Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has seen more than his fair share of defensive players sidelined with injuries this season, but the possibility of losing the driving force of their defensive line was enough to leave him nauseous.
Following Week 6’s win in Chicago, LaFleur praised defensive tackle Kenny Clark for his impressive performance against the Bears and spoke about the scary moment toward the end of the first quarter when Clark was left shaken up after a big run from Bears running back Khalil Herbert.
“Kenny Clark showed up big time on multiple occasions,” LaFleur said in Sunday’s postgame. “When he was down, I really thought I was going to throw up.”
Fortunately for the Packers — and the field — there was no vomit involved. Clark was able to walk off the field under his own power and returned to the game after missing only a handful of snaps, spending the rest of his afternoon pummeling their divisional rival in their own home. The 26-year-old nose tackle finished the game with six total pressures and broke through the Bears’ protection twice on their final offensive drive to sack rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
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Clark Credits Strong Start to Good Health
At this point last season, Clark hadn’t even laid hands on an opposing quarterback yet. He had suffered a groin injury in the Packers’ season opener and missed the next three games as a result, taking even longer to return to full strength and still only managing to finish with two sacks and 28 total pressures for the year. No doubt, other issues along the defensive line contributed to his struggles, but it was still a disappointing outcome for a player who had signed a record-breaking contract before the season.
Through six games in 2021, though, Clark has reminded the Packers he’s worth every penny.
While Clark’s strong performance in Week 6 was only the fourth time in his career that has recorded two sacks in a single game, it marked the second time he has done so against the Bears in 10 career matchups with them. He has also now tallied three sacks on the season with an impressive 22 quarterback pressures on his record, putting him at fourth-best among all NFL defensive linemen behind only Aaron Donald (32), J.J. Watt (27) and Jonathan Allen (25).
“It’s just me being healthy,” Clark said of his noteworthy start to the 2021 season. “That’s the biggest thing. As long as I’m healthy, I know that I’ll be me. The second is just not worrying about anything but doing my job, making plays that come to me, being physical at the point of attack. I think my get-off this year has been a lot better than last year. That’s a huge part of my game.”
Rashan Gary Also Came Through in Chicago
Clark was an energizer for the Packers defense in Chicago, but he wasn’t the only pass-rushing weapon wreaking havoc on the Bears. Rashan Gary also stepped up as their top edge rusher once veteran Preston Smith bowed out with an oblique injury in the second half and delivered one of the finest performances of his young NFL career.
Gary finished with seven total pressures against the Bears on just 34 pass-rushing snaps, hurrying Fields six times and making contact with him once. Pro Football Focus also credited him with three defensive stops — a play in which his impact resulted in a failure for the offense — and four tackles while giving him an elite grade of 87.4.
Additionally, the Packers got a quality performance from Jonathan Garvin in the absence of Smith. The 2020 seventh-round pick recorded a second-quarter sack on third-and-9 that killed the Bears’ attempts to respond to Green Bay’s first touchdown. He added another drive-stopping tackle in the third quarter.