Should the Packers Have Kept Clay Matthews at Inside Linebacker?

Don’t get me wrong. Clay Matthews is a fantastic pass rushing outside linebacker, but I was a little surprised when Mike McCarthy stated during his season wrap-up press conference that the team would be looking to move Matthews back outside. Sure Matthews puts up flashier numbers there, and, subsequently, I’m sure he’s much happier playing outside, but is the move in the best interest of the defense? I’m not sold on it.

To put it simply, I think that Clay’s skill set might be better suited to the middle. His best ability is his explosive tenacity. He flies around the field, screaming from one sideline to the other, making tackles all over the place. That’s exactly what the Packers have needed inside, which is why he was moved in the first place.

Matthews is a great pass rusher. I have little doubt that he’s the best pass rushing linebacker on the team. But I’m not convinced that he’s such an elite pass rusher that he must be put in a position primarily to collect sacks. It’s one thing if you have a once-in-a-lifetime pass rusher. You don’t forsake something like that. But in the case of Matthews, oughtn’t he to be lined up where it is most beneficial for the team?

The fact of the matter is that inside linebacker is still a giant question mark. Sam Barrington appears to be a decent starting inside guy with some power, but he’s started only 8 games in his career and is returning after missing nearly all of the 2015 season due to a foot injury. Right now, he’s the surest thing going on the inside. Next to him the Packers will likely go with some combination of second year Jake Ryan and rookie Blake Martinez.

Had the Packers brought in some veteran talent at inside linebacker (and I’m not saying that they should have) or drafted someone like Alabama’s Reggie Ragland or UCLA’s Myles Jack, moving Clay back outside may have made more sense. However, as it stands, the talent at inside linebacker does not seem significantly improved compared to the 2014 season when the Packers decided to move Clay to the middle in the first place.

Compare that lack of depth inside to the situation outside. Julius Peppers may be 36 years old, but that didn’t stop him from accumulating 10.5 sacks last year. Former first round pick Nick Perry has steadily improved. Jayrone Elliott’s lack of playing time has been criminal given his pass rushing skills in limited snaps. And now the Packers are moving former first round pick Datone Jones to their “elephant” defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid position. Add in 3rd round pick Kyler Fackrell and it isn’t as if Green Bay is running short on options at outside linebacker.

All of this is, of course, not to mention the fact that the Packers can and do utilize Matthews’ pass rushing abilities even when he’s playing inside. He is blitzed up the middle on first and second downs and is often moved toward the outside where he can blitz on 3rd and long, leaving a single linebacker inside for coverage (often Joe Thomas in 2015).

It remains to be seen how Matthews’ reversion back to his original position will impact the 2016 defense. Perhaps the Packers feel highly confident in Barrington, Ryan, and Blake, but the decision to move Clay back was announced before free agency and the NFL draft, before the Packers even knew what personnel they’d have at their disposal on the inside. For that reason, I worry that the move is being made to maximize a star player’s potential, rather than the potential of the defense as a unit.

 

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Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.

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12 thoughts on “Should the Packers Have Kept Clay Matthews at Inside Linebacker?

  1. I don’t truly agree. Fackrell is not ready. The Packers are effective when the opposing quarterbacks aren’t given lots of time to focus. If the offense improves from their pathetic showing of last year, the defenses will spend less time on the field. Remember, Peppers can’t play every down.

    1. Fackrell was just as effective in college as Martinez, who many fans, including myself, hope will strengthen our ILB corps. I’ve heard mostly good things about him since the draft

      1. I’m with you Lebowski, I like Fackrell..a lot! Martinez was the top ranked LB in coverage coming out this year and Fackrell was just about as effective. The ONLY reasom Fackrell didn’t have more sacks was because he was in coverage so much. At least now we have a fast TE who the Packers LB’ers can cover in practice. I mean how much does Richard Rodgers prepare you for Reed or any other faster TE. : )

  2. I think Martinez will be good Inside, especially further along in the season. I still think Matthews will be inside at times, really depending on Barrington, Ryan, and Martinez. Matthews is GREAT at blitzing from the inside. In 2014 he had like 2.5 sacks in 8 games playing just OLB. Once the switch was made he had 9.5 in the final 8 or 9 games. I think Capers will play Matthews where he can be most effective and move him around, no matter what MM says.

  3. Unless MM is trying to be tricky, why tip your hat to the rest of the league? Big mistake moving him outside, IMO, and anyone else who looks at the defense since his move inside. In fact he may be one of the best ILB in the NFL. On the outside, teams will run the play opposite him or under his over-pursuit. In the middle, teams fear him because he is always involved in every play. Isn’t it more important to get your best football players on the field. CM3 oustside means someone with more potential sits on the bench, while we suffer through some less than average ILB play. Just hope they move him back to ILB before it’s too late. Maybe they are moving him back because they won the division and no one else improved… wait none of that happened. Not a pessimist, more a realist. Go Pack!

    1. matthews was horrible as an outside linebacker trying to contain the read option. all he did was crash inside and get smoked by the fake and the quarterback run. moving him inside was paramount to stopping both wilson and kaepernick.

    2. MM made this decision. He knows there is no pass rush without him. MM is the problem. I still say CM could be another uelacher if he got schooled. Wasting his talent pass rushing means runners go the other side or they bull rush him taking him out. In the middle they cant do that.

  4. I refer to it as missing the obvious. CM was not put in the middle. He was moved there from time to time but still was used on the end. Ergo the problem. He was a budding MLB who became confused being moved around. MM insisted he be their pass rusher since they have no one ans Capers wanted him inside and thus clay was being pulled by both arms. What the saying, jack of all trades master of ,

  5. Hey he was effective as a pass rusher for only two seasons and both those seasons cullen jenkins was chasing the qb into his arms many games. Once they let jenkins go, dum ass thing to do, CM went to hell. He is now just an avg lb and avg pass rusher.

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