GREEN BAY – Back in Week 4 against Chicago, it took Packers linebacker Clay Matthews all of one play to have a huge impact on the game.
On the Bears’ first offensive snap, Matthews bolted off the ball and knocked it from quarterback Mike Glennon’s hands. The Packers recovered at the Chicago 3-yard line and three plays later were in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
It’s the kind of play that has been missing from Green Bay’s defensive front since Aaron Rodgers went down. In Minnesota that fateful day, Matthews scooped up a fumble and ran it back a long way to set up a touchdown, but since then, against the Saints and Lions, the defensive front has been all too quiet.
Heading into Sunday’s rematch with the Bears, who now have a new quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky, Matthews knows a lot of eyes are on him to make the splash play to snap the defense out of its doldrums.
“Every game I always try and pride myself on making that one play that can change a game,” Matthews said following Thursday’s practice. “I put it on myself, whether it be a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception, whatever it may be.”
That type of spark could go a long way toward the Packers ending their current three-game losing streak and staying within shouting distance of the NFC North lead. It’s the same thing the offensive players are talking about with regards to making a big play or two as a way of jump-starting some momentum.
Any kind of sustained surge has been lacking for the Packers of late, and on the defensive side of the ball, the piece under the microscope is the pass rush. The Packers have just 13 sacks in eight games, led by Nick Perry’s four. Matthews is next with just 2½.
Matthews wasn’t about to pin the team’s pass-rush struggles on one or two players, though. He called it an “11-man thing,” explaining that disrupting a quarterback’s timing – which has proved problematic against Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford the past two games – falls on both the rush to disturb the pocket and the coverage to make throws difficult.
“Last week we tried to go with some more blitzes and games, trying to get after it and create some pressure,” Matthews said. “But ultimately if that means choosing some coverages where guys can get some hands on receivers (that can also) interrupt the quarterback’s rhythm.
“They’ve been on time and it’s been difficult, even if we’ve had free runs at the quarterback. We just need to pick it up as far as the pass rush.”
It would help if edge rusher Ahmad Brooks can return from his back injury this week, and if rookie Vince Biegel flashes some impact as a rusher similar to his work as a run defender in his debut this past Monday.
The opportunities may be limited, though, against Trubisky, whom the Bears turned to because plays like the one Matthews made against Glennon were happening too often early in the season for the Bears.
Chicago’s focus on the run game has eased the burden on Trubisky, but he did throw an interception under pressure in the fourth quarter of his first start that handed Minnesota a short field for the game-winning points.
So, an opportunity may present itself, and the Packers will have to be ready to pounce. Amidst all the talk about players stepping up their games in Rodgers’ absence, it can be just a play here or play there that swings things Green Bay’s way.
Rodgers could do it at quarterback anytime. Now it’s up to others if the season’s second half is going to start on the right note.
“Since Aaron took off back in 2009, I’m not going to say it’s been easy street, but when you have him at quarterback, he overshadows a lot of the deficiencies all across the board,” Matthews said. “Now that we’re having to scratch and fight and claw and still come up short these past 2½ weeks, it’s really going to show the resolve of the men in this room. I can promise you I’ll be out there all four quarters giving it my all, and hopefully everyone else is on board as well.
“I have confidence in the guys we have out here, the guys on defense specifically, and seeing this thing out. And hopefully when I say seeing this thing out, it’s coming out on the other side of the win-loss column and starting with a win this weekend.”