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Packers' Matthews off to slow start in sacks, partially because of mobile QBs and run game

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GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — The numbers look out of line for Clay Matthews, one of the NFL's most prolific pass rushers. He has just one sack and 15 tackles through the Green Bay Packers' first six games.

Lately, mobile quarterbacks and chic read-option plays — which give quarterbacks the choice to pitch or keep the ball on a run — seem more successful in neutralizing the long-haired linebacker more than double teams.

Here comes another athletic quarterback Sunday, when Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers visit Lambeau Field.

"I think statistically obviously you'd love to have more stats ... but I know the sacks will come and the numbers will always be there," Matthews said.

"But at the same time, I think you have to look at the evolution of offenses that we continue to play," added Matthews, referring to the read-option.

Matthews' production doesn't reflect the level of his performance, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Thursday. Matthews also has an interception and two forced fumbles.

Still, the sixth-year pro became a star for his ability to get to the quarterback— he has 51 career sacks.

"I've seen it go the other way, where you know you go out in a game and things kind of go your way and you get all kinds of production," Capers said. "You know, he's smart, he prepares. He's instinctive and you know we'll see the production will come I believe."

Matthews has already been through some transition as the Packers tried to punch up their defense after signing Julius Peppers in free agency in the offseason, seemingly to have them bookend the pass rush.

Peppers has played relatively well, and his presence gives the Packers the option to use more four-lineman looks up front after years of playing a base 3-4 defense.

But that's left Matthews lined up in different spots instead of keeping him rushing from one end or the other with reckless abandon. And though dropping into coverage has always been part of his responsibilities, he may be doing it a little more this year.

PHOTO: Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to throw the ball as he is pursued by Green Bay Packers outside linebackers Clay Matthews (52) and Brad Jones (59) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Packers won 27-24. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to throw the ball as he is pursued by Green Bay Packers outside linebackers Clay Matthews (52) and Brad Jones (59) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Packers won 27-24. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The overall goal in the offseason was to get more impact players. The defense is coming through, having amassed 13 takeaways, including nine interceptions.

But other than Peppers, none has the playmaking pedigree of Matthews.

On offense, a coach can try to get a slumping running back going by, for instance, giving him more carries. It's not as simple on defense, even if the Packers have certain plays designed with Matthews in mind.

"You can't go into a game thinking one player ... because you've got to think of the big picture and what it's going to take to win the game first and foremost," Capers said. "And hopefully ... there's going to be those opportunities where he's going to have chances to make plays."

On Sunday, those chances may have to come against a team that has shown it's capable of playing read-option, with Newton running it with success last week against Cincinnati.

Defending the zone read is in part about staying patient, and Matthews knows that. But playing better against that particular running play and the rush overall could lead to more third-and-long plays — tailor-made for Matthews and Peppers to attack the quarterback.

"There's always going to be an extra guy," Matthews said, "so that requires a little bit of patience of just kind of sitting there reading and reacting, which I know most of us on defense would rather just be turned loose and get after it."

NOTES: DE Datone Jones missed practice Thursday after testing out his ankle injury in limited reps Wednesday. "He's not recovering as fast as we thought," coach Mike McCarthy said. Jones missed last week's 27-24 win over Miami. ... Starting CBs Sam Shields (knee) and Tramon Williams (ankle) sat out practice a second straight day. The Packers are confident that backups Casey Hayward and Davon House can assume more responsibilities if needed.


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