GREEN BAY – It’s always tough to sit and watch, but seeing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan drop back unmolested 11 straight times on Atlanta’s game-winning drive last Sunday was particularly difficult for Clay Matthews.
“It comes down to a couple plays here, a couple plays there, you’d like to think you could have had a hand in that, especially with the success they had in the passing game,” Matthews said on Thursday. “But it’s neither here nor there now.”
What is here and now is a healthier Matthews who all but vowed to be on the field Sunday against the Colts. Dealing with a hamstring injury that was put to the test with three games in 12 days following the bye, Matthews took the cautious route last week and rested.
After two days of limited practice this week, Matthews said he’s “in a better spot” and expects to play.
With Green Bay’s secondary still banged up – cornerback Quinten Rollins might return from a groin injury, but Demetri Goodson is now in the concussion protocol – the Packers need their pass rush more than ever against Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck.
Ryan was sacked twice on back-to-back plays early in the fourth quarter, but then Green Bay’s pressure dried up. If the Packers find themselves in the same situation as last week, where one sack down the stretch could turn the tide, the defensive front needs to come through.
“I’m not sure the status on ‘Q’ this week, but we’re shorthanded on the back end, so it’s going to take all guys to get after him and get him uncomfortable,” said Matthews, whose three sacks rank third on the team behind Nick Perry (5½) and Julius Peppers (3½) said. “Hopefully that’s the difference in the game.”
Luck hasn’t been too comfortable this season, sacked more than any other passer in the league – 31 times in eight games. The Colts’ struggling, injury-riddled offensive line has taken a lot of heat for its lapses, so if there’s a time for the Packers’ pass rush to get healthy, this is it.
Call it a game of redemption on both sides.
“At the end of the day, they’ll have another opportunity to prove themselves, and so will we, especially coming off last week,” Matthews said. “We’ll try and do everything we can to get after the quarterback.”
The Packers also will be gunning for some turnovers. That was the other defensive element missing in Atlanta.
Late in the Falcons game, cornerback LaDarius Gunter nearly came away with a pick-six, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix almost got his hands on a deflected ball near the goal line, but those were the secondary’s only legitimate opportunities.
Those chances are going to be limited when a defense is digging as far into its depth chart as Green Bay at cornerback, because safeties like Clinton-Dix are being counted on more for help than ball-hawking.
“No doubt. I just have to continue to be patient,” Clinton-Dix said. “My time will come, and when it’s time to come and my plays come my way, I have to make those plays.
“But right now, I’ve been doing a good job of helping those guys play on the outside, and that’s my job and I’m going to continue doing it.”
Given all the injuries in the back end, it’s not just coincidence the Packers’ secondary has only two of the team’s five interceptions this season. But trying to force the issue isn’t really the answer, either. Taking unnecessary chances can leave defenders out of position and holes in the scheme.
Clinton-Dix feels as long as he hustles to and stays around the ball, good things will eventually happen. In Week 1 at Jacksonville, Clinton-Dix had an interception nullified by a teammate’s penalty, and he was credited with a forced fumble the Jaguars recovered, both on the final drive late in the fourth quarter
The old adage is that turnovers come in bunches, and a guy like Clinton-Dix, who never comes off the field in Dom Capers’ defense, could be overdue.
“I don’t think Dom will be able to pull me off the field unless I’m injured,” he said. “Knock on wood, nothing like that happens, but I’m a player who wants to be on the field every single play.”