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Forgotten man Matthews an important piece for ILB corps

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Forgotten man Matthews an important piece for ILB corps

Going through the motions for an NFL fan this time of year often involves projecting team strengths and weaknesses. 
 
The Packers bolstered their secondary and running back corps in the draft, and though those positions’ success likely depends on the influx of rookies, it would appear – at least on paper – that both units are better today than when last season ended. 
 
So where, then, are the Packers perceived to be weak? 
 
According to Pro Football Focus, it’s inside linebacker. Zach Kruse at Packers Wire followed with a story that wisely pointed out the team’s use of Morgan Burnett at ILB in sub packages, as well as the possibility that second-round pick Josh Jones – who lined up there during rookie minicamp – could see time inside as well. 
 
Throw in players whose positions on the depth chart are actually ILB – Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas – and suddenly the Pack don’t appear as thin as one might think. 
 
But the most glaring omission in offseason conversations regarding inside linebacker is the Packers’ highest-profile defender: Clay Matthews. 
 
Matthews’ first foray at ILB came out of necessity in 2014, when an abysmal 32nd-ranked run defense halfway into the season forced the Packers to get creative. Following its bye week, Green Bay moved Matthews inside and instantly benefited. Playing off of Matthews’ instincts and relentless motor, Green Bay got itself a playmaker in the middle of the field. The Packers would surrender no more than 113 rushing yards in a game over their final eight games, wherein they went 7-1 and ranked sixth in run defense (allowing just 86.4 yards per contest). 
 
The position change also paid off for their pass rush, as Matthews racked up 8.5 of his 11 sacks after moving inside. With Matthews in the middle, Green Bay had what appeared to be – through nearly four quarters of the NFC Championship game in Seattle – a championship-caliber defense. 
 
Matthews remained at ILB in 2015 and played fine, but didn’t have the same impact as the year before. By drafting Blake Martinez the next offseason, the Packers likely felt they had enough depth at the position to allow Matthews to return to his roots as an edge rusher. It also seems more appropriate that if you’re going to pay a player as much as Matthews makes, that player should occupy a premium position. 
 
In 2016, Matthews battled injuries and finished with career lows in tackles (20) and sacks (5). At 30 years old, he’s understandably lost some explosiveness. After the season, head coach Mike McCarthy vowed that going forward, Matthews would occupy a hybrid role in the Packers defense. 
 
It’s a move that makes total sense. Matthews will likely still see action at outside linebacker, but the number of snaps will depend greatly on the health of Nick Perry, the maturation of Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel’s ability to earn playing time as a rookie. If the committee approach to pass rusher opposite of Perry works, then Matthews is best suited to being moved around – not unlike how Charles Woodson was used in his final seasons with Green Bay, lining up outside, at slot corner, safety and even an in-the-box linebacker. 
 
Matthews is a smart player and has highlights throughout his career – and last season, too – where his pre-snap diagnosis of the play leads to big tackles for loss. When added to the mix alongside Ryan, Martinez, Thomas and defensive backs Burnett and Jones, Matthews’ roving ways should definitely help buttress the Packers’ inside linebacker corps. 
 
It’s hard to believe that Matthews has become Green Bay’s forgotten man on defense. Don’t count him out just yet – he’s probably going to be best served in his new role.  
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (47) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Spock's picture

I'm not so sure Clay is a "forgotten man" at ILB, but I do like the thought of moving him around. Martinez was coming on strong before the injury. We'll see how it all shakes out. I'm not as down on Matthews as many here; that shoulder injury severely limited his effectiveness last year. One thing Clay does is give 100% (Nick Perry, PLEASE don't do that 110% stuff; it drives me nuts!). I really think Jones will be more used in the Morgan Burnett role than as an ILB, but we shall see. Fun stuff to speculate on before the OTA's.

Nick Perry's picture

Hmmmm....I'm pretty sure I've respected your strange quirk since you mentioned it quite a while ago yet here you are again asking me not use a very common phrase to describe athletes who always seem to be giving that extra something on the field. To be singled out yet again is sort of disrespectful IMO, especially when I've made every effort to respect your wishes. Why doesn't name calling, insulting of people's intelligence, or just plain ole assholeisum that goes on here on this site drive you just as nuts?

...After giving this about 17 seconds of thought I've come to this conclusion Spock. When I see you "Police" those comments of people who are insulted or called names I'll GO BACK to respecting your wishes, just like I did when you first mentioned it!

