in his final collegiate season. "It was this week they said, 'We're going to give you your shot,' so I had to make the most of the opportunity."

He did that, increasing his role from that of nickel pass rusher to every-down presence, replacing veteran Brady Poppinga in the base defense and having an impact in the first half that was strong and steady.

He brought down Detroit running back Kevin Smith for a 4-yard loss on the Lions' second play from scrimmage. Then on the first snap of Detroit's next possession, he knocked over rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew on a rush and buried quarterback Daunte Culpepper from the blind side for a 9-yard sack.

"He really came out and gave us some spark right away with some big plays," said Aaron Kampman, the starting outside linebacker opposite Matthews. "He really helped set the tone for the day."

As the first quarter came to a close, Matthews made perhaps his biggest play and one of the biggest for the defense in the game. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 21-yard line, Detroit decided to go for it and ran a naked pitch to Jones to the left.

Unfazed by Culpepper's initial play fake to the right, Matthews held his ground, chased Smith out to the left and made the first contact with him behind the line of scrimmage. Fellow rookie and first-round draft pick B.J. Raji came in to help clean up, stopping Smith for a 1-yard loss that kept the Lions scoreless.

"Just watching film really," Matthews said of how he read and reacted to the misdirection. "Especially down in the red zone, they like to run that flip play. You can't bite on anything. Fortunately my speed was able to allow me to get back outside, and we had Nick Barnett and a few other guys coming inside out, so we were able to make a play and get off the field."

But Matthews wasn't done. Later in the half, he was in perfect position in coverage on Pettigrew to break up a third-down pass and force a punt. And then on Detroit's next drive, he got his second sack of Culpepper on third-and-7, collapsing the pocket as Culpepper tried to step up and avoid pressure coming from the outside.

"I love rushing the passer," Matthews said. "I also love dropping into coverage. I like doing it all. Obviously everyone is a master, a professional at this level, so you really have to hone in on your skills.

"But I look forward to the challenge each and every week. I study my opponents, try and break them down, and see ways in which I can beat them. I'm young so I like to think my potential is up there."

The two sacks made some history of sorts, as Matthews became the first Packers rookie to have two sacks in a game since Vonnie Holliday on Nov. 15, 1998, in a 37-3 road win against the New York Giants.

Matthews now has three sacks on the season, nearly halfway to the franchise rookie record of eight, held by Holliday and Tim Harris (1986).

His teammates are pretty sure he's going to make a legitimate run at that mark, as well as continue to show up on game day the more experience he gets.

{sportsad300}In the team's previous game at Minnesota, Matthews stripped running back Adrian Peterson of the ball and ran 42 yards the other way for a touchdown, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Sunday that play had a lot to do with Matthews starting in the base defense against the Lions.

"I've always told people that Clay was going to come in here and make plays," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "He earned his respect, obviously, and he's going to keep earning it as a rookie. But he played a hell of a game, and he's continuing to grow. As you see him get more comfortable with this scheme and what we ask of him to do, he's starting to get more and more confident."

His day wasn't perfect, though. He did miss an open-field tackle on an end-around run by Aaron Brown that eventually went for 14 yards. He also was shown on television replays with a grasp of a Detroit player's jersey on Jordy Nelson's 99-yard return of the opening kickoff, which was called back on a holding penalty. The referee announced the holding penalty was on Evan Dietrich-Smith, No. 62, rather than Matthews, No. 52, but he may have been the culprit, or guilty of one the officials missed.

Either way, the flaws will keep Matthews grounded. He admitted after the game that he's "never real satisfied" with how he plays, so odds are his focus will be in the right place going forward.

"Obviously I can't say I've arrived or anything along those lines," he said. "I still feel I have a ways to go, and I'm still young and have a lot to learn. I'm glad to be making a few plays and making the impact that I am, but at the same time I've got a ways to go."

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