Packers, Clay Matthews not discouraged by LB’s slow start

Clay Matthews has been a bit slow out of the gates in 2014, but the Packers coaches insist they're happy with his play so far.

Mike Dinovo/Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Clay Matthews believes there are things he does as a player that get lost in translation. Of course, the Green Bay Packers’ star outside linebacker knows he’s mostly judged based on sacks, tackles and other box-score statistics. And it’s those type of numbers that are lacking for Matthews this season.

With only one sack all year and coming off a game in which he had no tackles — along with zeros in nearly every other notable category, Matthews has received a lot of criticism for his recent play. However, none of that criticism is coming from within Lambeau Field headquarters.

"I’m very comfortable with the way Clay’s playing," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "His grades are consistent. Production doesn’t always reflect the performance as far as the way we grade them."

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers agreed with the positive endorsement of Matthews.

"Clay’s been playing good football," Capers said. "He’ll still have those two or three plays a game that he really affects the game. I don’t get too caught up in (the stats), because I think sometimes they come and they come all at once."

But amidst Matthews’ lack of mainstream statistical production, he points to the amount of times he’s influenced or put pressure on quarterbacks. And in that regard, he’s right. The data from ProFootballFocus has Matthews leading the Packers with 13 quarterback hurries and tied for the team lead in the QB hits category with five. Among NFL outside linebackers, Matthews ranks fourth in the league in hurries and 10th in hits.

"I don’t think you can put a number on how you influence an offense coming into each game and what they throw at you," Matthews said.

Part of the reason that Matthews is on pace for the fewest tackles and sacks on a per-game basis of his six-year career is because of — in his words — "the evolution of offenses."

"With so much of the zone-read, a kind of read-and-react type offense, it definitely slows down players like myself," Matthews said. "Sometimes you just have to play your role and fit within the scheme."

"That requires a little bit of patience of just kind of sitting there reading and reacting, which I know most of us on defense would rather just be turned loose and get after it," Matthews added.

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Still, Matthews is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, a 2010 first-team All-Pro and a 2012 second-team All-Pro. That led to him becoming the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker when he signed a five-year, $66 million extension in April 2013. Therefore, Matthews can’t be held to the same standards that most players are.

"I think what I’ve been able to do over the years and just me being me, there is high expectations," Matthews said. "Trust me, I feel those expectations, the ones that I put on myself. The media, they don’t need to add any more to the fire that I already have. You already have to be crazy enough to play this game, but using that in a positive manner.

"Sacks, tackles, whatever it is, I put a big emphasis on impacting games and we’ll continue to do everything I need to to impact those games and not just kind of play a role."

Matthews, McCarthy and Capers all subscribe to the theory that sacks come in bunches. In 2012, that just so happened to be at the start of the season when Matthews had six sacks in the first two games alone and added five more sacks in the final three games.

That somewhat explains why Matthews was still on the field in Week 5 after the Packers had a 42-point lead on the Minnesota Vikings. He felt like he was "in a good routine" and wanted "to stick out there." Based on the idea that one sack could start a trend, perhaps had Matthews been able to take down Christian Ponder in that final quarter it would’ve had a positive impact moving forward.

But that didn’t happen. Matthews failed to record a sack in that Vikings game and was unable to do any damage to Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill a week later.

"You just can’t get discouraged," Matthews said. "I think that’s the big thing. I want to make plays out there, don’t get me wrong. You just can’t get discouraged. Of course I’d love to have all the numbers that I’ve had in the past, and I think they will come throughout these next 10 games. I think at the end of the season it’ll just be one of those deals."

Matthews’ attitude and approach during this stretch have him at ease. He feels he has a solution that will eventually help him start picking up sacks again.

"Just keep being me," Matthews said. "Just keep being me and those plays will come to me."

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Don’t blame injuries for Matthews’ relative struggles. He insisted that neither the groin injury that bothered him heading into Week 3 nor the twice-broken thumb from last season have been an issue.

Maybe in less than three month’s time all of this will have been just a temporary situation for Matthews. That’s how his coaches feel.

"Clay’s a big-time player," McCarthy said. "Production will come."

Added Capers, "I think when it’s all said and done, Clay will be close to what he has been statistically."

But that sack production will need to start soon. His quarterback hurries are a positive for Green Bay’s defense, and it’s understandable why he feels opposing offenses are slowing him down with zone-read plays. Without a collection of sacks soon, though, the questions about his impact on the field won’t stop.

"I can always get better," Matthews said. "That goes without saying. Yeah, I can be better."

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