GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' outside linebackers have cranked up their pass rush the past two games.
The problem is they keep getting hurt doing it.
A week after Clay Matthews broke his right thumb while sacking Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Nick Perry sustained a potentially serious foot injury on his second-quarter sack and forced fumble of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
On the same day the Packers got bad news about receiver Randall Cobb, coach Mike McCarthy on Monday also ruled out Perry for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. Matthews won't play for at least another two weeks.
“If we don't get any sacks next week, I'm going to tell you (it was) because we told those guys not to sack the quarterback because we might injure somebody,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
Or it might be because they won't have their top-two outside pass-rushers available.
And if inside linebacker Brad Jones doesn't return from the hamstring injury that kept him out against the Ravens, the Packers will go into Sunday's game against the Browns with only one of their four opening-day starting linebackers -- A.J. Hawk.
“It's just like with Clay; Mike Neal and Nick had to step up,” Capers said. “Andy Mulumba played 30-some plays yesterday. So now Andy will get his shot to go out there. And we've got to continue to develop Nate Palmer.”
But Mulumba, who played a season-high 39 snaps on defense against the Ravens, and Palmer (seven snaps) both are untested rookies. On a day when the Packers had five sacks, including four by their linebackers (Hawk with three and Perry one), neither Mulumba nor Palmer even recorded a quarterback hit. And Neal was nowhere near as effective as he was the previous week against the Lions, when he had a sack.
Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, likely will start in Perry's spot, with Neal on the other side Sunday against the Browns.
“Andy played well; Andy was impactful in the game,” McCarthy said Monday. “I think he was at 30-plus plays. I feel good about the impact, and he definitely made a step yesterday. Palmer did some good things on defense. Special teams, there's some things that he could do better. But it was good to get those two guys out there in the rotation.
“I thought (outside linebackers coach) Kevin Greene did a good job of rolling those guys in as far as the number of reps and trying to coordinate that with Mike Neal and Nick Perry. It's definitely something that we have to build off of because their responsibility will greatly increase going into this week.”
Without Jones, Hawk became a full-time player, assuming Jones' responsibilities as the defensive signal-caller and dime inside linebacker. He turned in one of the best performances of his eight-year career. But the contributions from Jamari Lattimore, who made his first start at inside linebacker, should not be overlooked. Lattimore had two tackles for loss and was assignment-sure.
“I thought he played very well,” Capers said of Lattimore. “You saw his athletic ability show up. You saw him make a really nice tackle on (Ravens running back Ray) Rice early in the game on a little flare route, got him on the ground. You saw him make some nice plays on the run where he was aggressive and decisive in terms of his gap fit. I think the very first play of the second half, you saw him hit the guard-tackle gap over on the weak side and made a tackle for a 2-yard loss. I thought he did a nice job for his first start.”