The Green Bay Packers are expecting to be without linebacker Clay Matthews when they host the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday in their Wild Card matchup. Matthews suffered a fractured thumb in October, missed a month, and then re-aggravated the injury in Week 16. He had surgery last week and sat out the team's Week 17 win over the Bears. Head coach Mike McCarthy met with the media on Monday, and stated that he was out at this point.
McCarthy's answers did provide some remote hope Matthews could return, but it seems unlikely for this Sunday. Andy Mulumba got the start in place of Matthews. Pro Football Focus gave him a negative grade for the game, with a slightly worse grade (-1.2 to -0.7) against the run. We'll wait for more specifics, but it seems likely that Mulumba will get the start in Matthews' place this weekend.
Although this downgrades the Packers defense, I am a little disappointed Matthews went get a chance to play. In Week 1, he made a diving hit on Colin Kaepernick after he was out of bounds. Joe Staley intervened, and Matthews took a swing with what appeared to be an open hand. The next day, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh made some pointed comments about how if a player was going to come at another player, come with knuckles, not a slap. Alex Boone was asked what he would fine Matthews if he could. Boone said he'd probably just punch Matthews in the face. Colin Kaepernick simply said it was free yards for the offense.
While a little rivalry is nice, I'm still plenty fine with seeing Matthews sidelined for Sunday's game. It's nice to beat a team when they're playing their best football, but a win is a win is a win. Joe Staley has had success against Matthews the last couple years. I think he'll be fine against anybody the Packers bring, but I'm curious to see if the drop in competition from Matthews to Mulumba (or whomever) gets Joe slow out of the gates. I'd imagine not, but who knows what the change could bring.