Clay Matthews: How Packers LB's Absence Will Impact Green Bay's Defense
Sure, the Green Bay Packers have been down this injury-plagued road before. Just two years ago, in fact, when they defied the odds behind the hot arm of Aaron Rodgers to win the Super Bowl as a seemingly hopeless NFC Wild Card.
But that was then, and this is now.
The Pack have never been without three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews for any real length of time before, and that's why his absence is sure to have a mighty impact on Green Bay's defense in the coming days and weeks.
According to a report from ESPN.com, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy believes that Matthews' hamstring injury could keep him off the field for "a couple weeks." That's terrible news when you consider that after its Week 10 bye, Green Bay's next two matchups are on the road against the division rival Detroit Lions and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Matthews has played in all nine regular-season games for the Packers this fall and boasts 31 total tackles and nine sacks during that time.
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Clearly, Matthews' biggest impact is in pass defense, where the Packers rank 20th in the NFL despite his presence through the first half of the season.
Matthews' pressure on the opposing quarterback makes all the difference in the world for Green Bay. Without him bursting off the edge, look for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to attempt to mix things up in the secondary, giving his pass-rushers more time to break through.
Sure, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Sam Shields are all elite cover corners (23 passes defended and seven interceptions between them), but they can only defend an NFL-caliber wide receiver for so long before the coverage breaks down.
Will the Packers beat the Lions if Matthews doesn't play?
Capers will have his work cut out for him, as Green Bay's next two opponents both rank inside the NFL's top 10 in passing offense. The Packers' next foe, the Lions boast the most prolific aerial attack in football right now, ranking first in the NFL and averaging more than 307 yards per game through the air.
If Matthews can't suit up in Week 11, you can bet quarterback Matthew Stafford will be licking his chops in anticipation of another monster day. He's thrown for 300-plus yards four times already in 2012.
There is simply no replacing a talent like Matthews.
Even in the running game, Matthews makes an impact. He may not have high tackle numbers, but he keeps the play in front of him and is an emotional leader for the defense.
But there's no question, where the Packers will miss him most is defending the pass. The fourth-year linebacker is an elite rusher and, more importantly, a rare defensive playmaker capable of changing a game on his own. Green Bay's defense won't even be close to the same without him.
The Packers' best hope is that he can make significant progress during the bye week and ultimately make a speedy recovery and return to the field as soon as possible.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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