GREEN BAY – The timing couldn't be better for the emergence of some part-time players on the Packers' defense.
With Clay Matthews' workload limited by a shoulder injury and Nick Perry currently sidelined with a busted hand, the contributions of late from Dean Lowry, Datone Jones and Jayrone Elliott have been much-needed.
Lowry, a rookie fourth-round lineman out of Northwestern, has recorded his first two NFL sacks the last two weeks, while Jones and Elliott each got their first sacks of 2016 last Sunday vs. Seattle.
"It's been great," said Matthews, who continues working to get his shoulder stronger for this week's game at Chicago. "It's important for guys that have been role players to now come on and really make a stand."
Lowry hadn't played more than 11 snaps on defense in a game through November but began standing out more in practice and has earned 52 snaps over the last two games.
In addition to getting those first two sacks, he also batted a pass at the line of scrimmage vs. Houston and recorded four tackles vs. Seattle.
"I definitely feel more ready than I did at the beginning of the year," said Lowry, who has lined up his 6-6, 296-pound frame both on the edge in the base defense and inside in the nickel.
"I think I can be a very good inside rusher to complement the guys off the edge. It's not always getting sacks, but sometimes just pushing the pocket, and when sacks are available, just making the plays."
Jones was involved in a fourth-down stop against Houston running back Alfred Blue and posted a season-high six tackles against the Texans. The following week, playing outside linebacker pretty much full-time, he was charged with holding the edge against Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson on read-option plays and stayed true to his job.
Not only did he rack up five QB hits on Wilson, the fourth-year defender got him for a sack in the second half to finally mark a tally in that column this year after having a sack in Tennessee taken away by a statistical change.
"He had a lot of quarterback responsibility in the run game, and I can't say enough about what he's done as far as the run defense and the discipline, particularly playing against an option-read quarterback," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones vs. the Seahawks. "Datone is playing really good football."
Elliott is coming on as well, making two big plays against Seattle. Early on, he crashed in from his outside linebacker spot, teaming with inside linebacker Jake Ryan to stop running back Thomas Rawls on third-and-1 in the red zone. The Seahawks had to settle for a field goal.
Later, in the fourth quarter, he flew around the edge to sack Wilson for an 8-yard loss, the first sack for the third-year pro since last December.
Continuing to be a leader on special teams with a team-best 10 coverage tackles, Elliott had been fairly quiet on defense until now.
He wasn't alone, but he's also not alone in coming on strong for the stretch run.
"They've done a great job," Matthews said, "and we'll ask them to do even more now."