Clay Matthews won’t know for sure until Monday night, but he has a suspicion the Seahawks won’t try to block him one-on-one as much as the 49ers and Bears did the past two games.
A natural response would be, well, duh.
“From all reports coming out of there, it looks like I’m going to have my hands full,” Matthews said on Friday. “But that’s good, and that’s the natural progression of a playmaker on this defense. You’re going to get extra attention.”
Matthews is attracting that attention following two dominant performances to open the season. He posted 2½ sacks against San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley and then 3½ against Chicago’s J’Marcus Webb, both of whom were left on an island without help against Matthews far too often.
Seattle has a highly touted left tackle in Russell Okung, the sixth overall draft pick in 2010. He missed last week’s Seahawks victory over Dallas with a knee injury but is expected to play on Monday night. Veteran Frank Omiyale, a former Chicago Bear, filled in for Okung and helped neutralize Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, a Pro Bowler like Matthews.
But even with Okung back, it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks – coached by Matthews’ college coach at USC, Pete Carroll – letting him go it alone a whole lot against Matthews, who has six sacks in the first two games for the second time in his career. He also did it in 2010, and he’s the only player in league history to do it twice.
“Good luck with him,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said, shaking his head at the prospect of trying to block Matthews. “His motor, his athletic ability, speed, power. He can pretty much do it all. There’s nothing you can really take from him. If a guy is strong, he can go around him. If a guy has good feet, he can run over him.”
As was the case two years ago, Matthews’ start has many wondering about the prospect of challenging Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22½. In 2010, Matthews finished the regular season with 13½, after his back-to-back three-sack games to open the year. As offenses adjusted their game plans, Matthews didn’t record another two-sack game until the playoffs.
Because of that, Matthews made it clear he’s not making any “guarantees or promises” statistically, but he said he’ll keep “playing the way I know how.”
“This is the level I expect to play,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an average of three (sacks) every week, it just means that’s the level I hold myself to as far as making plays. If it’s getting to the quarterback a second late before the hit’s on him, so be it.”
What excites Matthews more are the prospects for this Green Bay defense, which shook off some Week 1 struggles against the 49ers to clamp down on the Bears, holding them to just 168 total yards.
Like most of his teammates, Matthews is tired of talking about the defensive problems and poor rankings of a year ago. When told fellow 2009 first-round draft pick B.J. Raji had said the performance against the Bears was a first step toward showing that 2011 and Week 1 of 2012 would be the exception and not the rule for Green Bay’s defense, he wholeheartedly agreed.
“That’s how we should feel,” Matthews said. “We have all the playmakers, the defensive calls, everything to indicate that we should have a defense like that week in and week out. It wasn’t the case last year; a few times we showed glimpses. But hopefully that’s the case this year. Obviously it’s early in the season, but you’re based in this league on consistency.”
Reaching that desired consistency will be an ongoing process. It appears outside linebacker Erik Walden and cornerback Sam Shields are developing into more reliable veterans, which will help.
Also, the additions to the pass rush of outside linebackers Nick Perry and Dezman Moses and linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, plus the youth movement in the secondary with safety Jerron McMillian and cornerback Casey Hayward, give Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers more depth at all levels of his defense since he arrived in 2009. Those six players are rookies bound to have their ups and downs, though.
Regardless of what it means for his sack numbers, Matthews is confident that some of his new teammates will soon be attracting more attention. That should benefit not only him but the entire defensive unit.
“As I’ve continued to say, we’ve got some studs on this team and that’s going to free up some one-on-one situations,” Matthews said. “Hopefully, that will take some heat off everybody.” Additional coverage - Sept. 21