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Packers' tweaked defense finds pass rusher Clay Matthews on the move on field

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GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — No matter how the Packers defense lines up, Clay Matthews is adamant that his top goal is to disrupt opponents and make big plays.

It's just that Green Bay's best pass rusher these days may not be getting as much of a chance to do it close to the line, hovering around the same tight end or tackle on the edge play after play.

A major wrinkle to the Packers' defense this year includes lining up Matthews in different spots, instead of just keeping the long-haired linebacker rushing from one end or the other. The defense overall has had mixed results early with Green Bay (1-1) preparing for this weekend's game at Detroit.

"What we're trying to accomplish is the fact that we're trying to present problems for the opponents' offense and not just lining me up in one spot," Matthews said Wednesday. "But I think the thing about it is you look at the personnel on the field, I think that I'm more than capable of rushing the passer and dropping into coverage."

Dropping into coverage is not what made Matthews a star. Since coming into the league in 2009, Matthews has had 51 sacks, including his first of 2014 against the New York Jets.

His role has changed a little this year, necessitated in part by coach Mike McCarthy using a 4-3 look at times after years of relying on a base 3-4 scheme.

On Sunday against the Jets, Green Bay opened in 4-3, with Julius Peppers and Mike Neal at the ends. With Matthews at linebacker, the Packers had three of their top rushers on the field at the same time.

At times, Matthews dropped back into coverage. Other times, he was lined up in the middle, like when he rushed the quarterback from about five yards off the line of scrimmage.

Matthews got to Geno Smith on the play, but about a half-second before Smith got off a perfectly-thrown pass to Eric Decker for a 29-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline in the second quarter.

"Whether it's out of a 3-4, 4-3 look or whatever it may be, I believe I can do it and I believe I can do it to a high level," Matthews said. "I think I can do it all. I think over the years, I've been known as a sack guy, but I think what's been lost in the shuffle is the fact that I can cover, I can play in space and rush the passer as well."

Whatever the reason, the defense has had slow starts, in particular against the Jets. New York scored on its first three drives, but Green Bay caught up and adjusted. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week the early issues were in part due to staying in one package because of the fast pace and substitution patterns set by the Jets.

The big positive for the Packers is that they held New York to just a field goal for the last 40 minutes in winning 31-24.

"We've played two games. So, I think we improved from Week 1 to Week 2 on defense. And we're looking to get better this week," McCarthy said Wednesday.

For years, Matthews was usually stationed on either the left or right side of the front. He started from the right in 2009; went to the left the following two season; then returned to the right the next two years.

McCarthy this week said lining up Matthews in the same place each play actually helps the offense.

"If you want to chip him, if you want to slide to him, if you're able to practice it all week 'Clay Matthews is over there or Clay Matthews is over there,' it's an easier training process for the opponent," McCarthy said. "It's just really having Clay do the same things he's always done and just move him around."

Notes: Starting RT Bryan Bulaga (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday, though he appeared to be moving better than a week ago at practice. McCarthy said he was "absolutely" more optimistic Bulaga would be ready for Detroit. ... S Micah Hyde (knee) was limited but looked to be moving fine after getting hurt last week. ... Backup LB and special teams regular Andy Mulumba is out for the year with a knee injury.


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PHOTO: Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews stops New York Jets' Michael Vick during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews stops New York Jets' Michael Vick during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

 

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