The Green Bay Packers (2-2) will head into Maryland on Sunday to play the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (3-2) this weekend, but the Packers are going to be rather limited in the linebacker core.
On Wednesday, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy officially said inside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) and All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb) have both been medically ruled out for this weekend.
McCarthy doesn’t expect Jones to be out too long, but he said Matthews could be out for “multiple weeks” after fracturing his thumb on the final play of the third quarter in the Packers’ win over the Detroit Lions (3-2) last weekend.
Without Matthews, the Packers are losing the heart and soul of their defense and their success moving forward will rely heavily on the shoulders of second-year outside linebacker Nick Perry and veteran rush-end Mike Neal.
Packer fans have seen what kind of pressure and potential Neal has and he has really starting to come into his own as an all-around football player. Perry, on the other hand, still has to prove to Green Bay fans to buy into his potential.
The Packers selected Perry in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft ahead of notable players such as Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin and Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
When he was drafted by the Packers, Perry’s top job was simple: Draw opposing offenses’ attention away from Matthews by becoming a solid contributor on the opposite side of the football. As a rookie, Perry recorded two sacks before suffering a season-ending wrist injury only six games into his NFL career.
In those six games in 2012, Perry did his what he was supposed to do, as Matthews recorded eight of his 13 sacks with Perry on the field. With Neal’s improvement, though, and Matthews’ latest casualty, Perry can’t take opponents’ attention away from his teammates any longer; he MUST shine for Green Bay.
Through the Packers’ first four games, Perry has 14 total tackles, two sacks and he has forced one fumble. Perry has good size (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) to be a productive rush-end in the NFL and has the ability to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. In the Packers’ win over the Lions on Sunday, Perry came alive, recording five total tackles, two sacks and forcing one fumble.
McCarthy always talks about expecting players to make a leap from their rookie year to their second-year. Perry showed he can be dominant and that has to continue on a weekly basis.
If he can’t, opposing quarterbacks will be able to pick apart the Packers secondary each week and Perry will lose his starting job once Matthews does finally return to the lineup.
The short-term fate of the Packers defense relies on Perry’s growth as a player. Either Perry helps Packers fans temporarily forget about their beloved blondey or he sits back and proves to be nothing better than a second-fiddle.