GREEN BAY — Things didn’t go exactly as Clay Matthews planned on Sunday against Houston.
A game-time decision to play, the Packers linebacker was hoping to contribute more than the 29 snaps he split between playing inside and outside linebacker in the team’s 21-13 win.
Despite feeling OK in the week leading up to the game, Matthews realized early that the shoulder injury he sustained a week earlier in Philadelphia was going to limit his play.
“After the first three plays, it wasn’t where I was at,” Matthews said. “We stuck with (me) coming in on passing situations where hopefully I can do something, but even in that role, I was still limited.”
The silver lining for Matthews was he didn’t make the injury any worse, enabling him to practice a little on Thursday in hopes of having a larger impact this Sunday against Seattle.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday that he didn’t anticipate Matthews practicing until Saturday in an effort to help the eighth-year linebacker regain strength in the shoulder.
However, Matthews said his shoulder has responded well to treatment this week en route to getting the green light to practice on a limited basis Thursday.
“Things progressed a lot more than last week,” Matthews said. “Last week, I was just trying to get range of motion back. I didn’t anticipate to lose that much strength in that shoulder. It’s a lot better than where we were last week so hopefully that’s a positive indicator moving forward.”
The Packers will be counting on Matthews, Julius Peppers and the rest of their pass-rushers to step up with Nick Perry out at least one week with what McCarthy termed a “significant” hand injury.
Perry, a first-round pick in 2012, was off to the best start of his career with 48 tackles, a team-high eight sacks and one interception in 12 starts this season before injuring his hand on Houston’s first offensive series.
The fifth-year linebacker returned in the second half with a basketball-sized club on his hand, but played sparingly. Still, Perry finished with four tackles despite playing only 12 snaps.
“Nick has been playing just tremendous football this year,” Matthews said. “He’s really showing why he was a first(-round pick) several years ago. He’s not only great in the pass game, but in the run, as well. He’s always had big games against Seattle with what he brings to the table. It’ll be difficult but we have some guys who are willing to step up.”
The Packers could be stressed at outside linebacker this week with rookie third-round pick Kyler Fackrell also sidelined after injuring his hamstring two weeks ago in Washington.
At the same time, the Packers seem to be getting healthier at inside linebacker with both Jake Ryan (ankle) and Blake Martinez (knee) practicing this week. If both are able to play, it could free up Matthews to line up more at his natural outside position.
Matthews didn’t have a tackle or sack against the Texans, but that doesn’t mean his presence wasn’t felt. Associate head coach/linebackers Winston Moss credited Matthews for making Texans QB Brock Osweiler “a little skittish” as Houston’s pass protection broke down and Peppers made a strong move for the sack shortly before halftime last Sunday.
“For a guy they knew was coming off an injury, they still committed a back to him to chip,” Moss said. “They still paid attention to him.”
Peppers, who’s second on the team with 6½ sacks, has seen his workload increase over the past two weeks. It’s likely to stay that way even if Perry can play with a club at some point.
Green Bay also has former first-round pick Datone Jones and special-teams stalwart Jayrone Elliott available to work into the rotation, but Matthews could be the X-factor for the pass rush.
“You always like to have Clay at full speed,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Give Clay credit, he went out there last week and wasn’t full-go, but he gave it everything he had. Our hope is he’s headed in the right direction getting the strength back in that shoulder because you’d like to have a healthy Clay available to you.”
Matthews said he doesn’t plan on wearing a harness on the shoulder since it won’t do much to lessen the discomfort of playing through a sprained AC joint. If anything, he might use some Kinesio tape to help with his range of motion.
As for the decision to play against Houston, Matthews has no regrets. His goal now is to be as healthy as possible for Sunday’s showdown with the Seahawks.
“Last week I really wanted to be out there,” Matthews said. “It might have been a little early, but this week I feel like as long as we’re smart – obviously you hope for the best as far as landing on it or anything else that could set it back. You have to be smart, but at the same time take your shot. Just hope for the best but it’s moving in the right direction so hopefully that’s good news.”