GREEN BAY—The process is rather complex for Clay Matthews to get his right hand wrapped and clubbed up in order to practice this week.
The result, however, is simple: Matthews feels like he’s playing with one arm.
“It does (stink),” Matthews said. “But I’ll do the best I can with it and we’ll see what that means come Sunday.
“I just have to get used to playing a little more with one hand and be comfortable throwing it in there. I’m taking baby steps.”
Matthews does expect to return to action on Sunday against the Eagles, but how much he’ll play after missing the past four games with a broken thumb is undetermined. How effective he can be is another question as well. He said he has played with a cast before but never a club.
In recent years, the Packers have had other defenders play with clubs, including defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins and safety Morgan Burnett, but neither played Matthews’ outside linebacker spot.
It’s somewhat uncharted territory for Matthews whether as a stand-up pass rusher he can disengage from a blocker using essentially one arm, or whether against the run he can use a clubbed-up right hand to help fit into the proper gap. He said he’s taking it “day by day” as far as learning how to use the club and getting accustomed to it.
“I hope he’s very effective,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s a dynamic football player, and it’ll be great to get him back on the field.”
The Packers also hope to get fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry back from a foot injury. He was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday.
The potential return of the starting duo comes none too soon. Since Matthews got hurt against Detroit in Week 5, the defense has just one sack from an outside linebacker, and that was a strip-sack by Perry in the first half at Baltimore in Week 6. That’s when he hurt his foot and he’s been out since. The defense has also produced just one turnover while Matthews and Perry have both been out.
With Mike Neal (knee) and Andy Mulumba (ankle) also on the injury report now, the linchpin position of Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme needs any reinforcements it can get. The Packers’ pass rush was noticeably non-existent last Monday against the Bears, and if the ball has to be thrown a half-second sooner, that can only help the defense as a whole.
“No doubt about it, and it’s vice-versa,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “It always works together. But definitely, the ball will have to come out earlier. Those guys are definitely difference-makers.”
Philadelphia QB Nick Foles is becoming a difference-maker, running new coach Chip Kelly’s fast-break, up-tempo offense that can limit defensive substitutions and packages. Called “red hot” by McCarthy, Foles is coming off a seven-TD performance at Oakland last week and has the league’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy (777 yards) next to him in the backfield.
“They do a good job using that no-huddle, keeping their offense on the field, being relentless as far as their play-calling is concerned, so they catch a lot of defenses on their heels,” Matthews said.
“We’ve been working hard as far as getting the calls out there quick. We’re going to treat it like a two-minute offense.”
The defense’s leader, Matthews is calling for a matching level of urgency from the entire unit, and from the entire team, as the Packers navigate a stretch of games minus Aaron Rodgers.
Limited as he is by the club, Matthews will only be able to do so much.
“Just where we’re at in the season, with our quarterback going down, it’s time for other positions to elevate their game and really carry this team until he comes back,” he said. “Until then, I’ll try to do the best I can to help this team out with one arm.” Additional coverage - Nov. 7