Spock's picture

Nick, actually you did it again last week (I'm too lazy to look up the exact post). Sorry, to get this reaction from you. I apologize! Truly. Maybe it's because I'm kind of a math nerd and the more than 100% thing just is a personal quirk. I enjoy your posts and typically give you a "thumbs up" as you seem to spend a lot of time really analyzing the Packers. Yes, I DO hate all the disrespectful name calling, foul language, etc. on some of these posts. I will not point this out to you again. And sorry to be on your list for being one of "those". :(

Nick Perry's picture

Thank you for responding Spock, I appreciate it. Believe it or not I actually remember your request every time I go to use it and I make a real conscious effort not to. I wasn't even aware I did it again last week again. You're not on any list either, I think you make excellent comments all the time. The people who make those type of comments know who they are as does everyone else.

Now with that said let's get back to why we're all here...The Green Bay Packers!!!

Spock's picture

Thanks, Nick.
Go Pack go!

gr7070's picture

Matthews was not a very good ILB those two years.

As noted, he gets paid way too much for even most any ILB. It's not a premium position, also noted.

Additionally, Matthews is not a pass *defender*, which is where ILB is heading. Well, actually ILB is heading the way of the dodo bird. Regardless, "ILB" is now a pass defense position. Just look at the players the article mentions. Thomas is a passing down guy; Martinez was the best rated pass defense ILB in the draft by PFF; Ryan had similar skills and pass defense friendly combine scores; and Jones and Burnett are safeties, at least one a skilled pass defender if not both.

The five guys the Packers want at ILB are all pass defense heavy and light in run defense, as they should be!

Matthews is a bad option at ILB. The Packers don't want him there except to disguise his pass rush and to pass defend on the very rare scheme/play need when he might be lined up there.

And sadly he's not good as a pass rusher anymore either. He wasn't even a top 100 *OLB* when he did play last year. The fact he's on the NFL top 100 is a joke.

RCPackerFan's picture

'Matthews was not a very good ILB those two years.'

He was not very good in 2015. 2014 though he was very good. But he wasn't playing a true ILB position that year.

dobber's picture

The value of CMIII at ILB was not in the fact that he was expected to be an all-pro there, but rather that it pushed a far weaker player off the field (Brad Jones? AJ Hawk? Nate Palmer?) and allowed a better player to come in to play on the outside. The talent on the field improved even if CMIII himself wasn't a star at ILB.

"The Packers don't want him there except to disguise his pass rush and to pass defend on the very rare scheme/play need when he might be lined up there."

I think this is quite accurate...for any player on the inside on passing downs.

gr7070's picture

While i did type that part about disguising Matthews, let's all be honest, no one on offense is game planning for Matthews now. They don't really care where he lines up.

He's just not wreaking havoc on opposing teams anymore; healthy or not. Getting old sucks; at least he still has hair, unlike someone commenting in CheeseheadTV.
; )

dobber's picture

I resemble that remark! ;)

Finwiz's picture

Baldcel - figures. As long as there's no cottage cheese azz, and gut to go with it, you still have a reason to live! LOL

croatpackfan's picture

I think we all (especially Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers) will be delighted if "no one on offense is game planning for Matthews" next season (2017), because that will allow him to wreak havoc in opposite offense...

RCPackerFan's picture

I love moving Mathews to a hybrid ILB type of role.

Like 2014 when he moved to ILB but played a hybrid ILB role. He wasn't a pure ILB in 2014. In 2015 he played purely ILB and was not an impact player.

McCarthy has talked about needing to move Mathews around. I agree with that. In 2014 they moved him all over, and had him blitzing from everywhere. He was an impact playmaker and changed the defense. Also he stayed healthy in that stretch of games.

The best thing for Mathews and our defense is to have him playing a hybrid ILB role again.

RCPackerFan's picture

To play pure ILB like 2015... No.
To play the hybrid ILB like 2014... Yes.

The difference was in 2014 he didn't play the actual ILB spot. He technically was an ILB, but how he was used wasn't anything like the normal ILB's. He was moved around and was used to create confusion for offenses.

Honestly to me I don't care what position they label him as. I want him to be moved around like he was in 2014. His body can't handle going up against 300+ lb OT's all game long. Moving him around helps him stay healthy.

I agree with you that they have a lot more options at ILB now so they don't 'need' him at ILB like they did in 2014. But I think for the defense and himself, moving him around and playing more of that Hybrid ILB would be a good thing. Also I think we will see some different looks on defense this year. With a stronger group of DL, we might start seeing more DL on the field at a time. With Burnett and Jones ability to play the hybrid ILB/S spot we might see them more.
I expect to see a more versatile defense then what we have seen in the past. So that would include Mathews playing more ILB.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Matthews needs to get healthy and stay that way for this, his final season in Green Bay.

Odds are against him, but if he succeeds, he can offer one more semi-productive year.

That's the brutal truth for a guy who routinely loses 1-on-1 battles against blockers.

gr7070's picture

More true words have never been put forth on Cheesehead TV.

