Eagles' Cole, Packers' Matthews are among top sackers

Posted: January 07, 2011

Trent Cole and Clay Matthews may not play the same position, but their primary responsibility is the same - to get to the quarterback.

Cole, an Eagles defensive end, and Matthews, a Packers linebacker, are among the best in the NFL at accomplishing a feat that grows in importance with each passing season as offenses increasingly rely on passing the football.

Cole finished the regular season with 10 sacks - the third time in the last four seasons that the sixth-year pro has reached double digits. And Matthews, in only his second season, recorded 131/2 sacks, fourth best in the NFL.

With more defenses switching to 3-4 schemes, outside linebackers are accounting for as many sacks as defensive ends. Linebackers DeMarcus Ware of Dallas (151/2), Tamba Hali of Kansas City (141/2), Cameron Wake of Miami (14), and Matthews rounded out the league's top four in sacks.

Plenty of linebackers have led the league in quarterback takedowns, but the days when big-bodied ends such as Reggie White were dominant pass rushers are over. It's a speed game, and defensive coordinators covet pass rushers who can pressure passers before they even get set in a three-step drop.

Matthews, in just two seasons, has taken the league by storm. With his long, blond hair flowing from his helmet, he's a jacked-up Tasmanian devil on game days. In the season opener, Matthews sacked Eagles quarterbacks three times and knocked out Kevin Kolb with a concussion.

He'll have Michael Vick to chase around for a full 60 minutes - barring a deja-vu knockout - this time around.

"Clay's playing some of the best football you'll ever see out of an NFL defensive player," Vick said.

Born into a family with an NFL pedigree, Matthews walked on at Southern Cal as a 166-pound freshman. By the end of his time with the Trojans, he was a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who was following two generations of Matthewses - Clay I and II and Uncle Bruce - into the NFL.

Matthews III wasn't expected to be as good as his two Southern Cal linebacker teammates - Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. But all he's done is eclipse both and probably every other linebacker in the league.

Like Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas before him, Matthews can line up almost anywhere and get to the quarterback. And he's just as adept at hunting down running backs and covering tight ends.

"He has a motor like Trent Cole, where it's just nonstop, and he goes," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "There are no slow moments."

Cole, unlike many of the league's specialized pass- rushing ends, is also multitalented. He's the only Eagles defensive lineman who regularly plays all three downs, and he's routinely among the top tackling defensive ends in the NFL.

Drafted as a linebacker out of Cincinnati in the fifth round, Cole was always pegged to be a traditional pass-rushing end in the Eagles' 4-3 scheme. But for some reason, until just recently, next to Cole's name in the position column on the roster were the initials DE/LB.

A reporter recently teased him about this. He didn't like it. Cole likes being a defensive end. He likes playing the same position that White - a former Eagle and Packer - once played with equal ferocity.

Cole notched only three sacks in his last seven games. But he's rested, having not played in the season finale, and he's hungry. Asked to predict how many times he'll sack Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, Cole was philosophical.

"I don't care how many or how I get them," he said. "I just want sacks."

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