But he’s entirely cognizant of the more realistic number that’s going to be discussed perhaps for the next 14 games considering the way he has started 2010.
“I think it’s a little early in the season to get to 48,” Matthews said. “What is it? Twenty-two-and-a-half? Yeah, I’ve got a ways to go.”
Not if he keeps this up. The 22½ of course is the NFL record for sacks in one season, set by the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan in 2001. But Matthews is already more than a quarter of the way there with six sacks through the season’s first two games after his second straight three-sack performance Sunday at Lambeau Field during the Packers’ 34-7 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills.
Since sacks became an official league statistic in 1982, Matthews became the first Packers player to post back-to-back three-sack games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s not the most sacks by a Green Bay player over a two-game span, as Bryce Paup had 6½ in 1991 (4½ on Sept. 15, plus 2 on Sept. 22).
But Matthews has been downright dominant any way you look at it, and he was the primary reason the Packers held the Bills to a paltry 62 net passing yards, the lowest by a Green Bay opponent in nearly four years (Minnesota, 27 on Dec. 21, 2006).
“That guy is an animal,” rookie safety Morgan Burnett said. “He’s a freak of nature, there.”
Just like last week in the season opener at Philadelphia, Matthews got his first sack of the day on the defense’s first series on third down. He buried Buffalo’s Trent Edwards for a 13-yard loss to force the first of two straight three-and-outs to open the game.
His second sack came on Buffalo’s second series of the third quarter, this time on second down for a loss of 12. Edwards tried a play-action bootleg, faking a handoff to the left and then rolling right. But instead of chasing the back, Matthews bolted straight for Edwards and was unblocked.
Matthews credited film study for that play, having seen the Bills run frequent bootlegs out of that formation in their game last week vs. Miami. Since the scheme doesn’t call for him to be blocked, obviously the offense is counting on him to crash inside with the play-action fake.
“I took a shot and it paid off,” he said. “That’s how you make plays in this league. I’ve learned it from guys before me, guys like Charles Woodson. What’s the expression? You can’t steal first (base) … or second? You know what I’m talking about.”
Sure, but Buffalo didn’t seem to know where he was coming from. Like he did with Woodson last year, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been moving Matthews all over the place on defense. He has rushed from the right, left or up the middle, and on Sunday Capers also employed the five-linebacker ‘Psycho’ package that has virtually every player on the defensive front in a two-point stance, ready to rush or drop back.
All the confusion helped Matthews barrel through for his third sack on a Buffalo fourth down in the fourth quarter. It dropped Edwards for an 8-yard loss as the three sacks totaled 33 yards in losses. His six for the season have been worth 44 yards total.
“To get six sacks within the first two games, it’s a great accomplishment, but none of it is possible without the other guys,” said Matthews, who according to Elias is the first player in the league to post consecutive three-sack games since Seattle’s Patrick Kerney in 2007 (Nov. 18-25).
“I’m sure if you look at them all, they’re covering their butts off on the deep end, I’m getting help from my interior linemen, and overall the scheme Dom’s putting together for me (is a benefit). So it’s fantastic, and I’m looking to keep it going.”
Matthews added that he is seeing his share of double-teams, with a guard sliding over to help the tackle or a tight end lined up on his side. But the way Capers keeps shifting him around has minimized the impact of those strategies.
“His rhythm is on right now,” inside linebacker Nick Barnett said. “He’s on fire. We’ll create some things and let him go. Other than that, you saw him on a three-man rush get to the quarterback. He’s just in a zone right now.”
The Packers’ pass rush as a whole is on a pretty good run, too. With four sacks Sunday, Green Bay has 10 sacks through two games this season. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins added his second sack of 2010 against Edwards.
The 10 sacks are the most in a two-game span in Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s four-plus seasons, and they’re two better than Green Bay’s best two-game stretch under Capers, who took over the defense last year.
Even when the defense doesn’t get a sack, the pressure on the quarterback has been steady and impactful. On linebacker Brandon Chillar’s interception in the third quarter Sunday, linebacker A.J. Hawk and Woodson were both in Edwards’ face on a blitz. His pass was behind receiver Steve Johnson and was deflected into a diving Chillar’s arms.
Edwards finished 11-of-18 for 102 yards and two interceptions for an unsightly 37.0 passer rating. Interestingly, the Packers employed “Psycho” multiple times just one week before playing the Bears in Chicago, which is where the package debuted in 2009.
“We practice that, and it’s tough for them to really get the count (of the number of rushers),” Chillar said. “They have to do it on the run.
“You can see (the quarterback’s) eyes scanning, and like I said, you don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s tough on them. It’s a good package. Hopefully we’ll expand on it and keep playing well in it.”
It’s hard to imagine Matthews playing any better. His teammates continue to say “the sky’s the limit” for him this season, and while the 48-sack pace remains pie-in-the-sky thinking, Matthews will simply try to stay grounded.
“We talked about how disappointing it’s going to be if I have a zero-sack game one of these games,” Matthews said. “But I’m just going keep up my work ethic, how I study, how I go about my business, and hopefully it will pay off.”