Mike Neal needs to step up and deliver in Clay Matthews' absence. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

If Clay Matthews can't go, will it be Mike Neal who shows?

The Green Bay Packers had to hit the ground sprinting right out of the gate; and some of our best horses had to sit out the race.

I was hoping for an appetizer … just to whet our appetites for football and give us time to get healthy, slowly. But weeks 1-3 were anything but samples. We were handed T-bones right from the start, and it’s nothing but T-bones from here on out.

San Francisco, Washington and Cincinnati were no joking matter, but we did have a constant positive: Clay Matthews III.

Coming off of a devastating hamstring injury that held him out of multiple games last season, he was finally looking healthy and his production was showing it. Through 2.5 games this season, he has racked up 13 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Not to mention a renewed tenacity that he has been showing, getting after the quarterback and playing through the whistle.

Cincinnati brought heartbreak in so many ways, losing a winnable game and watching our revamped running game and our star pass rusher take to the bench.

I thought this bye week couldn’t come at a better time; and for the most part, it rejuvenated our walking wounded. But so far, Matthews has been a no-go and Packers Nation is asking, ‘what happens if Matthew Stafford has one less thing to worry about on Sunday?’

Stafford is a dynamic player and is capable of making the big play. Add to that mix, Calvin Johnson. We need someone to step up and get in Stafford’s head early and often. If he has ample time in the pocket, Johnson will get downfield and catch touchdowns.

Who needs to step up?

I see Mike Neal as a game-changer, but he needs to establish his identity. He is a hybrid player, an OLB/DE who has the talent, but needs the motivation.

Maybe Matthews on the sideline will give him that.

He needs to be a playmaker, to harass Stafford from the defensive line and drop back in coverage to intercept those tipped or errant passes. His tackles need to increase, as well. He only has five tackles through three games, but four of them are solo. He has proved that he can be a force and that he doesn’t need anyone else to get a man to the ground.

We need that ferocity to expand against the Lions and for him to step up in Clay’s absence and give our defense an edge.

If Matthews can’t go – Mike Neal needs to show.

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Tags: Clay Matthews Green Bay Packers Mike Neal

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