Film study: Matthews’ linebacker strengths

Casey Matthews might not be an all-around linebacker, but he does bring some specific skills to the position that should translate well to the Vikings. We look at some of the key plays he made last year with the All-22 film.

The Minnesota Vikings’ depth at the linebacker was tested last year after multiple players suffered injuries at that position. Then the Vikings chose to not re-sign their starting middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley, to another deal this offseason.

The departure of Brinkley left a hole that needed to be filled at middle linebacker, and there is also a need to add depth to the roster. In order to help with those needs, the Vikings signed free agent linebacker Casey Matthews.

Matthews was drafted in 2011 by the Philadelphia Eagles, where they predominantly ran a 3-4 defensive scheme. Now, in 2015, he will be playing for the Vikings, who predominantly run a 4-3 defensive scheme. It will be interesting to see how he is able to transfer his skill set over into the new defensive scheme.

Matthews has never been an every-down type of player in the NFL and until last year he never started in more than three games in a single season. But in 2014 he started in 11 games. Even though he started 11 games for the Eagles, he still played in just 440 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Viking Update took a look at the good and the bad of Casey Matthews from 2014 in order to see what the Vikings got in their new linebacker.

Play No. 1
In this first play, Matthews (50) is playing as one of the two inside linebackers and is staying back to either drop into coverage or plug up a hole in run defense. The other inside linebacker then blitzes in from Matthews’ left.

The Carolina Panthers run the ball away from the blitzing linebacker and it is Matthews’ responsibility to plug the hole and make a stop. He is able to do just that as he steps into the hole the offensive line creates, avoids the fullback as he falls to the ground, and wraps up the ball carrier.

Not only that, but Matthews places a good, hard hit with his shoulder pad right on the ball is able to knock it loose. The Eagles are able to fall on the ball and swing the momentum in their favor.

So not only is Matthews able to perform his duty in run defense, but he is also able to create a turnover at the same time. Creating turnovers is always important for the defense to be able to do, so adding players that have proven they are able to create turnovers should ultimately help out the Vikings.

Play No. 2
In this next play, Matthews is once again lined up as an inside linebacker. On this play he is responsible for covering the Panthers tight end Greg Olson. Olson is known as one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL, so it is usually difficult for linebackers to cover him one on one.

Once the ball is snapped, Olson runs a pretty simple go route up the middle of the field and runs right by Matthews. The linebacker clearly did not have the type of speed needed to keep up with Olson and ended up getting beaten for a 38-yard completion.

Much like Brinkley, coverage is not one of Matthews’ strong suites. He lacks a bit of the speed needed to cover faster players, so if Matthews does become the Vikings’ starting middle linebacker it is likely that he will come off the field in nickel and dime formations.

Play No. 3
In this play, the Eagles are playing against the division rival Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles have a 23-7 lead in the third quarter, but the Cowboys are in the red zone looking to make it a nine-point game.

It is third-and-2 and Tony Romo drops back to pass. Matthews blitzes and draws the left tackle trying to block him. Because of the tackle blocking him, Matthews is not able to wrap up Romo, but he is able to use his strength to push the tackle into the quarterback. That causes Romo to go down.

Matthews is then able to get a hand on the quarterback while he is on the ground and is credited with a sack. The linebacker was able to show off his strength on this play, and also his ability to get around the edge and under an offensive lineman that is trying to block him.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is not afraid to pressure an opposing quarterback, so having a defender who is able to rush the passer is always a plus. Having the ability to get to the quarterback could also be a deciding factor when Zimmer is naming a starting middle linebacker.

Play No. 4
This next play once again demonstrates Matthews’ ability to rush the passer. He begins off the line, but once the ball is snapped he rushes in at full speed. San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore originally fills the hole Matthews is blitzing through, but the linebacker is able to get around the block.

Instead of taking a sharp angle to the quarterback, Matthews takes more of a rounded path to him. This may take a little extra time, but he realizes that Colin Kaepernick is a mobile quarterback and has the ability to run around him if he took a sharp angle. By taking a more rounded angle, Matthews is able to force Kaepernick to step up where there are other Eagles defenders present to help out.

Once Kaepernick steps up, Matthews closes in and is credited with half a sack. A lot of time you will see players take a more direct route to the quarterback when rushing the passer, but that can sometimes lead to the quarterback escaping the pocket. By holding his contain, Matthews did not get a whole sack but a half sack instead. But he was also able to keep Kaepernick from making a big play, with Matthews being the playmaker on that snap.

Play No. 5
This next play might not seem like a big play, but it showcases a couple things about Matthews that are worth pointing out. He is playing inside linebacker and once the ball is snapped he drops back into a shallow zone in the middle of the field.

The intended receiver runs behind him to a deeper part of the field, and once the ball is thrown Matthews turns and runs to the play. The game was already pretty much out of hand at this point and there are players who would have just let the play go and have their teammates take care of it.

But Matthews instead pursued the play and got rewarded for it. His teammates were able to force a fumble and Matthews was able to secure it. Matthews corralled the ball and then had the awareness to realize no opponents were near him, advancing it a couple extra yards.

If it were a tight game, those extra yards could have really helped the Eagles. Even though the game was getting out of hand at this point in time, Matthews showed a few key characteristics about his game in this play that could make a difference for his team in a tightly contested contest.

Matthews is by no means a lock to get the starting middle linebacker position. Right now, he will likely have to compete with Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and anyone the Vikings draft to earn the starting role.

Matthews may not be the fastest, strongest or most gifted athlete out on the field, but he is a hard-working player. It is the effort that he puts forward during every play that allows him to make an impact for his team, and he will likely bring that same kind of effort to the Vikings.

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