Ben Pearson's picture

Hopefully the emergence of Nick Perry takes a little of the pressure off Clay. I think we can get another good year out of Clay. (PSA this opinion is rooted entirely in hope and love for Clay have no stats to back it whatsoever)

stockholder's picture

I think you can move Mathews around. But Peppers never did play ILB. Mathews can be used the same way as peppers was. He still commands the attention of opposing teams. So don't say he's the odd man out. This team needs leadership. It's up to Mathews for that. He is not a star riding off into the sunset. He still will give you his best, as long as he gets support.

Bearmeat's picture

This is coming from someone who bought a CM3 jersey in 09. It remains my only Packer jersey post-BLF (yes, I know, I need another soon), and I desperately want him to be a force of nature.

OK. Deep breath:

CM3 isn't a premiere player anymore. He's always hurt. His explosion isn't the same. He's barely above replacement level. Since his cap number is too high to cut him, I'd advocate for benching him - if pass rushers weren't so hard to find.

Give me J Jones, Martinez and Jake Ryan over CM3 inside. No. That's not saying much - but at least we haven't found those players ceilings yet. CM3s ceiling was about 2010.

You all know my theory on CM3. I think the circumstantial evidence points strongly to him taking HGH and/or steroids - starting in the summer of 2008 before his monstrous senior year at USE and stopping immediately after he got his huge 2nd contract with GB.

1. His college LB buddies from USC ALL have been busted for steroid use. ALL OF THEM.
2. Look at his stats (and injuries) from 2009-2012. Then look at 2013-present.
3. He was strongly implicated himself this past summer.
4. He's always hurt. Always. This is an indicator of someone who was on steroids, who stopped using.
5. Go look at the size of his forehead in 2007 at USC. Then look again at the same man in 2009 at the combine. Also, he didn't have acne in 2007. He had a pretty bad case of it for about 5 years there. Now, not much.

Circumstantial? Yes. But when there's so much smoke.....

Look, the team looks great overall. I think we'll easily win the division and compete for a bye. But our OLBs look really weak this year. We're going to need a pass rush from the DL and/or Biegel/Fackrell to step up. I'm almost sure CM3 and Perry will get hurt.

I'm looking forward to the Packers being able to finally possibly cut him next offseason when his cap figure drops. Because relying on him to provide the "fear factor" for this defense has burned the team for 4 years straight. Then at least we can all admit the truth and the team will be forced to find another player. Or, preferably, he proves me wrong and has a monster year. Unfortunately, I don't think this is likely. The bottom line is that CM3 has declined to the point that he is not above replacement value anymore. His contract is one of the worst in the NFL. :(

Ok. I'm in the fetal position everyone. Feel free to throw whatever shoes or chuck whatever ball caps you have handy, but please, no heavy objects. ;)

Finwiz's picture

Wow, good, honest post. Could very well be he has been on PED's.
Like Braun, it makes perfect sense - same parallel path with performance and then injuries. They should ask him to renegotiate right now, rather than wait for the contract to expire. You are exactly right - he will get hurt, it's just a matter of when, not if.

Don't think you bought a CM jersey in '99 - you probably meant '09?

Bearmeat's picture

Haha. Good catch. Edited. And yep. 09. I have fat fingers. :P

Worztik's picture

I have fat everything supposedly, however. I prefer to view myself as "short for my weight"!!!!

DThomas's picture

Clay Matthews at 100% healthy is an above average player. The problem of course is he's seldom healthy. But the reason not to cut him isn't the cap hit. This is the last year of his prorated signing bonus so (according to overthecap) releasing him would result in $4.1M in dead money but $10.975M in cap savings. He's not going to be released, but doing so frees up, not costs, cap space.

pooch's picture

keep him off the edge,the shoulder injury was freak ,still think he can make impact inside

Nick Perry's picture

I do too. I don't think anyone will argue that Matthews isn't what he once was, but I believe he could still be effective when moving him around. He might even be better if the Packers had someone to take some of his snaps and he was more situational.

Bearmeat's picture

That would be the best use in a bad situation, I agree. Unfortunately, GB does not have anyone to take his snaps.

Ben Pearson's picture

Bearmeat, I love your takes on our defense. Love that you're not afraid to go against public opinion.

Expect a ton of push back, but I couldn't agree more!

When a defense is consistently as bad as ours is, nobody is safe from criticism (except for you Ha-Ha and Daniels, love you guys).

Bearmeat's picture

I'm used to it. If it's any solace, the commentary at CHTV is light years better than on BSPN, JSO, or even APC. Criticize TT there and you're either a hero or a heretic. Here there are many who see the shades of gray in spite of the green and gold goggles we all wear. :)

MarkinMadison's picture

If you'd advocate for benching him then you might as well advocate for cutting him, because either way you are paying money for nothing.

