GREEN BAY—Outside linebacker Clay Matthews should return to the Packers’ defense on Sunday after a four-game absence, but defensive back Charles Woodson will be waiting at least another week.
That was the injury news from Lambeau Field on Wednesday, as the Packers began preparing for an opportunity to clinch the NFC North in Chicago.
Matthews was back on the practice field for the first time since injuring his hamstring on Nov. 4 vs. Arizona, and while he admittedly did not want to be gone as long as he was, Matthews said it was the mature approach, particularly given his history with hamstring problems.
“Maybe a younger Clay might have pushed it a little too much in trying to get back out there, but you have to realize the bigger picture here,” Matthews said. “(That’s) to go into the last part of the season healthy, full strength and full speed, so hopefully that’s the case and today was a good step.”
Despite missing the last four games, Matthews still has three times as many sacks – nine – as any other member of the defense (Dezman Moses and Erik Walden are next with three apiece). The pass rush slowly declined in his absence after a strong start, when the defense sacked Detroit QB Matthew Stafford five times back on Nov. 18.
Only two sacks have been recorded in the last three games combined, however, while the run defense has allowed three of its four highest yardage totals of the season. Despite winning two of those three games and three of four overall without Matthews, the Packers have survived perhaps as long as they can without him.
“I feel good, I’ll be good,” said Matthews, who went on to emphasize that he still needs to be smart out there. “I have to be my biggest coach in that if I start to get fatigued or tired, instead of pushing it, maybe take myself out for a play here or there. But when I’m in the game, it’s going to be full speed.”
All signs pointed to Woodson returning this week, too, especially after he practiced last week. But Mike McCarthy said the medical staff has decided to hold him out of at least one more game, much to Woodson’s chagrin. Sunday will be eight weeks to the day since Woodson broke his collarbone in St. Louis.
“This is in the best interests of Charles and what’s in front of us,” McCarthy said.
“That’s not easy. He’s been preparing himself. He practiced last week. I know he’s extremely frustrated.”
Frustration was the emotion coming from the Bears locker room and star receiver Brandon Marshall, who sounded off on his dislike for the Packers on Wednesday. He took exception to the way the Packers characterized their performance in Week 2, when quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked seven times, threw four interceptions and completed just two passes to Marshall, who leads the league with 101 receptions.
“For their players to be over there talking about how awesome of a job they [do] shutting down certain players, I don't respect that,” Marshall told Chicago media, noting he gave the credit to Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ game plan. “I take it as a slap in my face when guys talk about my lack of ability to do something against them when they have help all over the place, so I'm looking forward to one-on-one coverage.”
The Packers, who would be fools to try to defend Marshall one-on-one for an entire game when his 1,342 receiving yards dwarf the next-best Bears receiver (Alshon Jeffery, 256 yards), don’t seem to be paying Marshall’s words any mind.
“The advice I gave our team today was what my dad used to tell me – ‘Don’t tell them nothing,’” McCarthy said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Most of the Packers were just finding out about Marshall’s comments from the media during the open locker room session and indicated they’re going to focus on playing, not talking.
“Like we said last week, roll the tape,” safety M.D. Jennings said. “We’re going to put all of our things on tape. When you put the tape on, that does our talking.”
With Matthews back and a second straight division crown at stake, the Packers can’t wait.
“Our opportunity is there. We’re where we want to be,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “We have a chance to clinch the division this week. We’ve got guys getting healthy. The opportunity is there. We just have to go out and take advantage of it.” Additional coverage - Dec. 12