PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush presents the second of three key matchups in the Packers' Week 12 game against the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.
Packers LOLB Clay Matthews vs. Lions OTs Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Backus
Matthews had an excellent game in the Monday-night victory over the Vikings (two sacks for 20 yards in losses, five tackles and a forced fumble) after defensive coordinator Dom Capers implemented a few more creative blitz packages to create more playmaking opportunities for his superstar outside ’backer, presumably at Charles Woodson's request.
Six days later, though, Matthews had a relatively quiet outing against the Buccaneers, registering only two tackles despite not being double-teamed nearly as much as he had been in recent games. He did register the only two knockdowns against the Bucs and, for one of the few times this season, strayed to the right side for some snaps.
Matthews, who participated on a limited basis in the Monday and Tuesday practices because of a tender ankle, remains a great effort player with off-the-charts playmaking instincts. But close observers think he might not be quite as strong as he was last season, as it has appeared he has gotten knocked around a bit on run pursuit lately.
But Matthews' speed and quickness should give him a particular edge over Cherilus, who is considered the weakest link on the Lions' offensive line. A first-rounder in 2008, Cherilus is huge (6-6½, 325) with long arms and a perpetual chip on his shoulder. But speed rushers like Matthews give him fits. Backus (170 consecutive starts) is an old pro who mostly holds his own, but like Cherlius, he has a tendency to struggle when matched up against higher-quality pass rushers.
Matthews had a sack in each of the two games vs. Detroit last season.