GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews has the perfect plan for how the Packers can rack up another half-dozen sacks on Saturday night.
“Getting a large lead, and just turning the guys loose,” Matthews said on Thursday, smiling at the thought. “Honestly, that definitely helps.”
He’s absolutely right. Last Sunday’s wild-card victory at Washington was the fourth time this season Green Bay’s defense has posted six sacks or more, and in all four games – the others were Kansas City, San Francisco and the first Minnesota meeting – the Packers had multi-score leads in the second half.
Taking control like that against Arizona won’t be easy, but if the Packers can get a lead, any kind of lead, it could make a difference.
Matthews talked about how through the second half of the season the Packers defense was forced to play things “close to the vest” in tight, low-scoring affairs, many of which the Packers were trailing.
The defense was keeping the Packers in the game, but the game situations dictated the unit couldn’t truly perform at its highest level.
That changed last week, when the pass rush was unleashed as the offense re-took the lead over the Redskins in the second half and expanded on it early in the fourth quarter. Four of the defense’s six sacks came in the final period as any Washington comeback hopes were squashed.
“Everybody feeds off of one another,” said Nick Perry, who had two sacks in that game and is one of five Packers with at least 4½ sacks on the year. “We’re in playoff mode now, so everybody is trying to get there, and we’re all competitive. Once one person gets one, everybody gets excited and we want to get more.”
A healthy rotation of pass rushers has been key, and the Packers are hoping to be healthier in the secondary come Saturday night.
Cornerback Sam Shields has practiced on a limited basis the past two days and has a chance to be cleared in the concussion protocol. Rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins also was limited in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday and is feeling better. He says he’s day to day with a quad injury.
The Packers haven’t had their full stable of defensive backs since Shields’ concussion against Dallas five games ago. It hurt not to have the fastest and most experienced cover guy in the first trip to Arizona against such a loaded receiving corps.
“It’s obviously going to be a big deal,” Rollins said. “We haven’t been at our full strength for a while now. Having everybody back would be to our advantage, but we’ll see how it comes out.”
If it’s full strength, the defense might be in position to play its best game of the year at a time it’s most needed, against the league’s top offense.
Matthews professed the players’ belief in themselves, and he likes the veteran experience many bring to the playoffs. Last week was step one, and a bigger step is needed now.
“We feel good about this team,” Matthews said. “We’ve put a lot of work into this, and hopefully that kind of passion, energy, and renewed focus, enthusiasm, whatever you want to call it, comes out this Saturday, because we’re going to need it.
“The reality is, you win, you obviously move on to the NFC Championship Game, and if you lose, it’s another season in which you have regret.”
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