Packers Annual Checkup: Clay Matthews
FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig gives an in-depth statistical analysis and film study of every Packers player in his annual offseason checkup. Check every weekday through mid-April for his latest report.
Clay Matthews, outside linebacker
Season stats: 11 games (571 snaps; 50.8 percent of total defensive snaps); 41 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hurries, four tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, seven missed tackles, zero interceptions, one pass defensed, 26 stops (solo tackles that resulted in offensive failure); targeted eight times in coverage, allowing five receptions for 67 yards, zero touchdowns
ProFootballFocus.com season rating: 1.2 (ranked No. 5 out of 26 on Packers defense; ranked No. 23 out of 42 qualified NFL 3-4 outside linebackers)
Best game: Week 12 tie vs. Minnesota (played 68 of 81 defensive snaps; four tackles, two sacks, two QB hurries, two missed tackles, three stops; 1.6 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 10 loss vs. Philadelphia (played 40 of 62 defensive snaps; two tackles, zero sacks, zero QB hurries, one stop; minus-3.4 PFF rating)
Expectations at the start of the season: High
Expectations were … Not met
Looking live: Clay Matthews enjoyed a very personally rewarding offseason a year ago, signing a five-year contract extension worth $66 million. That large amount of money was enough to make him the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker. Expectations were always high for Matthews, but the Packers were paying him to not just continue at his past level of production but to get even better. With Matthews only 27 years old at the time and with 42.5 sacks already to his credit in four seasons, general manager Ted Thompson and his staff had to hope that those weren’t going to be the star outside linebacker’s best years. Matthews was ranked No. 2 on FOX Sports Wisconsin’s pre-training camp list of "Most Important Packers in 2013," as he was going to be critically important to the success of Green Bay’s defense and clearly had the talent to make a major impact if he stayed healthy. A player of Matthews’ status (with four Pro Bowl selections and twice being named a first-team All Pro) isn’t going to be judged by his training camp or preseason performance nearly in the same way that young, unproven players are going to be, but it’s interesting to look back and realize that he barely registered any mentions throughout July and August. He practiced each day, but Matthews did very little of note.
Upon further review: Injuries have been a theme throughout Matthews’ career, with that trend heading in the wrong direction already when he missed four full games in 2012 (before signing the extension). Hamstring issues have typically been the main cause for concern, but the 2013 season added another problem, one that’s potentially even more troublesome to Matthews. He suffered a Bennett’s fracture to his right thumb in Week 5 and missed the next four games after undergoing surgery. Upon returning, Matthews had a giant club over his right hand and was completely useless while wearing it in a Week 10 loss to Philadelphia. Matthews soon got down to a small cast and was able to put together a few strong performances in a row. However, in Week 16, Matthews broke the same thumb again and missed the remainder of the season (including Green Bay’s playoff loss to San Francisco). It’s impressive that Matthews recorded 7.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries in such relatively limited opportunities (284 pass-rushing snaps), especially considering that he was often double-teamed — and even triple-teamed on occasion — and that he spent the majority of his season in some type of cast over his right thumb. He also tied a career-high with three forced fumbles. Matthews set high standards for himself based on previous seasons’ play, and, by that measure, 2013 was disappointing for him. But he still did a lot of good things and came back from the initial broken thumb sooner than most players would because he wanted to contribute.
Overall 2013 grade: B
Status for 2014: One-hundred percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster to begin the 2014 season. It’s unclear exactly what the future holds for Matthews in terms of his production. He’s going to have to test his thumb extensively, but it’s possible that the multiple injuries to the same area (a Bennett’s fracture is worse than a typical thumb injury) could result in some lost strength. For someone who uses his hands to get around offensive tackles like Matthews does, that would be a huge setback. There’s also still going to be lingering concerns about his hamstrings. The next time that Matthews makes it through an entire season will be the first time since his rookie year. At this point, it’s unrealistic to expect that he will be able to stay completely healthy, though. If Nick Perry can quickly develop or if Green Bay can add another top-notch pass rusher, that would sure take a lot of pressure off of Matthews.
Next: Outside linebacker Andy Mulumba
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter