Even one-handed Clay Matthews an upgrade for ailing Packers' defense
Even with a club on one hand, the Packers are happy to have Clay Matthews back for Sunday's game.
By PAUL IMIGFS Wisconsin
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As the Green Bay Packers get ready for their first test without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the return of star outside linebacker Clay Matthews should help offset that blow a little bit. But even that much-needed piece of good news for the Packers comes with an asterisk, as Matthews will be wearing a massive club on his right hand.
Matthews, who has missed the past four games after suffering a Bennett's fracture in his right thumb, is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Matthews may not be able to perform like the dominant player that he usually is when healthy, Green Bay is just happy that its four-time Pro Bowl linebacker is available.
"I think this is a good shot in the arm for everybody," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "I think Clay's presence, and everybody knows what he brings to the table, I think that's just going to bring a little bit more excitement to the defense, to the team. So that's a positive thing."
Matthews admitted this week that playing with the club on his right hand will basically have him playing with one arm. The Packers are betting that's still an upgrade for their defense.
"He's Clay Matthews," Greene said before pausing with a smile. "He's Clay. I think Clay with one hand, I like those odds."
Greene wasn't sure whether Matthews would need to play the entire season with the club. However, Greene said it will "maybe be a tad-smaller club" next week, with the size of it continuing to decrease on a weekly basis.
"He's going to have to figure out a way to use that to his advantage," Greene said. "I wouldn't say a weapon or whatnot, but he's going to have to get used to how to use it as far as our job and what we have to do as far as disengaging from blockers and getting to the quarterback, making moves and doing things that we've got to do. He's got to figure out a way to use it."
Greene once played with a cast on his hand for a few games during his NFL career, and while his situation wasn't identical, he knows that Matthews will have unique challenges wearing the club.
"He's going to get in there and he's going to do some things that are going to hurt," Greene said. "I don't think there's a way around pain. What he's going to do, he's going to be in pain. He's going to find what he can push through and what he needs to be a little careful doing with it. He'll figure all that stuff out. I have confidence in that."
Outside linebacker Nick Perry, who was the starter opposite Matthews at the beginning of the season, has missed the past three games with a broken bone in his foot. Perry is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
"That takes time to heal," Greene said of Perry's foot. "I think we just have to wait and see with him. If we get him back, that's going to be a positive thing. He brings something to the table as well. I think we'll find out a little bit more (Saturday). He has more chance to heal (Saturday) and then on game day, so I'm just kind of; I'm optimistic about it, but I'm trying to be realistic about it as well, about his foot."
As far as Greene is concerned, it could ultimately be up to Perry whether he plays.
"If he stands tall and says 'I am playing,' how do we say 'No'?," Greene said. "I know how I would be, if I said 'I'm going to play', by God, I'm going to play. It is what it is."
It's been a rough season for the Packers' outside linebackers. Before Matthews' broken thumb, he also left the Week 3 game at Cincinnati early with a hamstring injury. In addition to Perry's broken foot, Green Bay also had injuries to Mike Neal (separate knee and shoulder issues, though neither has forced him to miss a game) and now rookie Andy Mulumba is doubtful with an ankle injury.
"The game is predicated on physical brutality," Greene said. "We're all humans and we're built out of flesh and bone and that (expletive) gives away, it breaks. It gets wounded. Every one of those guys in the locker room right now, every one of them is dealing with something. They're dealing with something that is a pain in their (butt), it hurts them and it's nagging them and that's the nature of the game.
"If there's somebody in the locker room that doesn't have little nicks and bumps and bruises right now, then they don't really belong in the locker room because they're not a football player. Halfway through the season, people are experiencing a good amount of pain and dealing with a good amount of little injuries here and there. They're having to manage it, and that's just the nature of the game."
On offense, the Packers will likely have starting right guard T.J. Lang (concussion) on the field Sunday. Lang is listed as questionable, but he was a limited participant in Friday's practice after passing the NFL's concussion protocol.
"He felt all along that he was going to be ready to play, but we'll check him again in the morning," coach Mike McCarthy said.
This is already the third concussion that Lang has suffered in his five-year NFL career.
"It's part of the game," Lang said. "Everybody knows with the research now that the risks players take by playing the game, but it's something that you just kind of deal with. You don't want to step back on the field until you're feeling 100 percent. Any setbacks you can have immediately after a concussion can be pretty dramatic. That's my focal point that I'm not playing until I'm 100 percent confident."
As for Rodgers, who broke his collarbone Monday night and will likely miss at least four games, McCarthy would not confirm a timeline. But the reality set in for the Packers several days ago that Rodgers was not going to be behind center for a while.
"I'll be honest with you, no disrespect to Aaron and he knows this, too, because we've talked about it, we've addressed the fact obviously Aaron's injury on the team, but you get to the point where it's about your football team," McCarthy said. "We're trying to accomplish something special as a team. Now, special is winning on Sunday because that's all that really matters, and that's what it's all about.
"To us as a football team, this is a great opportunity to show you how good we can be. Everybody knows what a great player he is, but at the end of the day, this is a long journey, we're only halfway through the season, but this is a great opportunity for everybody on our football team to step up and be successful."