Clay Matthews’ new role has been a hot topic of discussion this week in Green Bay. Matthews added speculation that he wasn’t happy with his new role by not talking to the media for a couple weeks, but did speak yesterday.
“I think I can do it all,” Matthews said. “I think over the years, I’ve been known as a sack guy, but I think what’s been lost in the shuffle is the fact that I can cover, I can play in space and rush the passer as well.”
Matthews is right that he can cover well and has so far. The Jets never attempted a throw into his coverage last Sunday. However, Matthews got paid $66 million by the Packers to do what he does best, which is clearly rushing the passer. You build your defense around your best player and the guy you paid the most money too. The 4-3 is building it away from Matthews.
According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews has rushed the passer on 72.5 percent of passing plays this season, which is down from 84.5 percent in 2013 and 84.4 percent in 2014. He dropped back in coverage on 12 of his 34 pass rushing attempts (35.5 percent). That may not seem like it makes a big difference , but every time Matthews is not rushing the passer you are losing out on the opportunity for a big play.
Most of these coverage snaps for Matthews have been coming in the 4-3 as an outside linebacker where he is lined up off the line of scrimmage. Unlike the 3-4, the playmakers in the 4-3 are mostly found at defensive end and not outside linebacker.
4-3 outside linebackers are intended to be playmakers at the second level of the defense by pursuing the ball, cleaning up cutback runs and playing coverage. Matthews likes to make his living in the defensive backfield and sometimes that is a detriment when the offense invites him to come too far up field and to vacate his gap. It’s also why you see him making huge plays behind the line of scrimmage.
It seems like the Packers are trying to get more versatile with Matthews as their reason for doing this. I do not buy the notion he is playing off the line more to avoid injury. According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews has rushed from the right side on 65.2 percent of passing downs and 28.3 percent form the left. Last season 92 percent of his snaps came from the right side.
Dom Capers can still get plenty creative with Matthews from his traditional 3-4. They can still switch sides, have him rush off stunts and rush him from the middle . Julius Peppers has looked very good rushing the passer so far. They need to get him and Matthews rushing opposite from each other and make the defense pick their poison.
This is not to say Matthews should never drop back in coverage. If they really want to be creative and utilize him in coverage they can try him as the dime middle linebacker to help cover the middle of the field. He certainly cannot be any worse than AJ Hawk or Brad Jones at it.
The Packers have much better talent on defense with everybody except B.J. Raji healthy. They need to stop with the games and unleash Matthews like they used to. It’s not like the new look defense is doing any better with the Packers allowing 30 points per game and 176.5 rushing yards per game.
Green Bay is not going to have the defense they need to make it back to the Super Bowl without Matthews performing at an All-Pro level. Standing him off the line of scrimmage is not going to get it done.
Matthews enters Detroit on Sunday with one sack, 10 tackles, one forced fumble, and one pass breakup. According to Pro Football Focus, he also has one quarterback hit and five hurries. In 2010 and 2012 he had six sacks after the first two games. Capers needs more from him and Matthews needs Capers to put him in his best position to succeed.