GREEN BAY—Clay Matthews’ calm should not be confused with complacency.
No, he isn’t thrilled with having just one sack through six games, but the Packers’ defensive superstar isn’t going to let it bother him to the point of distraction, especially with his team on a three-game winning streak.
On Wednesday, Matthews was preaching patience to both himself and his fans – patience coincidentally being a virtue the entire Packers defense will need this week against dual-threat Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
“Obviously, you’d love to have more stats,” Matthews said. “I know the sacks will come and the numbers will always be there.”
The numbers were strangely absent for Matthews last week in Miami, where he did not record a tackle and wasn’t credited with anything statistically until batting down a pass in the fourth quarter.
He admitted it’s “not fun” to not have his usual impact on a game but, again, it’s not creating any self-doubt. He says he’s healthy and the groin injury from last month is not an issue. He knows he can play better; his track record all but guarantees he will.
While Matthews has been known for his fast starts – recording six sacks in the first two games of both the 2010 and 2012 seasons – he had a similarly quiet beginning in 2011, with just one sack through five games. Then the next two contests, he got two sacks and deflected four passes.
“They’ll come,” he reiterated. “I’m confident in that and we’ll have some opportunities. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Matthews partly attributed the dearth of chances thus far to the proliferation of running, read-option QBs like Newton, who will come into Lambeau Field on Sunday fresh off a 100-yard rushing outing last week in Cincinnati.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson, New York’s Geno Smith and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill have all presented the Packers this season with some read-option looks designed to give edge rushers like Matthews pause. Matthews was caught being a tad too aggressive early in the third quarter on Sunday in Miami, and Tannehill ran an option keeper around his side for 40 yards.
Those offensive packages can put attacking defenses into read-and-react mode. Newton, who appears to have overcome some early-season injuries to his ankle and ribs, is likely to do it more than any QB the Packers have faced this season.
“What they try and do is slow down your playmakers, and that’s no different with the zone read,” Matthews said. “We have to be patient. Most of us on defense would rather just be turned loose and get after it, but there’s extra importance put on that.”
Fellow edge rusher Julius Peppers, who has been in the NFL more than twice as long as Matthews, said the younger, dual-threat quarterbacks and the offensive wrinkles they bring make playing defense now considerably different than earlier in his career.
“These guys run around now. You miss a lot more sacks,” Peppers said. “It’s just tougher to get there nowadays, with all the zone read and the quick game. I miss (conventional offenses and QBs) a little bit.
“It’s been evolving for the last five years or so now. It’s going more and more in that direction. It’s just a part of the game defenses and pass rushers are going to have to adjust to and adapt to. I think the game is changing and that’s where it’s headed.”
For his part, Matthews is not about to completely change his game. He’ll stay patient – “Just keep being me and those plays will come to me,” he said – and ready to help this Packers defense build on what’s becoming its strength.
The Packers have nine interceptions (second in the NFL) and 13 total takeaways (third), eight of which have come in the last three games, all Green Bay victories. Meanwhile, no Packers defender has more than 2½ sacks this season, and the team total of 13 is tied for 15th in the league.
“I think what we’ve seen, especially these first six weeks, is teams so protection-oriented they’re trying their absolute best to slow us down,” Matthews said. “It’s created awesome opportunities for our DBs to come up and make plays, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, which is why we’re tied for No. 1 in the league in turnover (ratio).
“Provided we can do that and we can continue to win ballgames, I think that cures all.”