Following Oren Burks’ injury, the Green Bay Packers should consider moving Clay Matthews back to inside linebacker.
Four years ago the Green Bay Packers moved Clay Matthews to inside linebacker out of necessity. It dramatically changed the performance of the defense, particularly against the run, helping the Packers finish a game short of the Super Bowl.
Following the injury to rookie linebacker Oren Burks ahead of Friday’s preseason contest with the Oakland Raiders, head coach Mike McCarthy and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine should consider moving Matthews back inside.
According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Burks possibly dislocated his shoulder.
Let’s hope Burks’ injury isn’t too serious and won’t cause him to miss much, if any, time in the regular season. He has played well throughout preseason, and could be an important player in Mike Pettine’s defense this year. Especially with Ryan out for the season.
If Burks is forced to miss any time in the regular season, the Packers could turn to Ahmad Thomas or Greer Martini to play alongside Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. Both young players are candidates to make the 53-man roster.
Another option would be to shift Matthews inside. At least for the time being.
Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wrote an excellent article all the way back in January about why moving Matthews back inside would make sense. This was before any of the Packers’ offseason moves, and before injuries left the team thin at ILB.
Dougherty wrote about the impact Matthews would have at inside linebacker:
"“Matthews immediately would be the Packers’ best off-the-line linebacker. Though Blake Martinez was a good run stopper in his second season, he’s not as disruptive as Matthews. And Matthews is faster and longer in pass coverage over the middle of the field, where offenses have chewed up the Packers the last two seasons.”"
If Burks has to miss time, a duo of Matthews and Martinez inside could work really well. When Burks is back, Matthews could rotate inside and outside, depending on how Mike Pettine wants to use him in that particular game.
The biggest concern with moving Matthews inside would be the depth outside.
Reggie Gilbert‘s performance in preseason will help. The Packers hoped Gilbert would step up this year, and so far he’s been one of the most improved players on the roster. In three preseason games, Gilbert has 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
And Matthews can still have an impact as a pass rusher from the inside. He had six sacks in the second half of the 2014 season after making the switch, and finished 2015 with 6.5 sacks. In 2017 he played primarily on the outside, and finished with 8.5 sacks. So it’s not like his sack totals dropped all that much while playing on the inside.
Of course, a trade for Khalil Mack would certainly make things a lot easier for this defense.
The Packers didn’t have much choice back in 2014, and moving Matthews inside was a game-changer.
If Burks it out for much time, they could be in a similar situation this year.