GREEN BAY – Over the first three games, Nick Perry has been the man on the Green Bay Packers' defense.
Perry leads the team in sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (3.5), is third overall in tackles (17) and is tied for third in passes broken up (one).
He has set quite a standard for the guy whom people normally refer to as “The Man” on the Packers’ defense, Clay Matthews. While the latter was sidelined with a hamstring injury against Detroit, Perry was a one-man wrecking crew, playing arguably the best game of his career.
Matthews will return from a hamstring injury after a bye week and start chasing Perry’s numbers when the Packers take on the New York Giants on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. He wouldn’t mind if the Giants decided Perry was their priority in pass protection.
“I hope so,” Matthews said Thursday. “I mean, yeah, they can go to (No.) 53.”
The Giants still will choose Matthews and defensive tackle Mike Daniels as their primary targets for double-team blocks, but Matthews can’t help but benefit from having a guy like Perry playing at such a high level. Not only is Perry rushing the passer well, but he has been stellar against the run and that has allowed Matthews more third-down pass rush opportunities.
“He’s shown flashes and now he’s kind of stringing those together and it shows what he’s capable of,” Matthews said. “So, I think that’s what everyone expects from him and I think even more so now, he expects it from himself. He’s got to be happy about the way he’s started.
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“And there’s still a lot more football left, so we just need to keep pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run and overall being a dominant defense.”
Matthews, who has seven tackles, two sacks and one tackle for loss in two games, has been paired with his fellow USC Trojan on quite a bit of third downs this season, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers also has been liberal with his use of outside linebackers Datone Jones, Julius Peppers and rookie Kyler Fackrell.
Perry wasn’t necessarily penciled in for third downs with Jones and Peppers available to rush the passer, but his play has been so good, Capers hasn’t taken him off the field a lot. He has used both Peppers and Jones as defensive tackles so that he has some combination of his five best pass rushers in the game.
Having Perry playing at the level he is can only help Matthews.
“It always helps if you’ve got two guys that can threaten you,” Capers said. “That’s what everybody looks for. So yes, I think if you’ve got Nick, who’s playing very well on one side, and you’ve got Clay on the other side, then they have to make some decisions because whether it’s tight ends that are going to help the linemen or whether it’s backs with chips.
“With those guys, if they’re playing to their ability, then they can give some tackles problems in terms of pass protection.”
The thing Capers hasn’t done yet is get overly creative. He hasn’t needed to with the amount of pressure his pass rushers are producing, but at some point he’s going to want to figure out a way to let Matthews and Perry work off each other on passing downs and overload against a weak spot on the offensive line.
“I think we’ve done a great job just lining up and beating the guy in front of us,” Matthews said. “And hopefully it’s the case where obviously Dom in the 3-4 defense historically will have ways in which we can get creative and bring different guys and take advantage of matchups.
“For the most part I feel like the front seven, specifically the front four has really been handling their business. That’s why you see so much success in the running game as well as the hits, hurries and pressures on quarterbacks.”
Like Matthews, Jones, who has been wearing a knee brace in practice but said he won’t wear it in the game, is eager to get back on the field. He doesn’t have any sacks, but his pressure has been solid and he should start getting more opportunities on the outside after having to help fill in for injured defensive lineman Letroy Guion.
Part of the success the Packers have had rushing the passer seems to be related to their ability to bring in edge players of different physical stature. On one down, a tackle might be facing the quick Matthews and on the next, he might face the compactly built Perry.
Or maybe it’s one down against the long-limbed Peppers and another against the powerful Jones.
“I mean, that’s what I think has given us a lot of success this year is, you know, we have so many guys coming in and out that can rush from the inside and the outside, that you can put us on the inside over guards, centers," Matthews said.
“And a guy like Julius, Nick and Datone with (their) physical size and speed, (and) myself, it presents a problem for the opposition. You can’t just study one guy. Everybody has their own craft and that’s why we’ve been so balanced across the board as far as being disruptive.”