If the season started today, the Green Bay Packers would have to count on that very unlikely possibility. That both starting outside linebackers, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, remain healthy.
Behind those two, the Packers have very little proven depth to get after the quarterback. Kyler Fackrell was largely a non-factor during his rookie year. Jayrone Elliott didn’t meet expectations in 2016. Gone are Julius Peppers and Datone Jones.
Surely, the Packers will add a pass rusher or two in the draft. However, Matthews addressed the elephant in the room when offseason workouts began on Tuesday.
“I just had this conversation with Nick when we got into town,” Matthews said. “We’ve had years where Nick’s had an exceptional year, like last year, and I was bitten by the injury bug. And I’ve had years when I’ve gotten after the quarterback and he hasn’t been able to finish the season. If you’re able to put us together, I think the possibilities are great.”
No doubt, but that’s a big if.
Matthews turned in his worst NFL season in 2016, while Perry was turning in his best. Matthews missed four games with his recurring hamstring injury and then played through a shoulder injury late in the year.
He turned in career lows in tackles (24) and sacks (5).
Perry, meanwhile, has never made it through a full 16-game schedule intact. Even while he was piling up a career-high 52 tackles and 11 sacks (which also led the team), he still missed two games to injury in 2016.
In his career, Perry has lost 20 games to injury. He’s played through injuries, which limited his effectiveness, in quite a few others.
Matthews has missed 17 games because of injury during his career. He’s made it through the full 16 unscathed three times — as a rookie and during the two years he played primarily inside linebacker.
That would seem to be part of the Packers’ plan for Matthews in 2017. Coach Mike McCarthy keeps saying they will move Matthews around, presumably because it gives him a better chance of staying on the field. Matthews is even echoing that refrain now, himself.
“I think the flexibility of myself being able to play multiple positions is really going to help this defense out,” Matthews said. “It’s really early right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up playing all over the defense.”
As for Perry, at least he’s trending in the right direction. He hasn’t been out for an extended period since 2013.
However, getting both of these guys through an entire season with their health intact seems like an impossibility.
It certainly is a nice thought, though. A healthy Matthews/Perry tandem could give the Packers the pass rush they so often lacked in 2016.