Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Clay Matthews Injury Impact

According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews underwent surgery on Monday to heal a Bennett fracture on his thumb, meaning that the thumb is dislocated and will require pins. The pins will come out in four weeks and Matthews will need some additional time to heal. The Packers have yet to confirm this, but Glazer is always on the money and the Packers never are when it comes to injuries.  

First of all let me get this out of the way. If you are one of those people whining about how Matthews is a pansy, and that Brett Favre played with a broken thumb, just shut up. Stop it. This man played on a frekin broken leg in 2010, but you are questioning his toughness? Matthews cannot play with pins in his thumb, and Favre's injury was not a Bennett fracture. Rant over. 

Matthews is obviously a huge loss for the Packers. He makes plays that not very many players in the NFL can make and is one of the best defensive players in the league. Matthews currently leads the team with three sacks and he record 13.5 sacks in only 12 games last season. 

"Clay's one of those guys who's going to make two or three plays a game," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. "You've seen every game this year, there's been two or three plays that he makes."

The Packers will turn to former defensive lineman Mike Neal and 2012 first round pick Nick Perry to replace Matthews. That is a gigantic step up from when Erik Walden and Dezman Moses last season when the Packers went 3-1 without Matthews. 

Just because the Packers went 3-1 without Matthews last season does not mean that he was not missed. The Packers only had six sacks in those four games and five of them came on Thanksgiving at Detroit. However, Neal and Perry are much more talented players than Walden and Moses. 

Neal and Perry both played terrific games on Sunday against Detroit, and the Packers will be looking to get that kind of production out of them again. According to Pro Football Focus, Neal had one sack and five hurries, while Perry had two sacks and four hurries. They both set a mean edge against the run, as Reggie Bush only ran for 44 yards on 13 carries. 

Neal (6-3, 285) and Perry (6-3, 265) are both above the average size for a 3-4 outside linebacker, so playing the run should not be an issue without Matthews. Last season, the Packers allowed 158 yards rushing a game in those four games without Matthews. With a huge line of Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett backed up by Neal and Perry on the edge I would be surprised if that was an issue. 

The big question will be how will Neal and Perry rush the passer? Perry was benched for Neal to start Sunday's game before Matthews got hurt because he was not producing early in the season. Perry has been known to not have much other than a bull rush, but he got around Riley Reiff quite a few times on Sunday. 

Neal was playing well, but how will he handle the increased attention he will receive? He is a freak athlete so you hope that he will only get better as he continues to learn the position. 

The schedule while the Packers are without Matthews should be favorable to them. The first three games will be against the Ravens, Browns and Vikings. None of them have quarterbacks that should be able to take big advantage of the Packers minus Matthews. 

Their next three opponents after them are the Bears, Eagles and Giants. They have better quarterbacks in Jay Cutler, Michael Vick and Eli Manning, but all three of them are turnover prone. All three of those defenses have struggled mightily. Also, for all the talk of the Giants dominating the Packers, people always leave out the Packers 45-17 domination of the Giants in a must win game in 2010 and a 38-35 victory at the Meadowlands in 2011. 

Even without Matthews the Packers still have a lot of talent on defense. They will have three solid cornerbacks when Casey Heyward returns, a very good safety in Morgan Burnett and five former first round picks in a front seven that has played well to start the season. Capers will have to come up with more creative blitzes and schemes to help his players. Even without Matthews, there are still no excuses. 

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