Moving Matthews to Inside Linebacker Shouldn't Be a One-Time Experiment

Considering the success the Packers had at inside linebacker with Clay Matthews, they need to utilize him at the position more often.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports.

Something had to change for the Green Bay Packers.

Despite a 5-3 record at the season's halfway point, the Packers were on the outside of the NFC playoff chase looking in. They couldn't simply stand pat with NFL's worst run defense coming into Sunday night's game against the Chicago Bears, allowing an average of 153.5 yards per game.

Coming off a loss to the New Orleans Saints, Mike McCarthy's crew took a hard look in the mirror during the bye week and made the bold move of moving Clay Matthews to an inside linebacker spot, a move that paid immediate dividends.

"Going into the bye week, it's like everything, you have a chance to kind of reboot, reset yourself for the second half of the season," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "Playing Clay in different areas, this year at a different position to create targeting problems for the offense was something that we spent the whole offseason highlighting and this was kind of the next step.

"Great job by our defensive staff with the creativity. Clay stepped in there and performed at an extremely high level. I thought he was outstanding tonight."

Ironically, it was during the first meeting against the Chicago Bears in Week 4 of the season, back on Sept. 28, that the Packers gave up their highest rushing total of the season, 235 yards to Matt Forte and company.

Thanks to defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his assistants, the switch to Matthews at inside linebacker sparked the Packers to their best performance defending the run in 2014, limiting the Bears to just 55 yards on 23 carries, an average of just 2.3 yards per rush.

"They ran for 300 on us last time," said Matthews, lending a little hyperbole to the storyline. "So especially coming off the Saints game, giving up a little too much, I think especially after the bye week, where you have your self-evaluation, I think we realized what we need to improve and what we're good at. Obviously we're good at getting after the quarterback, but that being said, you can't do that unless you stop the run. We did a good job of that tonight."

It wasn't a full-blown transition to Matthews at middle linebacker. More or less, he played the position in regular down-and-distance situations when the Bears were liable to run the ball.

When it came to third-and-long, Matthews was back at his usual spot on the line of scrimmage doing what he does best, getting upfield and pressuring the quarterback.

"We'll see what it means moving forward," said Matthews. "Obviously it's a little premature to say it's a switch to middle linebacker or whatever you want to call it, but I think what we've shown throughout the years, throughout this season as well, we're trying to provide a little more versatility for myself

"And especially with the addition of Peppers and Nick Perry getting healthy and Mike Neal, who's continuing to play well, it adds a … you want to get your playmakers on the field as much as possible. I think out of those guys, I was probably the best fit to kind of line up in the middle and have at it."

Whatever the Packers tried earlier in the season opposite A.J. Hawk at inside linebacker wasn't working. They kicked off the season with Brad Jones as the starter, but a hamstring injury rendered him ineffective.

Jamari Lattimore made five starts at inside linebacker, but just like 2013, instead of relying on his instincts, he tended to guess and find himself out of position. Sam Barrington was also given a shot and didn't prove to be a difference maker.

On the other hand, Matthews was his usual, disruptive self. His sideline-to-sideline hustle is an element that's been missing from the Packers' inside linebacker position for years.

Not only was he able to track down ball carriers to the edges of the field, Matthews was also a threat to blitz up the middle or run a stunt from the second level with the defensive linemen crashing inside.

Matthews credits a "crash course" on the inside linebacker position to get him ready for Sunday's game, and while a full-fledged move to a new spot on the field doesn't appear likely, it wouldn't appear the new-look Packers defense is going to revert back to its old form anytime soon.

Inside linebackers aren't sack masters, however. While on the outside, Matthews earned fame and became the NFL's highest-paid linebacker. A shift to the inside represents perhaps fewer opportunities for personal glory and more of a team-first attitude.

So is Matthews buying into the transformation?

"I like making plays, I like being out there," said Matthews, "so yeah."

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Comments (35)

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sonomaca's picture

November 10, 2014 at 02:18 pm

Other ideas: Peppers and Matthews playing the new "combo" linebacker role. Then, could get Hawk off the field and have Perry and Neal at OLB at same time.

Make Bradford a game day active so he can begin to learn the new "combo" linebacker position, as well, since he's most physically similar to Matthews vs. the other inside linebackers.

Barrington looks chunky.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

November 10, 2014 at 02:35 pm

No way Hawk is coming off the field. As much as we would like that to happen -- it won't.

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jmac34's picture

November 10, 2014 at 03:45 pm

Matthews has the body type to play the ILB position effectively. Peppers not so much

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calabasa's picture

November 10, 2014 at 02:56 pm

While his production was good, I feel like this is a band-aid, or somehow a failure when you have to take your best player and put him in a different place because you don't have a good ILB on the team.

