The cheesesteaks aren’t the only thing sizzling in Philadelphia right now.
On the eve of one of the biggest Wild Card games to date, the Green Bay Packers added some last minute adjustments to their starting roster, now knowing that linebacker Frank Zombo and safety Atari Bigby are out of this weekends affair.
No need to worry, though, Dom Capers is on the job. Since taking over the Defensive Coordinator position in early 2009, Mike McCarthy’s defense has seen a drastic rise in the playmaking ability of his team. It could be said that cornerback Charles Woodson was always a standout, but the 3-4 scheme has certainly added some spice to a once mild defensive recipe in the past two years.
Then there’s the Clay Matthews factor, that has added an extra heartbeat altogether.
From a walk on at USC, to still watching over his shoulder in Green Bay, Matthews has been a force for the Packers since joining the team next to Capers, accumulating 23.5 sacks in a two year span to become one of the most promising outside linebackers in the league today.
Aside from today though, it is the future that most people choose to focus on when discussing No.52, and although the regular season can’t be forgotten, this Sunday’s trip to Philadelphia could define Matthews in more ways than one.
Right now for the Packers and Capers alike, a serious situation stands tall. To blitz or not to blitz? That is the question that every fan, coach and media personality is awaiting an answer to prior to Green Bay’s clash with Philadelphia.
However, assuming that the Packers take a page out of the Minnesota Vikings playbook and choose to rush quarterback Michael Vick, there is a strong chance that Capers relies upon Matthews to make a big play or two in 24 hours time.
Speaking of the Vikings, Minnesota’s visit to Lincoln Financial Field nearly three weeks ago saw Leslie Frazier’s defense wreak havoc on Vick, to record six total sacks in a 24-14 victory that highlighted the previously unclear problems that Andy Reid’s offense endures.
While the Packers defense couldn’t be more different in comparison to Minnesota’s, Green Bay can learn a thing or two from the division rival, even though this scenario never seemed possible.
When the Vikings blitzed Vick, the entire offense fell apart. As we all know head coach Reid is intent on protecting his quarterback, but after tasting the turf on just about every drive, Minnesota began to bruise the quick footed passer and ultimately turn Vick into an extremely hesitant player in the pocket.
Therefore, it only seems logical that the Packers attempt this same feat.
It may not be wise for Capers to call an "all out" blitz like we saw last week against Chicago, but clearly this kind of gutsy play calling quickly limited quarterback Jay Cutler to just 168 yards, two interceptions and six sacks on the day.
A cornerback blitz? Forget it, Vick will find a way around that despite Tramon Williams’ newfound speed. To make matters worse in this situation, the threat of wide receiver’s DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin is simply too risky to gamble with at this point in time.
As for the defensive line and linebackers, the more pressure the better. Second year nose tackle BJ Raji was unnoticeably phenomenal in the latter half of the regular season, notching 6.5 sacks and 39 tackles to raise a few eyebrows deservedly.
Who else is worth sending on the blitz?
If the corners are a no go, then AJ Hawk’s revitalized efforts are a bright factor for every Packer fan to focus on. Not only does Hawk possess impact potential, inside linebacker Desmond Bishop also takes home his own brownie points, as these two players throw in an interception threat for Vick to be wary of if pressure begins to mount.
Finally, the rest of the action lays in Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah’s hands. Both safeties had an interception to boost their confidence in Week 17, and if Vick feels the heat, the ball could find itself right in the breadbasket of either man.
It’s a call that not every fan agrees on, because Vick has been known to avoid the blitz quite easily. In 2010 Vick has ran for 676 yards and nine touchdowns, a statistic that is demeaning to any possible opposing team in the next four weeks.
Now that the Packers possess the fifth rank defense, though, Capers must be intelligent enough to realize how threatening his team can be, considering that the Packers have recorded a total of 47 sacks this season.
At the end of it all most of the pressure will come from Matthews, who has had a reasonably quiet past four weeks, recording just two sacks. Still, Matthews is Green Bay’s impact player, and with just one playoff appearance under his belt, he’ll be hungry for a big game.
This is a test for the Packer defense that found itself in a similar situation last season matching up against the Arizona Cardinals. Unfortunately Green Bay’s defense fell apart in Wild Card round, allowing Arizona to post 51 points on the day.
A deja vu on Sunday is possible, but Matthews should have something to say about it.
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Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze.