Matthews quietly playing at high level for Packers

Posted Oct. 07, 2011 @ 3:06 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

The numbers definitely lie.

Yes, it's true PFW reigning defensive MVP Clay Matthews had only one sack in the first four games after collecting 17 sacks (including the playoffs) in his second consecutive spectacular season at the pro level.

But no, Matthews' play has not dropped off with fewer drops of opposing QBs, not by any means.

While he does continue to deal with health issues, getting by with greatly reduced practice time because of a lingering thigh/quadriceps injury, daily team observers agree that Matthews is playing as well as ever. He is providing constant pressure (team-leading 18 QB hurries) and disruptive energy and coming up with key plays against the run, especially in the red zone.

If there's a problem, it's that Matthews just hasn't had enough company when it comes to applying pressure.

The player considered by most close team observers before the season to likely be the most effective pass-rushing complement to Matthews was second-year DE Mike Neal, who was targeted to take over for the departed Cullen Jenkins as the team's top inside rusher.

But Neal continues to be bogged down by injuries. On the mend from mid-September knee surgery after missing much of last season with abdomen and shoulder injuries, the hope is Neal will be ready to return to action in early November.

In Neal's absence, Jarius Wynn stepped up with an impressive two-sack effort in an early game, but he has come down to earth.

One Packers defender worth keeping an eye on in is second-year OLB Frank Zombo, who has made a much quicker recovery than expected from a fractured left shoulder blade that sidelined him the first month of the season.

An undrafted rookie who was a defensive end at Central Michigan, Zombo surprisingly became a key cog in the Packers' defense last season, registering five sacks, six tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles after replacing the injured Brad Jones as the starter at right outside linebacker.

Daily team observers tell us Zombo is likely to split the load with 2010 street pickup Erik Walden at the OLB spot opposite Matthews the rest of the season.