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Clay Matthews’ Aggressiveness and Savvy at Inside Linebacker Will Help the Packers in 2015

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Clay Matthews’ Aggressiveness and Savvy at Inside Linebacker Will Help the Packers in 2015

The decision to move Clay Matthews to Inside Linebacker (ILB) in nickel after the bye week in 2014 was one of the best decisions the Packers have made in recent memory. A solution was needed for the lack of aggressiveness and overall poor play at ILB during the first half of the season, and Matthews provided that (particularly in nickel). 

For being thrust into a spot that he had never played full-time, Matthews did a good job. There were plays when it looked like he was a veteran at ILB. This article will highlight five plays of him at ILB in nickel. These plays exemplify his aggressive nature and football savvy, and they give Packers fans a glimpse of what he can do in 2015.

The first play that we will analyze is from the Week 11 game versus the Eagles.

On this play, the Eagles had “11 personnel” (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) on the field. They ran a Sweep to the tight end side with the center and left guard pulling. This is one of Chip Kelly’s favorite plays out of this personnel grouping/formation.

At the snap, it looked like the Packers rotated to “Cover 3 Buzz,” which means that Matthews had “force” responsibility on the tight end side. In other words, Matthews’ job was to keep contain and force the ball carrier (LeSean McCoy) to go inside. Matthews’ film study of the Eagles’ tendencies allowed him to diagnose the play, and his aggressiveness was on display, as he blew up the pulling guard and tripped up McCoy.

The second and third plays that we will examine occurred in the Week 14 matchup against the Falcons.

Here, the Falcons had “11 personnel” on the field, and they ran Inside Zone. This is one of the plays in particular where Matthews looked like a seasoned veteran at ILB. Matthews was responsible for the A gap to the tight end side, but, as with most running plays, gaps can move. When a linebacker’s original gap closes, he needs to scrape to the next open gap. For a player who has not played ILB for very long, that can be a tough concept to grasp. However, Matthews understood this concept, and he was able to make the tackle after Steven Jackson bounced it outside.

For the third play, Atlanta had “21 personnel” (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) on the field. They ran a Lead Draw play from a “Bunch” formation with the fullback as the lead blocker. Matthews was responsible for the A gap again. Watch how Matthews recognizes the draw play and fills the A gap. He played downhill and stuffed the fullback in the hole, and this play went for no gain. This aggressive, downhill mindset is what the Packers needed at ILB.

The next play is from the Divisional Round game versus the Cowboys. 

One of the Cowboys’ favorite running plays in 2014 was Outside Zone, and that is what they ran on this play (out of “11 personnel”). Matthews’ responsibility against the run was the B gap this time. An important aspect of zone blocking are the combo blocks (double teams) on the defensive tackles. Here, Matthews disrupted the center/left guard combo block because he attacked the line of scrimmage. If Matthews would have hesitated and let the left guard work up to him at the second level, this could have been a big run through the 3 hole (between the guard and tackle). Instead, Matthews attacked and penetrated into the backfield, which made DeMarco Murray cut when he didn’t want to.

The fifth and final play that we will analyze came from the NFC Championship Game at Seattle.

On this play, the Seahawks had “11 personnel” on the field, and they ran four verticals. The Packers were playing Cover 1 (man underneath with a single-high safety). In most basic Cover 1 schemes, one of the ILBs is usually free (no man-to-man responsibility) to drop underneath and read the quarterback’s eyes or act as a spy. In this case, both ILBs (Matthews and Barrington) were playing off what the running back (Marshawn Lynch) was doing. Since Lynch wasn’t a real receiving threat, Matthews was essentially able to spy Russell Wilson. As soon as Wilson started to leave the pocket, Matthews was immediately in pursuit and did a great job of limiting the scramble to a four-yard gain.

These were just some of the plays that demonstrated Clay Matthews’ aggressiveness and football IQ at ILB in nickel in 2014. It will be interesting to watch him at ILB in 2015, especially in the base 3-4. Dom Capers can use Matthews as the free linebacker in Cover 1 so that he can be a rover or spy, he can use him on double A gap blitzes, and much more. If he can continue to learn the nuances of the ILB position and watch himself a lot on film, he can become a consistent force at ILB. 

Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (17) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture


Fantastic stuff. One quick request though - can you slow down the GIFs? They'd be a lot easier to recognize what you're talking about if they weren't at "real time" speed.


Tundraboy's picture

Great article. I'm dying waiting for the games to start. Agree with Bearmeat on the gifs. Thanks.

RCPackerFan's picture

The thing I like about Mathews in the middle the most is the offense can't focus on him in one spot. They have to be ready for him to rush up the middle, to the outside, or drop into coverage.

When he is lined up at ILB he presents a mismatch against the Guards and Centers trying to block him because he is faster then them that he can simply run around them.

The biggest part that I like is highlighted in the Seattle game is he can spy mobile QB's from the middle of the field. How many times have we seen mobile QB's take off running with a lot of room to run. With Mathews there they can't do that.

This all being said, i don't want him to play Inside 100% of the time. I want to see him move around, but I would be happy if he moved to inside as his primary position.

HankScorpio's picture

Matthews is a LB with a LB mentality. He's going to be successful wherever he lines up for reasons that are highlighted well in the article.

It's all about putting the best 11 on the field. Matthews playing from the inside allows the Packers to do that. He is definitely their best ILB and by a wide margin. Certainly wider than the margin of drop off in his outside spot when manned by Perry, Neal or the others that got extra snaps when Matthews was inside.

I get that his pass rush is a valuable weapon. And noticed his sack production shot sharply upward when he began splitting time inside and out. I think the Packers would be foolish to not build on the defensive success they had in the 2nd half of last year. And spotting Matthews inside and out was a big part of that success.

The TKstinator's picture

Matthews: good football player. Line him up and let him do his thing.

Allan Murphy's picture

we need a new clay more pressure

ben's picture

I've been saying all this for almost 2 years. Welcome to the ball game.

NewNikeShoes's picture

Hey, where u been?
We missed you

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Great article, Robert. I don't think Barrington has the speed to make that play against Seattle. Ryan might have the instincts and speed, not as sure of his athleticism and change of direction. Bradford has the athleticism, and maybe the speed, not so sure of the instincts. Well, it is not really fair comparing them to CM3. I'd be happy if one of those guys displays the same mindset shown by CM3.

Jersey Al's picture

What made Matthews instantly successful at ILB, despite the unfamiliarity, was his speed. On most of these plays, the poor interior linemen had no idea what just hit them (or blew by them)

DrealynWilliams's picture

I noticed that as well. Maybe it's a combination of Speed/Quickness and Play Recognition. My initial thought when seeing those GIFs was, "how in the hell did he know that play was going there?!"

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Matthews ability to dip his hips and get below the blocker while on the move is unbelievable.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree that CM3's speed, recognition, change of direction, and general mindset are what separated him. Couple of times he filled the gap instead of waiting for the play to come to him, which meant that CM3 was to the side and/or past the pulling guard, where he was able to dip his hips and curl around the OG. Great points by Jersey Al, Jeremy and Drealyn.

Evan's picture

Just wait till his instincts catch up to his pure athleticism...

If he can stay healthy, DPOY wouldn't surprise me at all. He's going to be all over the field.

Idiot Fan's picture

I agree. And I hope he gets that. I get the feeling that OLB is seen as a more glamorous position, since they're more often rushing the QB, but I think he can have so much more impact when he's spending some time in the middle (lots of time if it were up to me). I haven't seen any evidence of him pouting over the move. I just hope that he sees that it's for the greater good and commits totally to it.

RCPackerFan's picture

Big time. He is so much faster/quicker then any of our other ILB's. But what also made him successful right away is his power. He is bigger then most of our ILB's and has much more strength. He is able to over power the G/C's and also be able to move right past them.

He is a perfect fit in this position.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

From what I can tell, there are many of us that think CM3 has made a huge contribution in nickel situations and/or otherwise in coverage. These are all running plays, though they are fine examples. But I'd like to know your take, Robert, regarding CM3's contributions in coverage.

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