Since the week leading into Green Bay’s Week 9 contest against Dallas, Matthews has been limited to just the jog-through portion of practices because of a shin injury. It’s an injury he can’t pinpoint as far as when it occurred, saying it began to bother him earlier in the season before a “noticeable change” following the Week 8 contest at the N.Y. Jets.
“I do wish I was practicing more; I think there is no doubt about it,” Matthews said. “It’s a myth to think you are getting out of practice and, ‘Oh, he shows up on gamedays.’ But for me, you want to be practicing, and in a sense you are more fresh for the game in that you are not beating yourself down.
“Yeah, I’d like to be out there, but at the same time, what is smart right now is trying to have me as close to 100 percent as I can come Sunday.”
The time missed on the field during the week has forced Matthews to rely on his mental preparation as much as anything, and he has leaned on cornerback Charles Woodson, who has plenty of experience playing in games after not getting much on-field work during the week because of injuries.
“I talk with him a lot and I tend to find myself gravitating toward him just with the success that he has had and how he manages it,” Mattthews said. “The type of guy he is, I like picking his brain and what not. I’ve been talking with him, just about preparing. I haven’t changed the way I prepared. Obviously I have had to put in a little more work, but it is the same thing both in and outside of the film room.
“Once I put the pads on Sunday, it’s as if I was there getting the reps all week, so I feel good about my preparation.”
Mattthews checks in at No. 2 in the NFL and No. 1 in the NFC with 11½ sacks this season despite missing one game because of a hamstring injury, but he has been shut out each of the last two weeks after recording at least one sack in seven of his first nine games. Matthews has posted 12 tackles in the two games, and opportunities have come for some of his teammates with the Packers recording six sacks as a team.
“That’s just the deal with sacks,” Matthews said. “They come in bunches and fortunately we have had a few other guys pick up the slack for me. Hopefully I can get some more sacks, but at the same time, my level of play hasn’t changed, nor have my tackling numbers and how I play the run game. So it’s just one of those things.
“It’s something that’s fun to keep any eye on, but I tell you what, the most important stat is that win column. As long as we are winning, I don’t think anybody has a problem with who is leading.”
Another factor is that teams are obviously more aware of Matthews now after he registered 8½ sacks in just the first five games this season, and that kind of production has brought a whole new set of challenges with very few one-on-one matchups coming his way.
“Obviously you have five linemen for four or less rushing guys and they are going to fan my way a few times,” Matthews said. “Like I have said before, it’s kind of the natural progression of a great pass rusher, which I want to be. I understand it is part of the game, and that’s what is great about it is it is going to free up somebody else and our guys have done a fantastic job of capitalizing.
“Me and my goals, I want to be able to beat double-teams, tight ends, chip blocks and stuff, and that’s what I am going to continue to work on.”
Keeping them out
One area that Green Bay’s defense has made noticeable improvement in this season has been in the red zone, and Sunday it will face one of the more productive offenses in the league in that category.
Despite finishing No. 2 last season in overall defense, the Packers were No. 28 in the red zone, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 60.9 percent of trips inside the 20. This season Green Bay is giving up touchdowns just 46.2 percent of the time, which ranks No. 8 in the NFL.
Detroit enters Sunday’s game ranked No. 1 in the NFL inside the 20, scoring touchdowns on 69.7 percent (23-of-33) of its opportunities this season. The Lions’ average of 5.42 points per red-zone trip ranks No. 2 in the league to only Indianapolis (5.72), and Detroit is on pace for its best league ranking in the category since it checked in at No. 2 in the NFL back in 1996 at 61.9 percent.
A big part of the Lions’ success in the red zone has been fourth-year wide receiver Calvin Johnson, with seven of his NFC-high 12 touchdowns coming inside the 20 this season.
“He is definitely a factor,” cornerback Tramon Williams said of the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson. “His size and speed combination is rare and it’s a big target in the red zone. Detroit’s offense has just been doing well pretty much the whole season. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”
Jenkins (calf), fullback Korey Hall (knee) and cornerback Pat Lee (ankle) are out for Sunday.
Safeties Atari Bigby (hamstring) and Anthony Smith (ankle) are questionable. Bigby was a full participant in Friday’s practice while Smith was limited. Friday was the first day Smith has practiced since injuring his ankle in Week 11 at Minnesota.
Matthews (shin), tackle Chad Clifton (knees/concussion), safety Nick Collins (shoulder), wide receiver Donald Driver (hand), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), wide receiver Brett Swain (knee) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe/ankle) are all probable.
Woodson went through the jog-through portion of Friday’s practice, and McCarthy said he was not overly concerned when Woodson sprained his ankle in Wednesday’s practice.
“When you’re dealing with Charles Woodson and injuries, you never get too nervous, because he’s always showed up,” McCarthy said. “That’s what history tells you when it comes with him overcoming things like that. The concern level was never very high based on the communication with Charles and the medical staff."
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson was added to the report on Friday with an ankle injury, but he is also probable.
For Detroit, wide receiver Derrick Williams was placed on injured reserve on Friday, while quarterbacks Shaun Hill (right finger) and Matthew Stafford (right shoulder) were ruled out for Sunday.
Tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee) is doubtful while linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba (knee) is questionable.
Johnson (groin), defensive end Cliff Avril (quadriceps), running back Jahvid Best (toe), wide receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin) are all probable.
Additional coverage – Dec. 10