Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews Isn't the Same Player Atlanta Faced in Week 12

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after a sack against the Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Heading into Atlanta on Saturday night, quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks to be the chosen man when it comes to headlines and attention-seeking plays.  With one swift switch in momentum, though, Rodgers is no longer the sole focus on Mike McCarthy's team.

Originally, Falcons wide receiver Roddy White wanted nothing to do with a possible Packer matchup in the Divisional Round.  Prior to last weekend, White expressed his fondness of facing the Seattle Seahawks at home, unaware of the upset Pete Carroll had planned against the New Orleans Saints.

Thanks to a last second Tramon Williams interception against the Philadelphia Eagles, White now finds himself out of luck, but still able to sleep in his own bed.

Throwing a spanner in the works has been the Packers role all season long.  The Chicago Bears may have clinched the NFC North with an 11-5 record, yet Green Bay's pesky ability to maintain stability sees flourishes of danger for any opposing team.

Now it's Atlanta's turn.

Despite the uncertain ways of analysts and experts alike, Green Bay's trip to Atlanta is extremely tough to decipher.  On one hand, you have two red hot teams, while on the other, you have a small portion of questioning directed at the Packers run game and the healthiness of Atlanta's offense.

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All of that aside, the Packers do have one very reliable factor to rely on—outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

When Green Bay and Atlanta originally met during Week 12 of the regular season, the Falcons successfully shut down the Packer main defensive threat, thanks to offensive tackle Tyson Clabo. 

People that know Clabo call him a force.  Having not missed a game since the 2007 season, Clabo has become the epitome of a trustworthy lineman.  Something that head coach Mike Smith values highly when it comes to protecting his quarterback.

Speaking of protecting Matt Ryan, this is the main problem that is causing the Packers some defensive issues right now.

During the Packers visit to the Georgia Dome six weeks ago, Ryan was sacked only twice.  Not only is this a concern for a team like Green Bay that is ranked fourth in postseason defense, it also spells an ounce of trouble for Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, which is fresh off a blitz-frenzy game against Philadelphia.

So what has changed nearly two months down the track?

Not a whole lot.  That is if you discount the fact that Green Bay is now a much healthier team than they once were.

For the most part, people seem comfortable in overlooking the fact that Matthews was injured during Week 12.  Nursing a hamstring injury that had plagued No. 52 since preseason, Matthews was far from 100 percent when taking on Clabo down south in Atlanta.

Needless to say this resulted in a sack-less affair and a fairly quiet night on Matthews' part.

Now, though, things have taken a turn for the best.  Matthews is back to booming, and with a sack against quarterback Michael Vick last week, Matthews' protruding muscles are likely to be displayed this weekend should he ground the Falcons star quarterback.

The reality of this scene occurring is, of course, favorable.

Those who have watched Matthews throughout his two-year NFL career would also notice his tendency to rush the righthand side of the offensive line.  Clabo was immovable last time these two met, but don't be surprised to see Matthews stick to the middle and ultimately test center Todd McClure.

This is the area that should pay dividends for Green Bay.  Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, Ryan was sacked only once, however, constantly pressured by Sean Payton's demeaning linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.

This resulted in a Falcons 17-14 loss.

Considering that the Packers lost by a field goal against the Falcons back in Week 12, this issues a stern warning of good news for McCarthy's team.  Punter Tim Masthay has solidified the special teams unit in the past two weeks (limiting both Devin Hester and DeSean Jackson) and has now paved the way for some decent defensive field position.

Nonetheless, all of the hard work won't come straight from Matthews' fingertips.

By far one of the most impressive players on the Packers roster is third-year linebacker Eric Walden, who is developing at a rapid pace in the starting role.  Next, there is also Desmond Bishop with three sacks to his name and finally, both BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett on the defensive line.

This isn't the same Packer defense Atlanta faced six weeks ago.  Healthy, rejuvenated and most importantly motivated, Green Bay can blame their three-game win streak on Capers' efforts on the defensive side.

A question of blitz or not to blitz still looms for Green Bay, yet a tremendous amount of faith is instilled in Capers' decision making.

Teams have been cursing Matthew's name all year long, and if Atlanta don't take care of him like they did in Week 12, it may be an early departure for such a promising Falcons team.

The Georgia Dome is a factor, so is Michael Turner.  Clay Matthews?  Well, that's something Green Bay can rely on.

Follow Ryan Cook on  Twitter.

Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze. 

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