Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, right, pressures San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, forcing a fourth down during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
SAN DIEGO — After another game in which Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews faced double team after double team and despite getting close several times didn’t come up with sack, one of his teammates implored the coaching staff to find a way to free up Matthews.
Cornerback Charles Woodson didn’t mince words when it came to discussing Matthews, the Packers’ sack leader each of the past two seasons who is stuck on three sacks for the season.
“I think we’ve got to find ways to get Clay to the quarterback, whatever that may be,” Woodson said. “Draw some things up for him, and let him do his thing. We can’t continue to allow him to be stuck on the side and double-teamed every time he gets up field. For us, finding ways to get him to be the Claymaker, which he is, we’ve got to find some ways to get him to the quarterback.”
Matthews was credited for one quarterback hit in Sunday’s 45-38 win over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has moved around Matthews at times this season, but Matthews does play the majority of his snaps at left outside linebacker.
When told of Woodson’s comments, Matthews acknowledged the Packers need more pressure on the quarterback but stopped short of saying the coaches need to change the way they’re using him.
“You have to understand this is a team game,” Matthews said. “Everybody fits within the scheme, and it’s 11 pieces. Are there times out there I’d love for them to just turn me loose and get after the quarterback? Yeah, but it doesn’t work like that. At the same time, we need to get some pressure on the quarterback. That falls on me. That falls on any one of the outside linebackers, the interior linemen. We just need to do a better job, and we’ll see what that means moving forward.
"But I was happy with the way I played today. There’s obviously room for improvement, but this defense asks me to do a number of things besides just rush the passer.”
One of the trademarks of Capers’ first two seasons as the Packers’ defensive coordinator was the relatively infrequent broken coverages in the secondary, but it’s been more of a problem this season.
On Sunday, the Packers blew several coverages for big plays, most notably on three passes to Chargers’ receiver Vincent Jackson: wide open touchdown catches of five yards and 29 yards in the fourth quarter, plus a 38-yard pass on the last play of the first quarter that set up another score.
On all three plays, cornerback Tramon Williams was the closest man in coverage, but on all three he was supposed to get help from the safeties.
For instance, the 38-yard post pattern in the first quarter came on a third-and-one play where safety Charlie Peprah bit hard on a run fake.
“I’m supposed to be back there to help him out,” Peprah said, “but I got sucked up on the run. I told him it’s my fault. He’s upset because it’s happened a couple times this year, and it makes him look bad, but it’s not all him.”
On the 5-yard touchdown pass to Jackson, Williams had some responsibility to cover both Jackson, who was behind him near the corner of the end zone, and an outlet receiver at the goal line. Peprah was too far in the middle of the field to help, so Jackson was wide open for the easy score.
“Only way I get close is if I knew the play was coming, and even then I might not have gotten there,” Peprah said. “It was a good route, a good route combination.”
On the second 29-yard touchdown, Williams was the lone defender anywhere near Jackson, but it appears safety Morgan Burnett was supposed to be the last line of defense.
“We just have to play our jobs,” Williams said. “If all the communication is right, then during the play if you don’t do your assignment communication doesn’t matter.”
A tough cover
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates appeared to be healthier Sunday than he’s been most of the season. He’s been dogged by a chronic foot injury for more than a year now. The Chargers found a way to get him matched up several times against inside linebacker Desmond Bishop in one-on-one coverage.
Bishop had one huge play against Gates early in the game, when he had tight coverage on a seam route and tipped a pass that Peprah intercepted and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. Still, Gates caught eight passes for 96 yards, including a 19-yard catch against Bishop that converted a third-and-16.
“I challenged him pretty well,” Bishop said. “He got a few catches, I stopped a few throws. I guarded him more times than I really thought I’d have to, but I knew I was going to see him a few times. It’s inevitable.”
Williams said: “Just good game planning by them. They run a lot of crossing routes, got a linebacker stuck on a receiver, that’s a mismatch. There’s nothing those guys can really do about it, just do the best they can.”
The Chargers stayed in the game down the stretch in part because they recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter and converted it into a touchdown that cut the Packers’ lead to seven points.
The Packers had their hands team on the field for the play, but Chargers kicker Nick Novak’s hard ground ball went through the legs of tight end Ryan Taylor and then popped up to receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson batted at the high hop but failed to knock it out of bounds. The Chargers’ Darrell Stuckey recovered.
Asked what he should have done in trying to handle a hot grounder like that, Nelson said: “Catch it.
"It’s tough," Nelson said. "It stayed on the ground the whole way to me so I was thinking stay low, pick it up. It was a last-second hop. My reaction was to get my hand up. I tried to bat it out of bounds or even towards them because they were all running this way. Just trying to do what you can. But we have to be able to pick that up.”
The crowd of 68,908 was the third-largest in Chargers history at Qualcomm Stadium, perhaps in part due to the large contingent of Packers’ fans.
It was even more noticeable in the fourth quarter, after many Chargers fans left when their team fell behind 45-24 with 10:27 remaining.
“It was remarkable,” said Matthews, a California native who said he had more than 20 family members and friends in attendance.
“The fan support that we get on the road, but especially here, there’s something about the Packers’ contingency out here. It was amazing. When we heard the ‘Go Pack Go’ chants, it definitely helps us out.”
Injury report: It's Zombo again
The only injury coach Mike McCarthy reported after the game was to outside linebacker Frank Zombo’s hamstring.
This is Zombo’s third injury of the season. The others were a broken shoulder blade that sidelined him the first five games of the regular season, and then a knee injury that sidelined him in the Packers’ previous game, at Minnesota.
“It’s hard to talk about even,” Zombo said. “Every week it’s something. Find out what’s wrong, heal it back up again and get back out there.”