QB pressure still high without Matthews

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
4:10
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Admit it, you thought the Green Bay Packers' pass rush would disappear without linebacker Clay Matthews.

And you thought defensive coordinator Dom Capers would need to resort to mass blitzing in order for his unit to muster any pressure whatsoever on opposing quarterbacks.

In the two games since the four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker broke his right thumb, neither has been the case.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsInjuries to Clay Matthews and other pass-rushers have forced the Packers to get creative when applying pressure. So far, so good.
In fact, even without their best pass-rusher, the Packers have put more heat on quarterbacks and have done so by blitzing less often. In two full games without Matthews, the Packers have recorded eight sacks and, according to ProFootballFocus, they have combined for five other quarterback hits and 31 hurries.

"I think, all in all, our pass rush has been good," Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "Yeah, our goal is three [sacks] a game, and we got five and three, so that's on target."

The sack and pressure numbers from the past two games have almost already matched what the Packers did in four games last season when Matthews was out with a hamstring injury. In that stretch, they combined for only seven sacks, six hits and 38 hurries, according to PFF.

In the past two games, wins against the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, Capers has sent more than the standard four pass-rushers on 32.2 percent of the opponent's dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the first four games, he did so on 39.5 percent of the opponent's dropbacks.

Against the Ravens, he sent five pass-rushers on 25 percent of Joe Flacco’s dropbacks, six rushers on just one snap and never sent seven. Last week against the Browns, he sent five rushers on 25.5 percent of Brandon Weeden's dropbacks, six rushers on 6.4 percent and seven rushers on two snaps. In fact, Capers rushed only four on the Browns' last 17 pass plays of the game.

Halfway through the game against the Ravens, the Packers lost another outside linebacker, Nick Perry, to a foot injury. Combined with a bruised shoulder that limited outside linebacker Mike Neal against the Browns, the Packers started with a pair of rookies, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer, at outside linebacker against Cleveland.

"Part of that is based on the fact that you have to be careful not to get too exotic with these new guys," Capers said. "Their head will be swimming, and you aren’t going to get much done. You say, 'Let's have them be able to play their base fundamentals and technique, then we’ll take our shots in terms of when we do come with pressure.'"

That’s not to say Capers hasn't blitzed. He has sent inside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. It's just that sometimes he does so without rushing more than four.

In Matthews' absence, six different players have recorded sacks. Four have come from the inside linebacker spot (A.J. Hawk with three, Jamari Lattimore with one), two from cornerbacks (Micah Hyde and Tramon Williams), one from the defensive line (Mike Daniels) and one from the outside linebackers (Perry).

"That's just a testament to the guys we've got," said Daniels, who has two sacks this season. "Guys are ready to go. We had a great camp. I always go back to that camp because I think it set a crucial tone. You can see all the work coming out right now."

The Packers rank eighth in the NFL with 20 sacks despite not having a player rank in the top 46 individually.

"So much of our pass rush is based on if we can play the run well," Capers said. "Get the game to be one-dimensional, and then we feel like all those things the players like to do, we can do that. We've been able to do that because people haven’t been able to run the ball against us. We’ve had five, five and three sacks, so we’ve had 13 sacks in the last three games, but there’s been a number of quarterback hits, too."

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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