Packers-Titans family affair for Matthews' brood
Bruce Matthews watches Green Bay film first as an uncle. Then he hits replay and studies the defense in his role as Tennessee's offensive line coach.
Each time, he's watching the same Packers linebacker.
"He's a great player," Bruce said of his nephew, Clay Matthews. "It isn't like he's just some guy out there. He definitely is the guy who makes things happen on their defense, and he's a guy we really have to make a pointed effort to account for him, which we're doing."
The Packers linebacker is just the best-known member of the third generation carrying on the Matthews' NFL tradition, and this is the latest family football showdown. Bruce, a Hall of Fame lineman, spent 19 years with the Houston-Tennessee franchise and played against brother Clay, a 19-year linebacker with Cleveland and Atlanta, 23 times.
Clay Matthews Sr. got it all started with his four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s.
For Clay III, he said Thursday that his family's NFL success added to his motivation. He went from a walk-on at Southern California to being drafted in the first round — just like his father and uncle — by Green Bay 2009.
"Obviously, growing up in a football family where — you're right, not only my father played but my uncle and grandfather, played, that's what I wanted to do," the Packers linebacker said. "Fortunately I was healthy enough and blessed to fall into the situation I'm in right now, but they were absolutely instrumental role models in getting me where I'm at today."
Titans coach Mike Munchak had a close view of the Matthews' brothers' rivalry in the old AFC Central as a teammate of Bruce's for years. Munchak said it's exciting for his offensive line coach to watch film knowing his job is to stop his nephew from having a good day.
So no pressure there.
"Hopefully, he'll reach out to him during the week and tell him we have all types of plans for him to kind of discourage him a little bit, maybe slow him down," Munchak said. "It's a great challenge."
Clay Matthews has 11 sacks so far this season for the Packers, so watching him play is a bit different from what Bruce Matthews saw when he studied his brother during the 1980s and 1990s. Even so, he says his nephew reminds him very much of his brother, a four-time Pro Bowler.
"He can cover. He can play against the run, and obviously he can rush the passer," the Titans' assistant said. "It's just a matter of what they're asking him to do as to some point in the game he does all three, and obviously, he isn't a one-dimensional guy. He plays with passion, so it's fun to watch guys like that, especially when you count him as a family member."
This game was set to be even more of a family affair until Bruce's son, Kevin, sprained his right ankle Monday night against the Jets. He had started two straight games at center, but now may wind up on injured reserve if the Titans need an extra healthy player.
Kevin said he had been waiting for this game for both the chance to play at Lambeau Field and against his cousin. They text often, and Kevin said Clay had asked him to give up some plays to help him against the Titans.
"I told him he doesn't need any help from us," Kevin said. "He's doing a good job this year."
This could be a preview of coming attractions. Clay's brother, Casey, is a linebacker with the Eagles, while Bruce's son, Jake, is a junior offensive lineman at Texas A&M and considered a top draft candidate.
For now, the focus is on Sunday and family bragging rights with the Titans (5-9) already are eliminated from playoff contention and the Packers (10-4) honing their game for the postseason. With the Titans in the AFC and the Packers in the NFC, these teams hadn't played in the regular season since 2008.
"It's one of those things you think about, but you never think it's going to come to fruition ..." Clay said. "It'll be something to look back on and talk about. But it'll be more interesting when Sunday rolls around to see what he's going to do."
He will line up opposite Titans left tackle Michael Roos, the lone starter left on a patched-up offensive line. How much help Roos gets from his position coach against Clay remains to be seen. Uncle Bruce is giving nothing away before kickoff.
"I don't know that we all anticipated the kind of success and kind of rock star quality he has right now, but it's really fun to watch and I'm very proud of him. But like I've always said, I love to see him do well, just not this week."
NOTES: The Titans practiced indoors Thursday due to a soggy field. Winds gusting to 40 mph kept the bubble over the field swaying, and Munchak said his key was just not looking up. ... Rookie WR Kendall Wright (ribs) did not practice, though WR Damian Williams (hamstring) practiced fully. LB Colin McCarthy (concussion) also practiced fully.
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