GREEN BAY—A little less than a month ago, brothers Clay and Casey Matthews were on opposite sidelines as the Packers faced the Eagles, but the two linebackers were never in the game at the same time.
On Monday night at Lambeau Field, Matthews cousins Clay and Jake are virtually certain to knock heads one-on-one at various points for family bragging rights.
Clay’s younger cousin Jake is Atlanta’s rookie left tackle who will, at times, be charged with keeping the Packers’ star pass rusher away from Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Clay doesn’t line up strictly at outside linebacker anymore, but he still gets his share of snaps there and has been preparing to face Jake, whom Atlanta drafted in the first round with the No. 6 overall pick last spring.
“It’s funny to study someone on paper and try and remember strengths and weakness, and it just so happens to be your cousin,” Matthews said. “We’ll see how it goes. Should be fun, should be interesting. We’ll get some good sound bites, video clips, something to talk about later on.
“I’m sure I’ll reach out to him, see if he wants to give me any secrets about their offense.”
Matthews said he’s hosting a large clan for this game, including his and Jake’s parents. Clay’s father, also known as Clay Jr., played 19 seasons in the NFL for the Browns and Falcons, while Jake’s father and Clay Jr.’s brother, Bruce, was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and 14-time Pro Bowler for Houston/Tennessee.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” said Matthews, who has 4½ sacks this season, two since moving inside part-time. “I’ve heard stories of my father playing against my uncle and each one feeling bad for their respective victories, individually speaking, so that’s why I say it should be interesting. But ultimately, we’re going out here to get this win.”
A big factor for the Packers’ defense will be keeping tabs on Atlanta’s star receiver, Julio Jones. Green Bay will be getting its first extended look at the big-play threat.
Back in Jones’ rookie season of 2011, he pulled a hamstring after making just one reception against the Packers. Last year when the two teams met, Jones was on injured reserve.
He comes into this meeting fresh off a dominant performance against Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. The 6-3, 220-pound Jones had 10 receptions for 189 yards and a TD in Atlanta’s big win over the Cardinals, and he ranks third in the league this season in both catches (82) and yards (1,169).
“That’s a big guy right there, and he’s tough to get on the ground,” said Packers rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who coincidentally was hosted by Jones on his recruiting visit to Alabama.
“You don’t find many guys as big and fast as he is,” added cornerback Tramon Williams. “We know what type of challenge he’s going to bring. We’ve had some other receivers this year who brought that same challenge, and for the most part, we’ve held them in check.”
Indeed, the Packers have allowed only four 100-yard receiving games by an opponent this season, and two of those were by tight ends (Chicago’s Martellus Bennett and Carolina’s Greg Olsen). The others were by Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews. Bennett’s 134 yards back in Week 4 is the top individual yardage mark against the Packers this season.
Green Bay’s secondary could be without starting corner Sam Shields, though. Shields has yet to return to practice this week as he goes through the concussion protocol.
Davon House stepped in for Shields after he left last week’s game and has played well when called upon the past couple of seasons. Casey Hayward would be another option.
“Davon is an excellent corner,” Williams said. “He has that body type that people consider ‘shutdown corner.’ He’s going to be big for us. He’s been big all year for us. We have the depth at that position.”
The Packers may be tapping their depth on the defensive line, too. Mike Daniels missed his second straight practice on Thursday with a sore back and remains day to day.
Strangely, Daniels doesn’t really know what happened to his back or when it occurred. On the last defensive play against the Patriots, he beat his man and shared a sack with Mike Neal.
That huge third-down stop capped arguably the defense’s most impressive outing this season, holding the high-powered Patriots to just 21 points.
“It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but that’s what’s so exciting about it, because we played very well, but we can still keep getting better,” Daniels said. “That’s our goal is to build off of that performance.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - DEC. 5