The Green Bay Packers (1-2) are coming off of a much-needed bye week after the injury bug had begun spreading rapidly throughout the team. The Packers couldn’t ask for a more perfect time to host the red-hot Detroit Lions (3-1) at Lambeau Field.
Notable Packers Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward, Eddie Lacy and James Starks among other players have missed games or left during games this season with injuries. Packers All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the heart and soul of the defense, luckily will start on Sunday.
Matthews left in the third quarter of the Packers’ 34-30 week three loss against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago with a hamstring injury, but fortunately for the Packers, he was able to participate in practice on Thursday and Friday and was cleared to play against Detroit.
Against the Bengals, Matthews and the Packers defense registered four sacks, four turnovers and allowed 14 points in the first half. When Matthews was hamstrung (pun intended) for the remainder of the Bengals game, the defense still hung tough but they were never able to match a similar intensity on the field.
Against the Bengals, Matthews recorded two tackles, one sack and forced two fumbles. In the season-opening loss against the San Francisco 49ers, Matthews was able to generate enough pressure on San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49er offense to keep the Packers in the game.
Even though it was a loss, Matthews recorded eight total tackles and one sack in San Francisco. It’s not a coincidence that Matthews’ two best individual performances of the season have both resulted in losses, but it is a coincidence that the Packers’ defense wasn’t the same in week three without their long-haired defender.
Once Matthews left the game against Cincinnati, the Bengals, down 14-30 by the time Matthews was ruled out, finished the game by scoring 20 unanswered points. Yes, I believe that is quite the coincidence, isn’t it?
Matthews has missed three games in his career against the Lions and hasn’t faced the Lions since the 2011 Thanksgiving game. In those three games, the Lions’ offense averaged 27 points per game, but the Packers defense was still able to force 10 turnovers and register eight sacks.
Yes, the Packers have fared well against Detroit with and without Matthews, but this season is different because the Packers don’t have Charles Woodson roaming on defense. The Packers desperately need Matthews against the Lions this year, as he will prove how much of an impact one star on the defensive side of the football can make each week.
The Lions offensive line has also been one of the NFL‘s best in the first-quarter of the season and have allowed a league-low three sacks. Detroit offensive lineman Riley Reiff has greatly improved at left tackle in protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s blind-side, but Reiff has NEVER faced a dynamic outside rusher with such an excellent combination of speed and strength like Matthews yet this year.
In five games against the Detroit Lions in his NFL career, Matthews has registered 20 total tackles, five sacks and one interception. The Lions’ offense has only averaged 12 points per game when Matthews is in the Packers’ lineup.
The Lions possess a dangerous offensive unit and it is unlikely that the Packers will hold Detroit to less than 12 points, but Matthews will sure help the Packers defense limit the Lions scoring chances. Beware Detroit, the Claymaker will be making a special appearance in a backfield near you.