But, the more I think about the move, the more it makes sense. This might keep CMIII from over pursuing and blowing contain. Shoot, maybe he is a better ILB that OLB!

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TommyG's picture

November 12, 2014 at 11:44 am

He very well may end up being a better fit at the ILB position.

I get your Band-Aid reference, but if we move a player to a new position and the entire defense's performance increases then it is hardly a Band-Aid move.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 10, 2014 at 03:05 pm

I loved the move of Mathews to ILB. As soon as I saw he was playing ILB I was excited to see what he was going to do.
I actually was hoping to see him there more previously. It just creates a lot more flexibility in the scheme.

I hope they don't use him in a traditional role as an ILB though. I like him moving around. I like him being able to blitz from the middle as well as the outside.

The thing that separates him from the other ILB's is his speed. His ability to blitz up the middle will make it tough for QB's to step up in the pocket. I also like it on early downs because in passing situations he can spy the QB if he doesn't blitz. I think he will be a lot more effective against the read option too.

I think this was a very good move. But this move really only works if the other OLB's are effective. So Perry has to continue to perform as does Neal.

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L's picture

November 10, 2014 at 05:30 pm

I think we were both talking about this prior to the season beginning and let me say it's about god damn time that they started making use of him in this role outside the concessional moments where he was spying a mobile QB.

Looking forward to seeing a lot more of this during the remainder of the season!

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 11, 2014 at 06:59 am

yeah, i think we were talking about it before the season. I know i said before the season that I loved the idea of moving Clay around. This was the defense I envisioned when we were talking about it.

Letting Clay play ILB, OLB, Left, Right, everywhere. If he is moving around the offense can't key in on him at 1 spot. I also love the fact that when he is playing ILB, he can blitz up the middle or to the outside. He isn't restricted to 1 side. And if he is coming up the middle, that is the fastest way to the QB. Its going to make it a lot harder for QB's to step up and throw with him charging up the middle.
Lets not forget that the QB's have to play against Peppers and Perry too.

Now that the Eagles have some game tape of him in the middle they will try to make adjustments, but so will Capers.

This move to me was nothing short of brilliant.

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Evan's picture

November 10, 2014 at 03:06 pm

Off-topic: is the "recent comment" box gone?

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L's picture

November 10, 2014 at 05:31 pm

good point.

Why did you guys take it away?

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The TKstinator's picture

November 10, 2014 at 05:58 pm

Because I asked them to.

What The TKstinator wants, The TKstinator gets.

Next question, please.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

November 10, 2014 at 07:12 pm

TK, can you ask them to get rid of Cow?

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The TKstinator's picture

November 11, 2014 at 06:21 am

Winning will do that.

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The TKstinator's picture

November 11, 2014 at 09:09 pm

My shock is immeasurable.

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White92's picture

November 10, 2014 at 03:36 pm

Any word on Perry's injury? I saw him limp off. He needs to stay healthy and play at a high level for this to work.

Matthews looked phenomenal in this new role. Keep doing exactly what they did last night. For a change the defense actually looked aggressive.

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Packer_Pete's picture

November 10, 2014 at 06:10 pm

nothing from McC at the presser. I don't think Perry is injured. Maybe just tweaked something. Could've probably gone in again if it mattered.

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FITZCORE1252's picture

November 10, 2014 at 03:47 pm

The guy played like his hair was on fire, he was a murderer last night. He's just so athletic and instinctive, I think he could be an all pro inside. Really do

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HankScorpio's picture

November 10, 2014 at 03:56 pm

I'm definitely on board with keeping Matthews inside. He brings something to the table the Packers are sorely lacking.

The presence of Peppers, Perry and Neal means there is far less dropoff from Matthews at OLB than there is at ILB with Lattimore/Barrington/Jones.

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Clay Zombo's picture

November 10, 2014 at 05:40 pm

I definitely agree Clay should stay inside on run downs, his vision and instincts are off the charts and his acceleration is unreal. Using him to spy QBs and RBs and jet sweepers will make a weakness in the defense into a strength.

He can still rush off the edge on 3rd downs but playing him in space is where he really excels IMO.

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Evan's picture

November 10, 2014 at 06:36 pm

Perhaps "the move" was partially responsible for the lopsided score?

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sonomaca's picture

November 10, 2014 at 10:37 pm

No doubt that good coaches will make adjustments. The key is to anticipate the adjustments, and have a ready response. Use of Matthews at ILB confused the Bears. I doubt it'll have the same impact on Chip Kelly.

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sonomaca's picture

November 11, 2014 at 09:43 am

Bradford was drafted to play OLB, so he's got a different skill set than the typical ILB. In fact, he might eventually become a mini-Matthews. Why not get him some reps?

