It ranks as one of the biggest plays in Clay Matthews’ long career.
A second-year pro at the time, Matthews forced a fumble that helped preserve a Green Bay Packers victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV at the end of the 2010 season.
It’s too soon to know whether Matthews will play for the Rams against the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, but the linebacker is expected to return to practice Wednesday after sitting out three games because of a broken jaw suffered Oct. 3 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Matthews, 33, was off to a fast start before he was injured. He had six sacks in five games, increasing his career total to 89½. But after Seahawks running back Chris Carson inadvertently kicked him, Matthews had his jaw wired shut.
Coach Sean McVay has said since the injury occurred that the week after the Rams’ week off was targeted for Matthews’ possible return.
The Rams were off Tuesday. Matthews is expected to be limited Wednesday as the Rams begin installing their game plan for the Steelers.
“It’s just kind of progressing back to, ‘How comfortable do you feel putting a helmet on?’ Some of the collisions that naturally would occur,” McVay said Monday, “and just kind of trusting that you’re nice and secure in that absence of some of that stuff that kind of kept it in place and helped it heal over the last couple weeks.”
Samson Ebukam has started the last three games in Matthews’ place. Obo Okoronkwo also has taken advantage of opportunities in a rotation with Ebukam and edge rusher Dante Fowler, who has a team-best 6½ sacks.
Okoronkwo had 1½ sacks in the Rams’ 24-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in London on Oct. 27. Watching and practicing alongside Matthews during training camp and the early part of the season helped him progress, Okoronkwo said.
“That’s a future Hall of Famer,” he said. “When he comes back, I’m ready to do whatever they ask me.”
The Steelers have been without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger since the second game because of an elbow injury that required surgery. Star running back James Conner sat out last week’s game because of a shoulder injury.
But the Steelers could present the Rams a challenge. After initially wobbling with quarterback Mason Rudolph, the Steelers have relied on their defense to even their record at 4-4. Last Sunday, they defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 26-24.
“They’re physical; they’ve always had that identity,” McVay said.
A September trade with the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick infused a Steelers defense that ranks second in the NFL with 22 takeaways. Fitzpatrick has intercepted four passes.
Linebacker T.J. Watt has 7½ sacks, linebacker Bud Dupree six and tackle Cameron Heyward 4½. Former Rams linebacker Mark Barron has one sack.
The Rams’ could be without receiver Brandin Cooks, who suffered his second concussion of the season against the Bengals. Cooks met with a concussion specialist in Pittsburgh last week and remains in concussion protocol. If Cooks does not play against the Steelers, Josh Reynolds would start alongside Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
Backup running back Malcolm Brown, sidelined the last two games because of an ankle injury, is on track to possibly return against the Steelers, McVay said. During his absence, Todd Gurley and rookie Darrell Henderson shared carries.
Brown’s return could cause “a positive problem” for the Rams, McVay said.