Green Bay Packers need more than ‘comfortable’ play out of Clay Matthews


Green Bay Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters yesterday that he was “comfortable” with the play of outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

I can hear the Church Lady standing in the back row exclaiming, “Now, isn’t that special?”

Don’t get me wrong … I love Clay Matthews as much as the next person. But we need new reasons to love the guy.

That’s because this is the National Football League, Coach McCarthy. Championships aren’t won by by “comfortable” play … they are won by guys who get after it, play-after-play, never letting their motor stop and having the motivation to be the best of the best.

We can agree with McCarthy when he says that evaluations aren’t always about numbers and production. We understand that.

But when your highest paid defensive player is simply filling a role and not putting up numbers, then maybe it’s time to either light a fire under that player or look for alternatives.

Don’t get me wrong … I love Clay Matthews as much as the next person. But we need new reasons to love the guy.

Clay Matthews. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

We remember linebackers coach Kevin Greene telling Matthews, “IT. IS. TIME.” And then we all remember his fumble-causing hit that helped turn the momentum in Super Bowl XLV for the Packers.

It is great to watch those highlights and remember.

But that was five seasons ago. It’s now 2014. Across the line, Matthews has a guy by the name of Julius Peppers playing like a dog fighting for a meal. The Packers need Matthews to be more than just “comfortable.”

In fact, that’s the last thing the Packers should want or need.

And now that the Packers are facing a dire situation at inside linebacker, the entire complexion of the defense seemed to have changed late in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins.

We wrote yesterday that when Jamari Lattimore went down with an injury and was replaced by Brad Jones, the defense seemed to falter. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason. The loss of the Packers’ starting cornerbacks, Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, on consecutive plays didn’t help.

Now the Packers are faced with the possibility that they head into Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers without Lattimore … and with Brad Jones in the lineup.

That’s not very “comforting” at all.

What to do?

Well, yesterday Adam Czech, writing for asked this simple question in a story he published:

"Am I crazy to think that the Green Bay Packers should consider moving Clay Matthews to inside linebacker if Jamari Lattimore is out for a significant amount of time?"

No, Adam, you’re not crazy.

It’s an alternative the Packers should explore, given the situation.

With fellow outside linebackers Mike Neal and Nick Perry playing well and deserving of more playing time, the notion that Matthews could be moved inside is not crazy at all.

Czech writes that not only would it allow Perry and Neal to get on the field, but it would, more importantly, get Brad Jones off the field.

It might also breathe new life into the production provided by Matthews.

His 12 tackles and two assists are very unlike that of a highest-paid defensive player.

Let’s, for instance, compare Matthews with Tamba Hali of the Kansas City Chiefs. While he started his career as a defensive end, he was moved to outside linebacker in 2009 and has been playing the position since then – the same number of years as has Matthews.

Though Hali and Matthews are comparable in production for this season (Hali has 14 tackles and 2 assists with three sacks – he’s also 31 years ole), we can look at Hali’s overall stats the past six seasons and compare them with Matthews’.

These stats are courtesy of Pro Football Reference:

As you can see, during this time Hali has 58 sacks to Matthews’ 51. More importantly, Hali has 356 tackles and 106 assists to Matthews’ 201 tackles and 60 assists.

Injuries have also played a big part … Matthews has missed 14 games in the past five-plus seasons, while Hali has missed two.

Digging a bit deeper, Hali has forced 30 fumbles and recovered 7 fumbles, while Matthews has forced 11 and recovered 3.

Looking at these statistics, Hali is a top 5 outside linebacker, while Matthews might crack the top 10, but questions about his ability to stay healthy and to produce like his salary dictates need to be asked.

So, it might be time to consider a position move for Matthews.

Here are two important points that Czech brings up that helps hammer home the point:

  • Matthews is struggling outside. It’s been a quiet season for Matthews, especially after he injured his groin against Detroit. He’s not getting after the quarterback, he’s not setting the edge against the run or read-option and ballcarriers have no problem cutting it back inside on Matthews when they encounter him in space.
  • When I watch Matthews play, it seems like he’d fit well inside. His over-aggressiveness hurts him at times on the outside. In tight spaces inside, that aggressiveness combined with Matthewss’ athleticism I think would help him sort through trash and make plays, something we haven’t seen from a Packers inside linebacker since Desmond Bishop.

In the end, the Packers have to figure out a way to get Matthews more involved in the game and a move inside might just be the ticket that moves him out of the “comfortable” range and into the elite of the league.