GREEN BAY, Wis. — No one can block Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Well, that’s the opinion of his teammate, veteran defensive back Charles Woodson. But with Matthews’ 3.5-sack performance against the Bears on Thursday night, it’s difficult to argue otherwise.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler was unable to escape Matthews’ constant pressure all game as Green Bay’s defense actually outshined its offense in a 23-10 win over the Bears.
After just two games this season, Matthews already has 6.0 sacks, matching his total from the entire 2011 season.
“I wish he could just have free rush every time,” Woodson said of Matthews. “Nobody can block him. That’s a fact. If we just let him go, he’d probably have had more.”
Matthews, who’s now in his fourth NFL season, not only put up tremendous individual statistics in the game, he also opened up opportunities for the rest of the defense. As a team, the Packers sacked Cutler seven times and had four interceptions.
For a Green Bay defense that just last season allowed more passing yards than any team in NFL history and finished 27th in the league in sacks, Thursday night’s game was a stunning turnaround. Matthews even admitted that the Packers’ defense in 2011 had “just a poor performance all around,” but this was a dominating performance all around.
Cutler was clearly rattled on the field throughout the game. After several different plays, Cutler yelled at his offensive line, particularly going after left tackle J’Marcus Webb, who was unsuccessfully attempting to keep Matthews out of the backfield.
“I heard a few of our coaches say something about it, saying he was pretty frustrated out there,” Woodson said of Cutler. “But who wouldn’t be frustrated?”
After the game, Cutler didn’t seem to regret any of his negative reactions.
“I care about this,” Cutler said. “This isn’t a hobby for me; I am not doing this for my health. If they want a quarterback that doesn’t care, they can find someone else.”
Matthews, described by cornerback Tramon Williams as “a freak of nature,” appears to be back to playing like the 2010 version of himself that had 13.5 sacks and finished second in the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year voting. But Matthews isn’t satisfied yet.
“I feel good about where I’m at,” Matthews said. “There’s obviously room for improvement. I never feel like I’ve arrived. But I feel good about where I’m at. Hopefully I’ll continue to get after the quarterback, make some plays and help this team win.”
Just four days earlier, the Bears looked like they had turned a corner offensively, scoring 41 points against the Indianapolis Colts. Cutler, reunited with former Broncos teammate Brandon Marshall, threw for 119 yards in that game … to Marshall alone. But against the Packers, Cutler had only 126 total passing yards to all of his receivers combined, finishing with a 28.2 passer rating. Marshall, who was targeted by Cutler 15 times in the win over the Colts, had only five passes thrown his way for two catches and 24 yards.
“He wasn’t open,” Woodson said. “What do you want him to do?”
Earlier in the week, Cutler wished Green Bay’s secondary “good luck” in stopping Marshall and rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery in press coverage. But that didn’t quite work out the way Cutler had envisioned and perhaps backfired as the quote made its way into the Packers’ locker room.
“I don’t know if we took it personal, but we thought it was kind of funny that all of a sudden they’re the team to beat because they got a couple new guys,” Woodson said.
Woodson had one interception, Williams had two and rookie safety Jerron McMillian had one.
With the pass rush from Matthews and company being as successful as it was, Cutler was noticeably throwing from his back heels often. As frequently as he was being chased out of the pocket, Cutler never had much time to get comfortable.
“That’s the blueprint to our defensive game plan,” Matthews said. “Stop the run, get after the quarterback, force them into some errant throws. And we were able to do that tonight. We really got after him, forced him into some passes I’m sure he wanted back, and our (defensive backs) took advantage of that.”
Considering that the Packers’ offense, through two games, has come nowhere close to where it was at in 2011 when they led the NFL in scoring, a defensive showing like this was just what they needed. A loss would have dropped Green Bay to 0-2, just one year after finishing 15-1 and beginning the season 13-0.
Just the possibility of the Packers losing the first two games of this season, both at home, sparked plenty of questions to players inside the team’s locker room this week. But quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the team joked about it and had no worries whatsoever.
“We showed a clip in one of our meetings of the scene from (the movie) ‘Semi Pro’ when Will Ferrell’s fighting the bear and the bear gets out of the cage and he’s yelling, ‘Everybody, panic!'” Rodgers said. “That’s kind of a joke, just because inside the facility, there wasn’t any panic.
“Outside, I think people were worried if we lose to Chicago, you’re kind of putting yourself behind the eight-ball a little bit. (It was a) good win for us. We’re 1-1. We need to get better on offense, but the defense played incredible.”
Rodgers is right. For the first time in more than a year, Green Bay’s defense won it a game.