Clay Matthews, one-hit wonder
Stephen O'Brien, Packers contributor
Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh waxed lyrical about player targeting before the Packers-49ers game, when Clay Matthews stated in the press that he was going to go after Colin Kaepernick.
During the game, Matthews did just that. In an illegal, controversial fashion, Matthews clung to Kaepernick like a lioness to a gazelle and used his bodyweight to smash the young quarterback into the ground.
Too bad it was out of bounds.
Or was it?
The NFL is all about intimidation, especially on defense.
I am sure that when the NFL Network hook the players up for the ‘Sound Fx’ series, 90% of what is said is expletive ridden smack talk that can’t be aired.
The defensive players try relentlessly to irritate their opponents and some offensive players get so wound up, their play suffers - or even worse, they lash out.
Cortland Finnegan is a case in point at how players can really get under the skin of opponents.
But as we all know, action’s speak louder than words.
The "Claymaker’s" bulging biceps say one thing, but a hard hit out of play say something else.
It tells offensive coordinators "I will get your quarterback, no matter what the cost."
The Niners hardly ran any read option last Sunday.
Whether this was to do with developing Kaepernick into an accurate pocket passer or whether it was done as a safety measure following Matthews’ comments is up for debate.
I reckon it was a bit of both.
The Packers face a similar opponent in RGIII in Week 2.
There is one vital difference between RGIII and Kaep however; RGIII has witnessed some serious punishment.
In the Redskins’ game against the Eagles last week, RGIII was noticeably affected by the ACL/MCL injury he picked up last season.
Matthews hit on Kaepernick may act as a warning shot to Mike Shanahan to make sure RGIII stays in the pocket or face a pumped up, over eager Matthews.
That one hit is truly a one hit wonder as an act of intimidation.
It is an ode to a time when the NFL was a bit rougher, a bit tougher and a teetered on the edge of barbarianism, back in a time when the great Ray Nitschke roamed the hashes hunting Bears.
Nitschke was arguably one of the toughest linebackers to play the game.
I heard a wonderful story about an incident that happened to Ray at training in 1960. Nitschke was padding up beside the photograher’s scaffolding tower when it suddenly gave way and buried him in wood and metal.
When Lomabrdi was told it was Nitschke who was under the heavy pile of debris, he simply said “Nitschke? He’s all right. Everybody get back to practice.” Ray was just that tough.
Nitschke was a true intimidator and tough opponent.
Ron Wolf recalled asking Nitschke, many years after his playing career was over, why his hands and fingers were so bent out of shape.
Nitschke responded it was from “sticking his hands into Bear’s facemasks!!”
This is the man that Clay Matthews is shaping up to be: a truly frightening warrior.
Now, don’t get me wrong, potentially damaging play with illegal hits should be removed from the game.
A serial offender is that of division rival Ndamakung Suh.
The difference between Matthews and Suh is the fact that Matthews’ hit stemmed from zealousness and enthusiasm where Suh’s play is notoriously more cynical.
But the message sent with such an acrobatic show of huntsmanship is one of intimidation, commitment and a warning that if you let your prized quarterback into Clay’s hunting ground, he will strike and strike hard.