What Clay Matthews' Return Will Mean for Green Bay Packers' Defense

Bob FoxContributor INovember 5, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 6:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers makes a tackle on Reggie Bush #21 of the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on October 6, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo Tom Lynn /Getty Images)
Tom Lynn/Getty Images

The good news for the 5-3 Green Bay Packers is that outside linebacker Clay Matthews has a good chance playing on Sunday versus the 4-5 Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field.

Matthews has missed the past four games due to a broken thumb.

Now the bad news. It looks like quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be out a minimum of three weeks due to a small fracture in his collarbone, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Head coach Mike McCarthy will address the media later on Tuesday and give further updates about the injury.

That is not good for the Packers passing game as backup Seneca Wallace sputtered against Chicago Bears on Monday night. The Bears came into the game with the 27th ranked pass defense in the NFL, too.

The running game looked very good however, as rookie Eddie Lacy rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown, while James Starks ran for 40 yards and another touchdown.

It's tough for any team to lose its best player for a while, but at least the Packers could be getting back their second-best player in Matthews.

The Packers will need him. The team gave up 442 total yards on Monday night, tackled very poorly and only had one sack as quarterback Josh McCown picked the Packers apart in the passing game.

When the Eagles come to Lambeau Field on Sunday, the Packers will be facing the fourth-ranked offense in the NFL. The offense-system has been together by first-year head coach Chip Kelly, who always put together a fast-paced scoring offensive juggernaut when he coached at Oregon.

The Eagles also have the leading rusher in the NFL, as LeSean McCoy has rushed for 777 yards and three touchdowns.

Add to that, quarterback Nick Foles tied an NFL record when he threw seven touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders last Sunday. For the year, Foles has thrown 13 touchdown passes without a pick for 1,028 yards.

That adds up to a quarterback rating of 127.4.

Even with that impressive performance on Sunday, Kelly has not yet named Foles as the starting quarterback yet against the Packers, as he could also start veteran Michael Vick, who has been nursing a hamstring injury.

Bottom line, the Packers desperately need Matthews to play on Sunday, and play well, as the Packers will really be tested on defense.

Sep 15, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) warms up prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Before he was injured, Matthews had 18 total tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in three and a half games this season.

In his career, Matthews has 45.5 sacks, four interceptions, nine forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles and three defensive touchdowns.

That type of production has gotten Matthews some well-deserved notoriety, as he's been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the NFL.

The Packers need to be able to rush the passer on Sunday, as Foles (if he starts) could pick the secondary apart, much like he did Sunday versus the Raiders, and as McCown did on Monday night against the Pack.

Vick obviously adds another dimension at quarterback if he plays, due to his athleticism.

The Packers have a talented secondary, but without a significant pass rush, any secondary will look bad.

One positive note: The Eagles have given up the 11th most sacks in the league, as they have allowed 25.

Even without Matthews the last four games, the Packers are ranked 12th in the NFL with 24 sacks.

But Monday the Packers didn't seem to get much pass pressure from the outside linebackers, whether it was Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba or Nate Palmer.

That's why Matthews is sorely needed. It would be a plus if outside linebacker Nick Perry also returned from injury (broken foot) this Sunday. Before the injury, Perry was having a solid season, as he had three sacks and two forced fumbles in four and a half games.

Dec 16, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talk with outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Packers will be without their best player (Rodgers) versus the Eagles. That's why it's imperative that their second-best player (Matthews) returns to play.


Matthews is a complete player on defense. He obviously rushes the passer well, and he's very good against the run as well. Plus he can be an effective pass defender in coverage.

The defense also needs to start creating turnovers. Matthews is a key part of that equation with his pass rushing skills.

Right now, the Packers are tied for 30th in the NFL in terms of turnovers. The team only has three interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

The four fumbles were forced by Matthews (two) and Perry (two).

That statistic needs to change, if the Packers expect the defense to hold down the fort until Rodgers returns.

Yes, the second-ranked rushing attack of the Packers will help as well on offense, but the defense has to come up with big plays.

The best chance of that happening is with Matthews back on the field.