Matthews Can Expect Teams To Run Right At Him

Clay Matthews can expect teams to make running at him a point of emphasis for their offenses in 2011.

Clay Matthews became one of the heros of Super Bowl XLV when he forced a Rashard Mendenhall fumble. It was a phenomenal play, which actually began well before the snap when Matthews sensed that the Steelers would be running his way. NFL films caught Matthews telling teammates during the television timeout that he could tell the next play would be coming right at him. As we know now, he was right.

Of course, there's a reason the Steelers were running at Matthews - because it was working.

The Steelers came into that game with the obvious plan of running at Matthews. Again, NFL Films caught a Steelers assistant on the sideline talking about how Matthews would want "nothing to do with" the Steelers' power run game. It was reminiscent of the way teams started running at Lawrence Taylor once it became apparent that he was pretty much unblockable in pass protection. The thinking then, as it was now for the Steelers in regards to Matthews, was to pound on the pass rusher early in the game in an effort to wear him down.

Play after play, the Steelers ran right at Matthews and continued to find success. It didn't matter what the Packers did - bring in an extra lineman, play a 4-4-3, etc. the Steelers continued to run their power stuff to the right, straight at Matthews, and they continued to be successful.

Yes, its one game. Every team has its own particular strengths and ways of dealing with playmakers like Matthews. (Funnily enough, the Falcons rarely ran at Matthews in the regular season meeting when Turner ran all over the Packers) But you can be sure teams that have the personnel to do so will be loading up on a healthy diet of power runs right at the star linebacker.

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Comments (9)

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Jay's picture

February 27, 2011 at 02:20 pm

I believe this strategy goes back at least to when teams ran at Deacon Jones. This seems like the standard approach to neutralizing a great pass rusher, and has been for quite a while

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jeremy's picture

February 27, 2011 at 02:29 pm

"pound on the pass rusher early in the game in an effort to wear him down."

I'm not sure why it took McCarthy and Philbin 3 years to figure out that this was the way to beat Jared Allen, I'm just glad they know to do it now. Capers and Matthews will adjust to this tactic. The 4-3 cover-2 does not have the up front flexibility that's the best part of Capers 3-4.

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Nerdmann's picture

February 27, 2011 at 02:51 pm

Bring it.
Rather have them attack like that than run screens are traps anyway.

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PackersRS's picture

February 27, 2011 at 04:23 pm

Yet till BOTH Woodson and Shields go down, the game is 21-3...

You are right that it worked in negating Matthews (though I'm not sure if it was the effect of them running at him, or if it was Capers' gameplan. http://www.jerseyal.com/GBP/2011/02/22/clay-matthews-iii-super-bowl-film... )

But it wasn't working in the sense that their offense was having sucess. As it happened all year, they were getting yards through the ground. But, ultimately, they weren't being able to gain enough 1st downs to score points, or were creating turnovers.

So they can work their offense towards negating Matthews. But our D has enough quality players that it will hinder them more than us.

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Nerdmann's picture

February 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Exactly, and in the end Clay forced the decisive fumble. Game, set, match.

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ZeroTolerance's picture

February 27, 2011 at 06:13 pm

Let them try. Bring it on.

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Point Packer's picture

February 28, 2011 at 01:25 am

Clay's a playmaker. Yes, the Steelers found success with this strategy, but I'll trade all those mostly first half runs for that big fumble to start the 4th. Playmakers find ways to make big plays, especially when the balls coming in their direction. Dom is smart enough and the 3-4 is flexible enough, to make this a non-issue if it seems that teams are going to make a habit of this. Not to mention, the Steelers are arguably a top three running team in the NFL. This won't be an issue against 90% of the NFL. I'm not worried.

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dougie smooth's picture

February 28, 2011 at 03:14 pm

Yeah, bring it on. Clay is great against the run. Sets a good edge, great lateral pursuit. He has trouble taking on a tackle and a FB/TE and a pulling guard all at the same time, but of course he does, so would any player. That's where the free LBs are supposed to make a play. I didn't really see a problem with Clay so much as Mendenhall/Turner types being damn hard to tackle.

What scared me this season was the thought of teams deciding to run at our other OLBs. Brad Jones can't get off a block, Zombo doesn't have the quicks to make tough open field tackles or pursue to the edge, and Walden too easily gets suckered inside and walled off. I thought both the Falcons and Steelers would try to run at their side, but for some reason the Bears were the only team who seemed to game plan in their direction, and it worked pretty well for them (at least while Martz stuck with the run).

Here's one other thing to keep in mind about teams running at Matthew's side -- that's also Hawk's side. I'd be running away from Bishop too. Bishop can actually slice though gaps and make plays, whereas Hawk gets stuck in traffic and ends up making downfield tackles after trailing the play.

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thepretzelhead on Twitter's picture

March 01, 2011 at 06:10 pm

He's just got to get a bit better at outside contain- I assume that's his role in 3-4. He failed a bit against Pitt. But if this is all we have to worry about... : )

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