In a season riddled with injuries, the Green Bay Packers appear to be getting a little healthier on defense. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that both Clay Matthews and Nick Perry returned to practice on Wednesday.
Matthews has missed the last four games with a broken thumb he suffered in week five. The Packers top defensive playmaker was off to a solid season (3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles in 4 games) before being sidelined.
Likewise, the Packers other top pass rusher, Perry, was just putting things together on the field after a slow start to the season, but a broken foot suffered against the Baltimore Ravens in week six has halted his progress. After opening the season without any sacks or splash plays in the first three games, Perry recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles in weeks five and six.
The Packers outside linebacker corps has continued to be tested as the season has progressed. Mike Neal has been dealing with a bad shoulder since week six, and Andy Mulumba was carted off the field during Monday night’s loss to the Chicago Bears because of an ankle injury. That left only sixth-round pick, Nate Palmer, and converted defensive lineman, Neal, as the Packers only healthy outside linebackers for the remainder of the game.
Mulumba will be questionable to play this Sunday against Philadelphia, so Green Bay is hoping they can get back Matthews and Perry this week.
Matthews practiced with a club on his left hand and was limited in his reps on Wednesday. He has a good shot to play against Philadelphia. Perry practiced on a limited basis last week, but was ruled out Monday night because he wasn’t quite ready to play on the foot. It appears the second-year linebacker has a chance to play this Sunday.
On Wednesday, Matthews and Perry were a welcomed sight for a defense that has struggled to get good production from its outside linebackers since the starters have been out. The Packers have still managed a dozen sacks since Matthews has been out of the lineup, but a majority of these sacks have come off blitzes from inside linebackers and defensive backs. If Monday’s loss showed us anything, it’s that the Packers can’t afford to rely on heavy blitz packages in order to generate pressure against offenses, like Chicago’s, that have multiple receiving threats to account for.
The Packers defensive backs were getting killed one-on-one against the Bears’ bigger receivers. Green Bay’s linebackers also had trouble matching up against tight end Martellus Bennett and halfback Matt Forte. When the Packers blitzed, Josh McCown took advantage of the single coverage and made them pay.
For the Packers defense to be effective, they need to be able to generate pressure with a four- or five-man rush. This simply hasn’t happened with both Matthews and Perry out of the lineup. Outside of the Detroit game, Neal hasn’t done much rushing off the left side. Mulumba and Palmer still look like they have a ways to go before being legitimate NFL pass rushers. Mike Daniels has been the only down lineman that has generated pressure, but he’s also had games, like Monday night, where he was a non-factor.
The Packers have missed Matthews and Perry. More than I think we could have anticipated. The defensive meltdown against a McCown-led Chicago Bears offense only reiterates the importance of having players in your front seven that can get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
Before the Chicago game, the Packers defense has played admirably without some of their key players, but if one thing has been evident without Matthews on the field, it’s that Green Bay still lacks playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. After the bye week, Perry seemed to be stepping into this role, but he was injured before we could really see him blossom on the field.
Even without Rodgers, I think the Packers would have won the game Monday night if both Matthews and Perry were in the lineup. I believe they make that much of a difference.
The best way for the Packers to survive these next four weeks or so without Aaron Rodgers is with stellar play from their defense. This will only happen when they are fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders.
This defense will have a different look with Matthews and Perry back on the field. I hope we see this as soon as this Sunday against the high-powered Philadelphia Eagles offense.