Packers Annual Checkup: LB Clay Matthews

Today is the 30th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Wednesday, Feb. 27: S Jerron McMillian
Thursday, Feb. 28: OLB Dezman Moses
Friday, March 1: DE Mike Neal
Saturday, March 2: WR Jordy Nelson

Sunday, March 3: OT Marshall Newhouse
Monday, March 4: OLB Nick Perry


Season stats: 14 games (12 regular season, two postseason); 52 tackles, two missed tackles, 16 sacks, three passes defensed, zero interceptions, two forced fumbles, four penalties committed

Best game: Week 2 win over Chicago (3.5 sacks, six stops, seven tackles, zero missed tackles, one pass defensed; played 60 of 63 snaps; 4.7 PFF rating)

Worst game: Week 17 loss at Minnesota (one sack, two stops, three tackles, one missed tackle; played 66 of 71 snaps; minus-0.7 PFF rating) season rating: 23.7 (best on Packers defense; best among all NFL 3-4 outside linebackers)

Expectations at the start of the season: High

Expectations were … Exceeded

Looking live: Going into the 2012 season, there was no question Matthews was the Packers’ best defensive player. The problem was that Green Bay’s defense as a group gave up a ton of yards in 2011. That, along with his career-low six sacks, clouded the fact that Matthews actually had a pretty good 2011 season. But, with the Packers drafting all defensive players with their first six picks in 2012, Matthews was given some much-needed help. Though Matthews can’t do it all on his own, Green Bay’s defense can only go as far as he takes them. Matthews got off to a great start this past season but suffered a hamstring injury in Week 9 that kept him sidelined for the next four games. When Matthews was healthy, he played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps, usually only leaving the field to quickly rest for a play or two. The Packers won three of the four games while Matthews was recovering, but that one loss was against a New York Giants team that scored 38 points and absolutely dominated Green Bay.

Upon further review: This was the best season in Matthews’ four-year NFL career. His 13 regular-season sacks fell just shy of his 2010 mark (13.5), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In addition to being the league’s top-rated pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker (by, he was also ranked sixth-best in stopping the run. It was Matthews’ sacks that gave him the brightest spotlight to dance and celebrate, but he was also an elite run stopper this past season. Matthews’ presence on the field forced opposing offenses to be conscious of his location on every play. A running play outside the tackle in Matthews’ direction rarely resulted in a positive gain for the back. Matthews was just as good stopping the run when the offense tried to go away from him, which demonstrates just how hopeless that task was at times for opposing teams. It didn’t matter if he was being blocked by a tight end or an offensive tackle, Matthews got by them with great frequency to make a play — as proven by his 40 stops (sixth-best among NFL 3-4 outside linebackers). And, when Matthews got his hands on a runner in 2012, he missed the tackle only twice. The five outside linebackers who had more stops than Matthews all had more missed tackles. Of course, Matthews’ pass-rushing skills are never overshadowed. When he wasn’t being double-teamed as often early in the season, he racked up six sacks in two games (matching his entire 2011 sack total). When Matthews was double-teamed, he still made several plays. But, just as important was that his being double-teamed opened up opportunities for teammates to make plays. If the Packers had more defensive playmakers, Matthews would be even more effective.

Overall 2012 grade: A-minus

Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being one of the Packers’ starting outside linebackers next season. In 2013, Matthews is going to need more help on defense. Casey Hayward was a playmaker in the secondary this past season, but Matthews would really benefit from having a strong tag-team partner in the front seven. Clearly, Green Bay is hoping that player is 2012 first-round draft pick Nick Perry. Whether it’s Perry, Dezman Moses, Erik Walden or another outside linebacker not currently on the Packers’ roster, that player needs to perform at a high level so Matthews can have more freedom to operate in one-on-one situations. Matthews is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2013 season, but he is obviously one of the top priorities for Green Bay’s front office to get re-signed as soon as possible.

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