Good thing for the Green Bay Packers that Clay Matthews is off to a good, albeit not great, start to the 2013 season.
He's the only player on the team with more than one sack, accounting for two so far this season, 16 tackles and two forced fumbles.
The bad news is that Matthews suffered a hamstring pull in the Packers' last game against the Cincinnati Bengals, missing the entire second half, and still hasn't returned. Matthews did not participate in Monday's practice despite having a week off for the team's bye.
Perhaps the Packers are just playing it safe with Matthews. After all, this is a player who missed four games with a hamstring injury last season and has been saddled with hamstring issues to one extent or another every season since his rookie year.
The prospect of the Packers having to go into a game minus Matthews is a scary prospect, especially considering they've gotten barely any pass rush from the other outside linebackers on their roster.
"Focusing more specifically on Mike Neal and Nick Perry, neither of them have a sack yet, neither of them have a hit yet," said Nathan Jahnke of ProFootballFocus.com on last Wednesday's episode of Cheesehead TV's Railbird Central. "Combined they have just nine pressures. So you'd like to see them get a little bit more pressure than what they've been getting."
Using the grading system provided by Pro Football Focus, Perry and Neal rank near the bottom among outside linebackers playing in a 3-4 defense in the entire NFL, respectively ranking 37th and 39th out of 41 players who have participated in at least 25 percent of their team's defensive snaps.
Perry's and Neal's pass rush have been especially woeful, but granted, in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, their defensive responsibilities included containing quarterback Colin Kaepernick more than generating pressure.
And to be fair, the ability to stuff the run from both Perry and Neal has been adequate to above average.
"Perry has been decent in the run game and Neal hasn't been too bad either," said Jahnke. "And both of them, in comparison to the outside linebackers have had in the past two years opposite Matthews, they've been playing against the run better than some of the other linebackers the Packers have had there. But you would certainly like to see a little bit more pressure out of them."
Indeed, one of only two outside linebackers that rank below Mike Neal in the Pro Football Focus position ratings is the Indianapolis Colts' Erik Walden, whom the Packers allowed to walk away in free agency this offseason.
Whether the subpar performance of Perry and Neal means the Packers will eventually turn to rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer is yet to be determined.
Mulumba has gotten a cup of coffee on defense, playing in a total of 13 snaps and accounting for only two official tackles. Palmer, meanwhile, has only been active for one game and in his lone appearance saw action only on special teams.
No matter who plays, better times might be ahead for all the Packers' outside linebackers.
"One factor might be that all three right tackles the Packers have faced have had positive positive pass block ratings on our site, so they've been going up against some good opponents," said Jahnke. "And whoever the Lions have at right tackle, that should be the easiest opponent they have left. That might be a better gauge of how they might be doing in the next game rather than how they've done in the past."
Jason Fox is currently listed as the Lions right tackle on their unofficial depth chart with previous starter Corey Hilliard getting off to a rough start to the season.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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