Matthews’ numbers don’t tell the truth
A dominating effort against the Minnesota Vikings has fueled the perception that Clay Matthews is back.
The fallacy with such thinking: He never really left.
Sure, Matthews hasn’t gotten to the quarterback nearly as often as expected for a preseason NFL Defensive Player of the Year favorite. The two sacks Matthews notched Monday night against Vikings rookie Christian Ponder almost doubled his season total through the first eight games. This lack of production was compounded by disappointing overall play by Green Bay’s pass defense, which is the only knock on the undefeated Packers (9-0) entering their home game against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Yet if you ask Matthews, he is enjoying the finest overall season of his three-year NFL career. That belief is backed by Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene. He mentions Matthews in the same breath as Hall of Fame pass rushers Andre Tippett, Rickey Jackson and arguably the most dominant outside linebacker of all time — Lawrence Taylor.
“He’s been playing some fine football — and I would know,” said Greene, a potential future Hall of Famer after notching 160 sacks in 15 NFL seasons. “I look at all the outside ‘backers in history. This kid here, he’s a special one.”
So, where are the sacks?
Matthews and Greene know that’s what fans expect, especially after the former notched 17 of them on Green Bay’s run to winning Super Bowl XLV. Such heroics — combined with his trademark sack celebration and the distinguishing long blond hair that flows out of his helmet — helped Matthews land a slew of commercial endorsements this offseason.
While those advertisements have raised his public profile, they’ve elevated on-field expectations for the “Clay-maker” even higher.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” Matthews told FOXSports.com after practice Friday. “If you’re going to be putting yourself out there and having fun in regards to the media and television, you better make sure you’re handling your business on the field.
“That has been the case yet the fans want to see what each commercial entails: blowing (quarterbacks) up.”
The fact Green Bay’s overall pass defense has sometimes blown hot air — the group ranks 31st in the NFL in total yards allowed — has fostered even more scrutiny. That’s what made a 45-7 rout of the Vikings so important as far as taking some outside pressure off Matthews and the entire unit.
“We needed it,” Packers inside linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “The previous games, we didn’t play our best. People were talking about it. It started to slowly become a distraction.”
To his credit, Matthews never let those whispers affect his overall play or cause him to press and abandon his assignments in an attempt to generate more sacks.
“There’s so much more to my game and with the outside linebackers in this scheme,” said Matthews, who is credited with 28 tackles and five sacks. “Not only do you have to be able to rush the passer but play the run and drop into coverage man-to-man on a (running) back or cover a slot receiver vertically down the middle.”
How he is being deployed by defensive coordinator Dom Capers might also have tempered Matthews’ statistics. Matthews has played almost all his snaps at left outside linebacker rather than being moved around the field, which has made it easier for teams to customize their blocking schemes.
Not that a player of his caliber is ever going to slip through the cracks unnoticed.
“I’ve seen some good pass rushers get double-teamed and I’ve been the recipient of a couple, but I have never seen anything like the amount of attention this man is getting,” Greene said. “Teams are making a conscious effort to say, ‘It’s OK if we let this guy over here make a play or get a sack. But this No. 52, he cannot control this game.’
“When you put that much emphasis on somebody, you can really take an individual out of the game . . . That’s a burden he bears, but he bears it in an unselfish manner. He’s like, ‘Hey, I know I’m taking two (blockers). As long as I’m letting this guy over here have a one-on-one, he’s got a chance to win.’
As long as the Packers keep winning, Matthews is fine with whatever role he plays. Greene, though, said not to forget that Green Bay still has seven regular-season games remaining for Matthews to wreak havoc.
“I think when all is said and done, he’ll have another strong numbers year,” Green said.
That’s when things with Matthews in Green Bay will truly be back to normal.