Packers get pass rush punch back
The Associated Press
The star pass rusher has a sore left shoulder. The team leader in sacks played with a thick left wrap resembling a large oven mitt protecting his injured left hand.
Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are nowhere close to 100 percent healthy. The Green Bay Packers’ outside linebackers head into the regular season-ending showdown in Detroit for the NFC North title with momentum after powering through their injuries against Minnesota last weekend.
“They’re our bookends, they’re our pass rushers. It’s obviously a premiere position on defense for anybody and these guys have been battling injuries all year,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I just give them a ton of credit, ton of love just the way they’re going about it.”
Getting to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on Sunday night will be important, especially after two straight porous games in pass coverage for the Packers (9-6).
Stafford, who is playing with torn ligaments in his right middle finger, has thrown four interceptions to one touchdown over his last three games. He’s been sacked eight times in that span, including four times last week against Dallas.
Matthews said the injury doesn’t seem to be affecting Stafford’s throwing ability.
“No, not a big difference … He’ll make amazing throws and sometimes he’ll give opportunities. We had a few opportunities in the first game in which we played him and we came up short,” Matthews said Thursday, referring to the Packers’ 34-27 win over Detroit in Week 3.
“So hopefully we can take advantage. It seems like we’re playing real well regarding the turnovers on defense,” Matthews added. “Maybe that will be the difference in the game.”
Matthews made a difference against the Vikings, look like his old playmaking self for the first time since injuring his left shoulder on Nov. 28 against Philadelphia. Matthews had a strip-sack of Sam Bradford, setting up Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown run late in the second quarter of a 38-25 victory.
Veteran Julius Peppers’ late-season production helped compensate for Matthews’ reduced role due to injury the last few weeks, and the absence of Perry. Peppers, whose playing time was limited earlier in the year to help keep him fresh for the stretch run, has four of his 7 1/2 sacks this season over the last six games.
Peppers has been getting practices on Wednesday off late in the year. He also got Thursday off as well.
Getting Perry back against Minnesota provided added punch. He returned with two fourth-quarter sacks to give him a team-high 10 for the year. He also had two hurries and two tackles for losses after missing the previous two games with the hand injury.
Now Perry has a chance to return to his hometown of Detroit with a chance to help his team clinch the division to cap what has been a breakout season for him.
“It’s an important game for everybody, but it’s also important because he’s going back home,” McCarthy said. “It’s always fun for anybody to go back home and perform and win.”
Perry wasn’t sure if he would be playing with the same thick wrap on his hand on Sunday. He said he felt no added pressure with playing back in his hometown with the season on the line.
“It was important for me to get back period, regardless of who we were playing,” Perry said. “I needed to get back for myself, that’s the most important thing right now.”
What might give the Packers a little edge this week are a couple extra days of rest compared to the Lions. Green Bay beat the Vikings last Saturday, while Detroit wrapped up the Week 16 schedule on Monday night with the 42-21 loss to Dallas.
“Everything we’ve done to this point has put us in this position to prepare to go win this game,” McCarthy said. “So any extra time, any extra days, extra time to prepare, rest and recovery for your players, it (has) definitely been beneficial.”