Clay Matthews was asked about the injuries that have ruined the season of fellow outside linebacker Frank Zombo.
“Yeah, I put my around his shoulder and let him know that everything’s going to be all right,” Matthews, the Green Bay Packers’ All-Pro outside linebacker, joked on Thursday.
Matthews, of course, hasn’t been a picture of health this season, either. He didn’t practice on Thursday because of a sore knee.
“I’m feeling good. Feeling real good. I’m always feeling good,” Matthews said. “I wouldn’t read too much into the injury report if that’s what you’re insinuating. I will be there Sunday.”
Or Monday, in the case of this week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Unlike Zombo, who's played about 50 snaps this season, Matthews has been there on gamedays. While he has only three sacks this season, compared to 13.5 last season, he’s been a menace on opposing quarterbacks all year. By the Packers’ count, he’s got 33 quarterback hits. In 16 games last season, he had 40 quarterback hits. This year, he’s got at least three in every game. Moreover, he had four or more quarterback hits in four games last season. This year, he’s got at least four quarterback hits in six games.
“This job, especially this position and playing close to 80 plays a game, it takes a toll on you,” said Matthews, who will practice on Friday. “But you have to understand that Sundays are what really matters. You have to put your time in, especially now, to get healthy with ice baths and treatments, and understanding what your job is on this team and your role and being accountable to that. I think we’ve done that and I’ve done that, and I’ll continue to be out there (Monday) and bring the same level of intensity I do each and every week.”
In 2009, the Packers played three games in 12 days and won them all. This year, starting with Monday’s game, they play three games in 11 days.
Coach Mike McCarthy said they’ve scaled back on things to keep players fresh for the upcoming grind. After Sunday’s game, the players had Monday off, were at the facilities but didn’t practice on Tuesday, then didn’t practice on Wednesday.
“We feel like we’ve prepared for this stretch as far as the players physically,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have a normal practice week with today being a Wednesday for us — I know it’s Thursday — and that will follow through all the way to a Monday night game, and we’ll cut back with our time on the field next week against Tampa and then we’ll do what we normally do on a Thanksgiving game. We feel very good about the health and freshness of our team, so we’re in a normal week.”
Added quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “We know how important this is going to be to our final record and the way we finish up the season. So, you pray for help and we come out of these three games healthy and you also want to win all three. Tough stretch, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
See ball, catch ball
Charles Woodson is tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions. Four of those have come against rookie quarterbacks — two on Carolina’s Cam Newton and two on Minnesota’s Christian Ponder.
“Charles Woodson has veteran-savvy moves every day,” McCarthy said. “I think he had three or four picks today in practice. He has an excellent understanding of the concepts the offense is trying to run, does a very good job of presnap formation recognition, and his instincts and ball skills are extraordinary. He legitimately has big-time hand-eye coordination as far as someone you’re looking for to play on offense. Very instinctive football player. There’s a reason he gets all those interceptions, very consistent with jumping routes and recognizing individual routes and concepts.”
Packers injury report
Out — LT Chad Clifton (hamstring); OLB Frank Zombo (hamstring). Did not participate — OLB Clay Matthews (knee). Limited participation — DE Mike Neal (knee); G Josh Sitton (knee). Full participation — S Morgan Burnett (hand).
Vikings injury report
Did not participate — CB Chris Cook (not injury related); G Anthony Herrera (knee). CB Antoine Winfield (neck).
Winfield, who has missed the last four games, is expected to start on Monday.
— Rodgers, on the Packers-Vikings rivalry: “I think that’s always going to be there, for sure. I don’t care what the records are. It’s a tough opponent, it’s the team you really want to beat. We know the fans really care about this game and know the importance to winning a division game. So it’s an important game for us.”
— Even at 2-6, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is holding out hope for the playoffs. Then again, what would you expect him to say? “Nobody’s been eliminated at this point,” Frazier said in a conference call on Thursday. “Nobody’s been crowned at this point as far as champions on in the playoffs. So, you’ve got to feel that way. We’ve got to take it one game at a time with where we are. But until someone tells us that we’re not up for a playoff spot, we’re still competing. But the key for us right now is take one game at a time, and that’s Green Bay. We can’t look past this situation, this game and think about the future.”
— The Packers are a 5-2 favorite to win the Super Bowl, according to odds provided to Bodog.com. The Patriots are second at 7-1, with Baltimore 9-1, New Orleans 11-1 and Houston, Pittsburgh and San Francisco 12-1.
— Bodog’s odds on the Packers’ final record: 16-0 (9-2), 15-1 (3-2), 14-2 (11-4), 13-3 (6-1), 12-4 (10-1), 11-5 (20-1), 10-6 (40-1), 9-7 (200-1) and 8-8 (500-1).
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.