Packers' Matthews needs a complement
Walden acknowledged as much after the game.
When he was pulled out of the game Sunday night against Chicago, it was because he had lost seven pounds overnight fighting off a stomach virus and wasn't playing as robustly as he usually does, especially against the run.
"It's not an excuse," Walden said Wednesday. "But I wasn't able to eat and I didn't have any strength. I didn't eat from Saturday morning until about 4 (p.m.) the next day. I couldn't eat. I was like drinking this Pedialyte to try to stay hydrated."
Walden gave way to Brad Jones in the second quarter and played sparingly after that. Jones eventually gave way to rookie Vic So'oto, who got more playing time than he has all season.
The other outside linebacker, Frank Zombo, was inactive.
Heading into the last week of the regular season, Walden has left the door open for the competition at the right outside linebacker position. Since end Cullen Jenkins left, Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews has not really had a partner rushing from an opposite side.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday he played So'oto and fellow rookie Jamari Lattimore to see whether they might be able to add something as the team hits the postseason. It shows that he's still not satisfied with what he's getting on the right side.
Until Thanksgiving night in Detroit, Walden looked to have a strong hold on the position. The week before he had 11 tackles and a sack against Tampa Bay, and against the Lions he had 10 tackles and three quarterback knockdowns.
After returning home from the Lions game, Walden was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic abuse.
The Packers have played four games since the incident, and Walden has had no more than six tackles in any one of them, no sacks and three quarterback knockdowns. Against Kansas City, he was pulled late in the game after his play nose-dived.
"Not at all have I been distracted," insisted Walden, who on Tuesday found out he was scheduled for trial in mid-February to face charges, which the Green Bay district attorney dropped from felony to misdemeanor.
Whatever the case, his play has allowed others to show they would be better options come playoff time. In practice, Zombo and Jones got snaps with the No. 1 defense.
None of the three has been told who will start Sunday against the Lions at Lambeau Field.
Fan favorite So'oto said he doubted he was in the mix after getting his shot against the Bears. While he thought he did some good things, he said he had a couple of missed assignments, which are quick tickets to the bench when you play for defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Capers referred to So'oto as "very raw."
While he was pleased with his effort, So'oto said the transition from college defensive end has taken longer than he hoped and in comparing himself to someone like Matthews he could see he wasn't playing with an economy of movement.
"Looking at the film, I see the difference between a young guy like me and a seasoned veteran," So'oto said. "He's more efficient with his movements. He uses his body to the best of his ability all the time.
"I definitely have to learn to do things like I do when I'm not exerting that much energy, using up all my energy. Clay knows how to push and pull and use his body the right way."
An option Capers will consider is Zombo, who was inactive last week. He said that was because an extra defensive lineman was needed and he wasn't in that week's special teams plan. Zombo has been inactive 11 weeks, nine of which were while he recovered from a broken scapula and then a hamstring pull.
The starter at right outside linebacker in Super Bowl XLV, Zombo hasn't had the second season he had envisioned. When he was finally active against Kansas City and replaced Walden, Zombo was guilty of poor run play on the Chiefs' final series.
Hoping for a chance
Zombo said he didn't know whether he was going to start, but he sensed that he was going to be given a chance to prove himself against the Lions. This is in all probability his last chance this season, so he has to tighten up his run-playing skills and find a way to get to the quarterback.
"I'd love the opportunity," said Zombo, who had five sacks last year in a part-time role. "I don't know how we're going to do it. It's been a tough year. I had a good start and then the injuries set me back.
"I'm still trying to kind of knock off the rust a little bit."
Jones has been mostly a special teams player, although he started five games last year. He's assignment-sound and decent against the run, but he doesn't have the natural pass rush ability of Zombo.
Walden, meanwhile, said he's feeling much better physically and expects to be full strength on Sunday, but his hold on the position has been compromised with two subpar performances.
"The last two weeks I haven't played at a high level, and it happened at a point in time when we really need to get to that level we were at last year," Walden said. "So it's really important we get back to that point."