The reality, however, goes beyond the stat sheet, the Green Bay Packers’ coaching staff contends.
According to the league’s gameday stats, Matthews was held without a tackle in the Packers’ 27-24 victory over the Dolphins. That’s happened only twice in his career — Nov. 4, 2012, against Arizona, a game in which he exited with a hamstring injury after 35 plays, and Jan. 3, 2010, at Arizona, a game in which he made a big impact three quarterback hits.
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“I’m very comfortable with the way Clay’s playing,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I mean, his grades are consistent. Production doesn’t always reflect the performance as far as the way we grade them.”
McCarthy is right about how a stat sheet can lie. Last Thursday, when Green Bay crushed Minnesota, Matthews was credited with only one solo tackle. However, he provided constant pressure and was credited with three quarterback hits by the coaches. The week before at Chicago, Matthews was credited with only one assisted tackle. However, he had a huge interception.
Against the Dolphins, however, Matthews was unusually silent until the final drive. On the first play, with his pass rush stoned by rookie right tackle Ja’wuan James, Matthews leaped to bat down a pass. Later in the drive, on a key second down, Matthews raced untouched into the backfield and tripped quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he was attempting to pass. That’s the only time he got close to adding to his meager season sack total of one.
“Clay’s been playing good football,” defensive coordinator Dom 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 (Matthews’ season sacks total) because, I think, sometimes they come and they come all at once. I think we’ve been getting pretty balanced production out of our outside guys. You’ve seen Julius (Peppers) show up and make plays each week, Clay makes two or three plays each week. I think when it’s all said and done, Clay will be close to what he has been statistically.”
By this point in the season, Matthews generally has been on his way to a Pro Bowl season. As a rookie in 2009, even though he didn’t start the first three games, he had three sacks through six games. In 2010, he had a stunning 8.5 sacks in five games (he was sidelined for the sixth game). In 2011, when Matthews had a career-low six sacks, he had two through six games. In 2012, Matthews piled up eight sacks in the first six games. Last season, he had three sacks in the first four games (then missed the next four with a broken thumb).
This season, he’s got the one sack and, by the coaches’ count, five quarterback hits. According to ProFootballFocus.com, of the 48 3-4 outside linebackers who have played 25 percent of the snaps this season, Matthews ranks 24th in its “pass rushing productivity” metric, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. He ranked 21st out of 41 in 2013, fourth out of 32 in 2012, eighth out of 31 in 2011, sixth out of 35 in 2010 and ninth out of 28 in 2009.
Capers credited Matthews for his play on the goal-line stand. However, a review of that sequence showed Matthews’ only involvement was piling on Knowshon Moreno to make sure he couldn’t get to the end zone on the fourth-down play.
Ultimately, it’s a team sport. Green Bay has allowed 130 points in the first six games — but just 70 in the last four. Green Bay yielded 127 in the first six games of 2013, 135 in 2012, 114 in 2011, 112 in 2010 and 96 in 2009.
“Clay’s a big-time player,” McCarthy said. “Production will come. And I think history will show you it usually comes in chunks.”
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