Neal, Perry sharing similar path to new key role in Matthews' absence
Nick Perry, Mike Neal. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“He's very strong but has enough quickness to get consistent penetration.”
“He’s an explosive player who is outstanding when moving forward.”
“Has very good quickness and plays low so he can anchor against the run.”
“An athletic freak at that size.”
All these are actual descriptions of the two most important players on the Packers' defense over the next month: Mike Neal and Nick Perry.
At this point in their respective careers, Neal and Perry are remarkably similar. Both were touted (and rightfully so) as tremendous athletic specimens coming out of college.
Four years later for Neal and almost a year and a half later for Perry, none of those extreme physical gifts have manifested regularly, as the duo has combined for just 10.5 sacks in a 33 total games in the NFL.
Now, that has to change.
With Clay Matthews likely sidelined for the immediate future with a thumb injury, Neal and Perry will be pressed into bigger roles than they’ve ever played before. Though we have seen flashes from both, now we’ll see once and for all if either of them can perform on a consistent basis.
The signs so far could be promising. Pro Football Focus, one of the most influential scouting sites on the Internet today, rated both Neal and Perry highly on Sunday, crediting Neal with five hurries in addition to his one sack and Perry with another four to go with his two sacks.
They also rated Neal very strongly against the run, an area where the Packers could need some help with Matthews on the sideline.
Clearly, both players can perform. Neal has been surprisingly good in his move from end to hybrid linebacker, and Perry remains a phenomenal athlete who’s still getting used to a relatively new position.
The real question is whether Neal and Perry can maintain their sudden burst of productivity or not.
Again, we’ve seen it before in small doses, like when Neal posted 3.5 sacks in a five game stretch in 2012 or Perry’s performances in Seattle and Indianapolis last year.
With two of their next three games on the road, the Packers will need their two linebackers to be at their very best.
A better effort from both got Green Bay back to 2-2.
How Neal and Perry perform while the Packers deal with the loss of their best defender will go a long way toward determining if they remain a .500 team, or take steps toward another NFC North title.