GREEN BAY — Nick Perry was in mid-sentence when Clay Matthews cut across the Green Bay Packers locker room, a to-go container of herb-grilled chicken, rice and green vegetables in his hand and a hard-hitting — albeit slightly sarcastic — question on his mind.
“Are you worried about your sack numbers?” Matthews intoned, using his best exaggerated imitation of a sportscaster’s voice.
Perry responded with a hearty laugh — think Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop,” if you’re old enough to remember that 1980s classic — and then Matthews delivered the answer for Perry, too.
“Opportunities,” Matthews said, wagging his finger. “Opportunities.”
Entering Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field, the Packers rank sixth in the NFL in sacks with 25, putting them on pace for 50 — or 13 more than they had last season, when they finished tied for 17th in the 32-team league.
But of those 25 sacks, only four — 2.5 by Matthews, 1.5 by Perry — have come from the team’s two starting outside linebackers, who are counting a combined $22.12 million against the Packers’ salary cap this year.
So just how are the Packers in the top 10 in sacks while Matthews (tied for 86th) and Perry (tied for 149th) aren’t on pace to finish the season with double-digit sacks combined?
To hear Perry, Matthews and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine tell it, it’s a matter of the scheme not being predicated on the edge rushers being the only ones who get after the quarterback.
“For all those guys, (the question) is, ‘Did they do their job?’” Pettine explained this week. “We never look for, ‘We need this number of sacks out of a certain player.’ As I’ve said before, it’s all about affecting the quarterback. Whether if they throw it away early, whether it’s we get them off the spot … if we get the sack, we get the sack.
“We do some things with the ends where we drop them into coverage some when we’re looking to bring pressure and bring it from another side. I don’t know if their rush opportunities are down, but that’s just part of playing good, team defense. I wish we could just line up four and, ‘Hey, let’s go get them.’ But that’s not the case. I think the offenses are too good. I think you need to do some things where you’re bringing some different people and causing some issues in protection.
“There’s a lot of jobs we ask them that aren’t necessarily the glamour jobs. Now, we try to rotate those so it’s not always the same guys doing it, but in my opinion, that’s just all a part of playing great, team defense. Those guys understand, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job of it.”
Proving Pettine’s point? Two of the players tied for the team lead in sacks with four — defensive tackle Kenny Clark and inside linebacker Blake Martinez — are not traditional pass-rushers. The other player with four sacks — outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell — got three of them in one game, the team’s Week 4 shutout win over Buffalo.
“The scheme’s different. We’re required to do a lot more now. With all the pressures and blitzes and the way things are, that’s kind of the approach we take each game,” Perry explained. “So am I alarmed? Everybody’s trying to look at the stats, and sometimes the stats don’t show what a person is doing. If you’re judging a player off of sacks, you’ve got to look a little bit deeper into it — as far as why the production is the way it is.”
Both Pettine and head coach Mike McCarthy also suggested that Perry’s performance has been affected by a lingering ankle injury that has bothered him despite offseason surgery intended to fix it.
“I think Nick is still kind of working his way back from his injury, frankly,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think he’s hit his stride as he was in last year. I think you see that and you can’t put a specific time clock on those things. The first year back from big injuries is always a challenge, and I think that’s part of his challenge right now.”
The Packers officially listed inside linebacker Blake Martinez (ankle) as questionable for Sunday, but Martinez is hopeful that he’ll be able to practice Saturday and play in the game. After injuring his ankle at New England, he was certain on Monday that he would be out against the Dolphins. Now? He’s hopeful.
“Anybody that’s wanting to play, they have that kind of pride factor,” Martinez said. “For myself, especially when it first happened, I was talking to my parents and I was like, ‘I don’t think I can play at all.’ And then going through the week, the swelling has gone down a lot. Doing movement stuff, I’ve felt good. So it’s just day-by-day, just riding the roller-coaster of, ‘Oh, it feels really good.’ (And then), ‘Oh, it hurts a little bit.’ Those types of things.
“On Monday, after going through treatment and meetings and stuff, I was like, ‘This (ankle) is huge. I might as well let it rest and get better.’ But now, it’s feeling better.”
Two other players are also questionable: Wide receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee). Both were able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday.
As expected, the Packers ruled cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) out for Sunday.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who was added to the injury report Thursday after McCarthy said a shoulder injury “popped up” in practice, was taken back off the injury report and is ready to play.