With One Sack, What's Wrong With Matthews?

The answer? Nothing, with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene among the coaches who say he's playing better than ever. His play against the run has been outstanding, and while facing a steady stream of double-team blocks, he's still putting the hurt on quarterbacks.

By this point last season, Clay Matthews had six sacks on the strength of back-to-back three-sack games to start the year.

This year, Matthews has just one sack while facing not exactly a who's-who list of right tackles: Saints journeyman Zach Strief, undrafted Panthers rookie Byron Bell and Bears fill-in Frank Omiyale.

So, what's wrong with Matthews?

Nothing, the Green Bay Packers' coaches insist.

"I've told Clay this: Clay's playing as good of football as he's played for us," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday, about 50 hours before the Packers host the Denver Broncos. "Any time you become a marked man, you're going to get a lot of attention."

Matthews had 13.5 sacks in 15 regular-season games last season and added 3.5 more during the Packers' four-game run to the Super Bowl. He was named first-team All-Pro and finished second in balloting for Defensive Player of the Year.

This year, however, Matthews mostly has been kept at bay, with his only sack coming when he chased Cam Newton out of bounds for a 0-yard play. However, Matthews has recorded 14 quarterback hits — just one fewer than at this point last season.

"Sacks are very misleading," Matthews said. "I thought that this last game was one of my most complete games in a Packers uniform yet I came up with zero sacks. I'm doing my job, which is to put pressure on the quarterback, there's no doubt about that. They'll come, and I'll be here when they're ready to come my way."

Matthews set the tone on the first play last week when he dropped Bears running back Matt Forte for a 1-yard loss. That was one of three tackles of losses for Matthews, showcasing his growing ability to impact the game mentally as much as physically.

Matthews faces a double team against Chicago.
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
"His vision is so much better and he's more of a student of the game now than he's ever been," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene told Packer Report on Friday. "He watches film, he knows what personnel groupings mean, he has formation recognition and he knows the percentages and he knows the odds of a specific play being run based on who's in the game and how they've lined up at the line of scrimmage. Because he has all of this already in his computer, he sees it and recognizes it and plays to what he's seen on film. You saw direct examples of that in the Chicago game. He played specifically to those counter plays to him. He knew the play was coming based on film study, based on what he saw on the field, and he played specifically to that play."

Greene said the vision Matthews has shown takes most linebackers six or eight years to gain.

"I just think the more maturing within the system, the more I'm learning things out there," Matthews said. "That really comes with my film work and study and what I'm able to do off the field gets me ready for the game. I know when plays are coming before they're even coming just because of what I'm able to put in the classroom and film work. Really I think it's about taking my game to the next level by mentally preparing myself and I believe that's what I'm doing.

That said, Matthews is regarded as one of the game's dominant forces because of his ability to put the quarterback on his butt. And through three games, that hasn't happened with regularity. A big reason for that is Matthews "very rarely" faces one-on-one blocks, Greene said. Against Chicago, for instance, Capers almost exclusively used three-man rushes on third down because the Bears faced third-and-9 or longer on nine of their 12 third downs. That leaves five offensive linemen facing three pass rushers.

"In essence, they're going to have two guys to double each guy and leave one free with a one-on-one and usually it's not me," Matthews said with a laugh.

With the Packers ranking fourth in the league with 10 sacks and Jarius Wynn tied for seventh with three sacks, Capers is content with his pass rush. Adding to that comfort is his belief that Matthews eventually will make the quarterback feel his wrath.

"You've just got to stay consistent," Matthews said. "Pass rushers that are effective are relentless from the first quarter through the last play of the fourth quarter, and that's when you come up big, figuring they're going to slip up at least once and you're going to get home and hopefully put a demoralizing hit on the quarterback."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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