With the Packers getting ready to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and Clay Matthews getting ready to battle cousin Jake Matthews, Clay will be lining up at inside linebacker for the fifth week.
Whatever concerns he had about the position change are ancient history.
“I’m having fun with it,” Matthews said on Friday.
The Packers have won four consecutive games since Matthews moved into a part-time role in the middle of the defense. Not coincidentally, the defense’s improvement has coincided with Matthews’ expanding roles. Green Bay has allowed 19.0 points per game during that span compared to 23.9 in the first eight games. The Packers have yielded 320 yards or less in three of the four games compared to only two of the first eight.
“I’m definitely more confident with what I’m capable of doing out there,” Matthews said. “Not only that, but knowing the position, as well. You have to understand we’re very much creatures of habit and like to be in a rhythm. When you shake that up, there’s uncertainty. That being said, I know what’s being asked of me now, I know what I’m capable of and I know what I’m going to see out there, kind of week in and week out. So I’m definitely more comfortable in that regard, and I like the end result, too. Ultimately, I don’t know where this thing is going, but as long as we’re making plays and winning games, there’s not much room to complain.”
Interestingly, linebackers coach Winston Moss downplayed Matthews’ comfort level. Matthews, he said, is so good that it doesn’t really matter.
“He doesn’t have to look comfortable,” he said. “I’m being serious. Clay has elite ability, he has elite instincts. When you give him rules and principles and techniques, he can go out there and line up and play it. He is exceptional from that standpoint. From a classroom environment to understanding what you’re saying and taking it on the field and having an understanding of his role, from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint, he’s elite in all of those areas.”
Matthews’ role flip-flopped last week. In the prior three games, he generally lined up at inside linebacker on first and second down before going back to his familiar spot at the line of scrimmage on passing downs. Against New England, however, he lined up at outside linebacker when the Packers used their base 3-4 defense, at inside linebacker in the nickel package and — in a new role — was the lone inside linebacker on the field in the six-defensive-back dime package. The result against New England was the Patriots being limited to 320 yards — their fewest since Week 4. Their 21 points was about 18 below what they had averaged during a seven-game winning streak.
“I think the combination of both things is exciting to him,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I think he likes it. It’s challenging to him. He probably knows a lot more about our defense than he did when he was just playing as a left or right outside linebacker.”
The move certainly hasn’t hurt his productivity. In his first eight games, his season-high tackle total was five, and he had 2.5 sacks. In the last four games, he’s averaging 6.3 tackles and has added 2.0 sacks.
“It adds to the versatility,” he said. “I will say it does require a lot more study in the classroom and mistakes made on the field during practice. I had a few today. But at the same time, I’m always learning, and I think that’s especially important. I hope that all this moving around and learning new positions really helps my overall football acumen at the end of the day. And it really has as far as knowing where people fit, why they’re fitting there and the help in which I have on the field. So, hopefully, it makes me a better player at the end of the day.
If nothing else, it’s getting him ready for a second career.
“If he keeps going,” Capers said, “he’ll be able to coach this defense probably.”email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.