I don't really disagree with your take, but I think he can still play on the inside. You don't have to have two coverage guys on the inside, one is enough.

Bearmeat's picture

Mim -

If GB could cut him this year without dire financial consequences, I'd be all for it. Simply put, he's no longer dependable and no better than average in any phase of the game anymore. Unfortunately, OLB is the weakest position on the team right now, so we need even "average" bodies. Not that Dumervile and/or Barwin would have helped that out, right TT??? Grrrrr....

Also unfortunately, his contract makes him un-tradeable. So we're left with at least one more year of hoping. Ugh.

DThomas's picture

"If GB could cut him this year without dire financial consequences, I'd be all for it." Again, if the Packers waive Matthews they FREE UP $10,975,000 in cap space - that's hardly dire consequences.

However, it would be difficult to trade him since the acquiring team would have to pay him about $11M this season and next.

Bearmeat's picture

Yes. But saving 10 point something million by cutting him leaves a LOT of dead money for this year and next if I remember correctly. Next year, that is not the case I think....

Too lazy to look it up...

dobber's picture

Actually, I think the Packers can cut him after 2017 with no cap hit, so his full cap impact would be felt this season, I think, if they cut him now. If they designated him as a post-June 1 cut, I think his remaining cap hit would be spread out over this season and the next. Someone who knows cap rules better, help me out...

DThomas's picture

Clay's cap number this year is $15.075M, the dead money is $4.1M, the rest (the difference between those two numbers) is cap SAVINGS and there is no carryover of the dead cap money to 2018. Waiving him is a net plus for the cap but Thompson, McCarthy and staffs have a higher opinion of Matthews than some/many here.

Matthews is due to make $11.4M next season. Waiving him then would result in a slightly higher cap savings of $425,000 than waiving him now.

If the Packers want to get rid of Matthews, it's a salary cap positive this season or next...

Bearmeat's picture

I stand corrected on that part then. Thanks.

Where it hasn't changed one bit is that CM3 is no longer a huge asset to the team that befits his salary. And unfortunately, he just happens to be the frontline player on the weakest position of the team. GBs hands are tied.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

His dead money figure for 2017 doesn't change regardless of when he is cut. It hardly matters anyway.

I view CM3 as a somewhat above average player at OLB or ILB. Problem is that we don't have another proven average OLB on the roster. His presence also makes us not thin at ILB. Sigh, unless Fackrell, Elliott, Biegel looks like a beast, CM3 is still likely to play in 2017 at his inflated salary.

stockholder's picture

I'm sure Mathews was on something that is banned now. The same for A-rod. The NFL keeps coming up with new rules. To stop what the players come up with. Any muscle builder, would be considered cheating. It's not going to change the fact that the Packers need Mathews. He has been sidelined. But he still has not served a suspension. He will be back. And like any player, he could need a fresh positive attitude. The packers are better with Mathews than without. He's not the new toy in Capers plan. But he's still one of the most valuable! Compare peppers to mathews. We saw peppers slow down in 3 years. I believe Mathews is still faster and better than peppers. The problem I see; is people care about his salary, more than his contribution now. The window of every player has a starting point. The ending is what will get him in the hall of Fame. Don't count him out.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

He's likely still on the HGH as are a lot of NFLers. The stuff has very few negative side effects (non of the ones you mention iirc) and the league doesn't test for it in way that would catch anyone last time I looked.

pooch's picture

wouldnt hurt to bring in Elvis D

pooch's picture

wouldnt hurt to bring in Elvis D

Packmaniac's picture

Agreed

jeremyjjbrown's picture

He's done.

Worztik's picture

Maybe Elvis Costello???

Dzehren's picture

Recent history supports CM3 is more susceptible to injury at OLB than ILB.

Maybe the base 2 down lineman does not support effective OLB pass rushers-
historically in the 3-4 defense- the nose tackle (Raji - Vince Wilfork) and 2 ends ( Cullen Jenkins - Richard Seymour) were designed to take up blockers, hold the point of attack, control- plug the gaps & allow the 4 linebackers to make plays. The 3 down lineman were more of the unsung heroes, little stat guys that did most of the heavy lifting to get of the D off the field on third down. Maybe the new pass rules have changed all this....

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Daniels is the current Jenkins. Very similar roles.

Lphill's picture

I think Clay is still one of the Packers best defensive players , when healthy , I think he is at his best when moved around, last season he played through injuries and probably played too many downs due to depth . I feel he bounces back this season with more support around him.

ironman3169's picture

Stop. Bashing. Clay.
When healthy, a destroyer of men.

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