The Green Bay Packers (2-2) may have to move on in the 2013 NFL season without the heart and soul of the defense. All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews fractured his thumb in a win over the Detroit Lions (3-2) on Sunday which could require season-ending surgery.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t have any news on Matthews, as McCarthy said medically he “didn’t have all of the information” yet.
The injury could certainly become a monumental thumbs down for the Packers, as Matthews is widely regarded as one of the game’s ultimate difference makers on defense. Through four games, Matthews had recorded 18 total tackles, three tackles for loss, three sacks and forced two fumbles.
Matthews has unfortunately been a frequent visitor in the training room through the first five weeks of the season. In a Week 3 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals, Matthews was medically ruled out of the game after suffering a hamstring injury in the third quarter.
At the time of his hamstring injury, the Packers held a 30-14 lead over the Bengals. Once Matthews left the game, though, the Bengals scored 20 unanswered points and ended up beating Green Bay.
There is reason for optimism, however, as Packers outside linebackers Mike Neal and Nick Perry both have shown flashes. In Sunday’s win over the Lions, the Packers recorded five sacks on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. In their first four games, the Lions’ offensive line had only allowed three sacks.
Neal and Perry have three of the Packers’ 12 sacks this season. With Matthews’ injury, first-round rookie defensive end Datone Jones could see more playing time on defense on passing downs. At UCLA as a senior last year, Jones recorded 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
In Green Bay, the Packers’ team mantra has always been “next man up” under McCarthy’s watch, emphasizing and signifying the importance every player in the locker room has on the team.
Losing Matthews could be a devastating blow to say the least, because teams just can’t replace one of the NFL’s best at the drop of a hat. In Green Bay, though, the train of thought is much different. If the Packers can crawl themselves out of this potential debacle, which is possible, the Packers obviously have something special throughout the locker room and the team.
In the up and coming weeks, the Packers luckily will face immobile quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens), Brandon Weeden (Cleveland Browns), Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears), Stafford (Lions), Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons), Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys) and Eli Manning (New York Giants).
Matthews is a tremendous asset to have in defending the zone-read scheme, but Neal and Perry can get the job done from the outside against the NFL’s more pro-style offensive looks. It’s simple; it’s not about the next man up anymore. Now it’s about the next opponent up in Green Bay.