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aj's picture

November 11, 2014 at 04:08 pm

I think Bradford could be a player for us in the future. He's athletic and plays a similar style to Clay. Don't misinterpret what I typed, and think I'm saying Bradford will be Clay, but I'm saying he has similar instincts and he won't take any plays off. I believe the one player who can help us most in next year's draft is Danny Shelton of Washington. Big, athletic nose tackle that can't be moved off of his spot. He's the definition of a nose tackle, and would solidify that spot for years for us. Reminds me of a mini-Wilfork, if there is such a thing. That almost seems like an oxymoron.

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sonomaca's picture

November 12, 2014 at 09:12 am

I'd resign Raji right now. He can probably be had relatively cheaply. Not risking that much to sign him to a 2-year deal.

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sonomaca's picture

November 12, 2014 at 09:17 am

No one said the Pack should rely on Bradford. However, why not get him some reps. Many reps were wasted on Brad Jones earlier in the season. Those could have gone to Bradford. Probably ditto for Lattimore, who's apparently hasn't got the football IQ or instincts to be a starter.

I would have loved to have seen Bradford in the second half vs. Chicago. I'd make him a game day active vs. some of the weaker teams, such as Minnesota and Tampa Bay, where he'd have a shot at seeing the field late in the game.

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Charvid's picture

November 10, 2014 at 06:18 pm

the only thing better than the way he just stopped that reverse attempt in it's tracks was seeing A Rod's reaction to the play after watching the replay on the big screen...his reaction was priceless.

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calabasa's picture

November 11, 2014 at 02:44 pm

Yeah- too bad he obviously pulled up instead of burying him.

Loved the guy's eyes on the slow-mo replay.

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Bohj's picture

November 10, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Its an interesting point that was made to Clay:

- Clay was concerned his sack numbers would decrease. But then the point was made that if they couldn't stop the run, there wouldn't be many opportunities for third and long and therefore obvious pass situations.

- So it was made clear.......look Clay.....you stop the run as ILB and invariably your sack numbers will actually increase than what they are now because we'll actually be getting third and longs. When you get them in that situation you can go back to OLB.

-And bam......almost two sacks.

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badaxed's picture

November 11, 2014 at 08:35 am

Matthews and Lattimore at inside backers..... Matthews and any other packer or even one of the green bay packer cheerleaders instead of Hawk at inside backer....

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Evan's picture

November 11, 2014 at 01:11 pm

Part of me does wish they had waited till the Eagles game to unveil this change. Catch them off guard.

They could have beaten the Bears with me at ILB. But now the Eagles can prepare for Matthews at ILB.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Yeah, that definitely could have been a good move.

I guess the other thought is, now that Clay has done it he knows more of what to expect, so we could possibly see him play faster then he did before.

But the Eagles now have game tape on him doing it, so they will try to game plan it more. I definitely see your point.

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Lphill's picture

November 11, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Again COW with his negative comments , Clay is a football player and playmaker , my son was D 1 linebacker and now a coach , he says if your a football player you can make plays at different positions. Not everyone could. Clay can sorry COW , sacks or not the QB is always concerned where Clay is just like Sanchez will be Sunday.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

When Sanchez is under center, who is the first player he will be looking for? Mathews.

When Mathews is lined up at ROLB, the QB can easily adjust pass protection to that side. Or he can change the play to go away from him or whatnot.

But when Mathews is at ILB, how does he adjust his pass protection to him there? With Mathews inside, odds are that they will adjust the protection to the middle. Problem with that though is Mathews now can drop into coverage which affects the pass protection because its been adjusted to protect the middle, leaving the outside open for blitzes or 1 on 1 opportunities for Peppers/Perry. Also, Just because Mathews lines up inside doesn't mean he will be blitzing to the inside. He can now blitz any gap. They can run stunts to help free him up. There is now a lot of options for where Clay can come from.

It puts their best defensive player in the best spot to make an impact on every play.

I love this move that they made.

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Tundraboy's picture

November 11, 2014 at 06:02 pm

I am still besides my self with excitement after the Bear's game, I have always felt how can we win with a soft middle? Can any team without a fast, mean enforcer type. I thought like safety last year it would be forever before they addressed this and would have to wait until they drafted someone, let Hawk go before I would see someone able to run sideline to sideline, really hit someone, etc etc, Now it actually looks like a Packer type defense again.

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Lphill's picture

November 12, 2014 at 07:08 am

Hawk does his job, when he played with Desmond bishop he had better games , when he gets a decent partner you will hear more from him , you need to understand his responsibilities on the field before you knock him .

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