You may not have known it from casually watching the game or reading the stat sheet, but Clay Matthews III (CM3) was the focal point of the Super Bowl. When Matthews was on the field, both the Steelers’ and the Packers’ strategies revolved directly around Clay Matthews.
As I went back and watched the TV broadcast for the first time (I had only seen the game live previously), I decided to focus in on Matthews. All the post game talk had been about how Matthews was used by the Packers, but I was also curious about what the Steelers did to counteract the potential descriptiveness of Matthews.
I’ll discuss the Steelers’ strategy and then move on to Dom Capers evil plan for CM3. But first, here’s a tally of what Matthews did on each play.
Matthews Tracking Summary:
16: Running plays AT CM3
4: Running plays AWAY FROM CM3
23: Controlled Blitzes: (comes and then pulls up – making sure Roethlisberger didn’t have an escape route to his side)
10: Real Blitzes: (CM3 coming all out after the QB)
6: Drops in coverage
8: Plays “I Spy” with Roethlisberger.
The next time someone criticizes Clay Matthews for not having a sack or making any big plays in a game, remember this; one way or another, opposing teams must structure their entire game plan to account for Clay Matthews.
Some teams have taken the approach of double and triple teaming him and running their offense away from his side. The 49ers tried this, and I wrote about it in a previous Matthews Film Study of the San Francisco 49ers game.
Pittsburgh, as might be expected with Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau as their coaches, took the opposite approach. They decided to go right at him. Their plan was to run at him all day with good old fashioned power football. Tight ends, fullbacks, tackles, pulling guards, you name it, they ran them head on at Matthews all day.
On NFL Network’s Sound FX (around the 2:34 mark), Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson says to Issac Redman about Matthews, “He doesn’t want to take on the run. He’s a pass-rush specialist… We’re going to keep pounding their ass on this play and make this guy quit eventually.”
Well they certainly tried. But Matthews didn’t quit. He probably lost more battles in the run game than he won. But when the other team is structuring their offense just for you and they potentially change what’s gotten them to the Super Bowl in the first place, you’ve already won, in a way.
The Steelers ran at Matthews 16 times and only four times in the other direction. They also let him come hard and untouched at least 3-4 times and threw wide receiver screens over his head – letting Matthews own speed work against him. They ran minimal plays where Matthews could put his pursuit skills into play. They totally tried to break him down to where he was mostly using his weakest skills. When the Steelers did pass, the majority of the time there were two players looking out for Matthews. In many cases, they weren’t both needed, as Matthews wasn’t coming on many full-out rushes (more on that later)
Overall, the Steelers did a good job of neutralizing Matthews, and considering how much effort they put into doing so, they needed to. But did the Steelers pay too much attention to Matthews? By the third quarter, it seemed like the Steelers were coming back to the power running “well” a bit too often. The Packers knew when the play was coming. On a few first downs, the Packers put in a 4-man defensive front (Raji, Pickett, Green and C.J. Wilson). On at least two occasions, Ryan Pickett, just inside Matthews, completely busted up the play in the Steelers backfield as Flozell Adams was no match for him. This allowed Matthews to be involved in the tackle instead of being the “force” player. The Packers were having better success now against the Steelers running game.
The Steelers finally abandoned the run in the 4th quarter, (only one running play to a running back) as they tried to overtake the Packers on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger. Frankly, I think this is just want Dom Capers wanted.
Green Bay Packers
Most of the talk after the Super Bowl was about Clay Matthews being used as a “Spy” the whole game. Well hold on. There were only 8 plays where Matthews was playing the definitive role of spy. There were, however, 23 plays where Matthews was in his regular LOLB spot and just did not come hard at the quarterback. Matthews’ job on those plays was to seal off his side of the field and make sure Ben Roethlisberger could not escape to his favored right side.
The bottom line was this; Dom Capers wanted to force Ben Roethlisbeger to make plays from inside the pocket. Capers had enough confidence in his secondary to let Ben get his passes off, as long as Ben was not able to extend plays with his feet, forcing the secondary to cover for a longer period of time.
Matthews was also used as a decoy when the Packers were blitzing a cornerback (either Woodson or later Jarret Bush). Matthew’s job on those plays was to cause confusion and eat up blockers inside, so the CB would have an open lane. This worked very well and resulted in several hurried throws by Roethlisberger.
Of the eight plays where Matthews played a true “Spy” position, one stands out. The Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger, by Frank Zombo, came about because Roethlisberger couldn’t find a receiver, brought the ball in and wanted to run forward, but couldn’t because Matthews was waiting for him. Instead, Ben turns to the right while Zombo does an inside spin on Flozell Adams and boom, they meet head on for a Zombo sack. (see video below…)
This is yet another example of the mad genius, Dom Capers, being able to devise an unexpected game plan thanks to the Packers’ new-found 2010 ability to actually cover people in the secondary. In this case, he is able to take his most dynamic player, and use him to limit what the opposing quarterback can do all game, rather than the feast-or-famine strategy of being a disruptor. In effect, the Packers were able to limit Roethlisberger’s options, force him into situations favoring the Packers and then execute well to make enough plays to win the game.
Clay Matthews Play-by-Play
1) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Controlled blitz. Steeler throw quick WR screen to his side, hoping Clay gets caught in the pass rush. CM3 reads the play quickly, however and gets out there to make the tackle.
2) 2nd and 6. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Rush responsibility. Steelers run to the other side. Zombo with the tackle for 4 yd loss.
3) 3rd and 10. Unusual formation with Clay and Hawk both as inside backers. Zombo takes CM3’s usual spot and rushes. Both Hawk and Matthews stay put after the snap, like they’re looking for a pass to a running back or double-spying Big Ben.
4) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. CM3 gets buried under a pulling Steelers guard. Mendenhall for a big gain.
5) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Tight end comes in motion and lines up across from him. CM3 engages with the tight end. Steelers run the same play.
6) 2nd and 6 after a false start penalty. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Another WR screen to Matthew’s side.
7) 3rd and 2. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Packers have the beef in (4DL). Steelers go pass and Matthews drops back into coverage.
8) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Drops in coverage and has the tight end man to man. On the opposite sideline, Collins intercepts the Roethlisberger wounded duck and takes it to the house.
9) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Cm3 staying at home, Steelers run inside.
10) 2nd and 6. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Cm3 staying at home, Steelers run just inside him. Cm3 blocked well by a Steelers TE.
11) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. WR screen to the other side, nothing for CM3 to do. Steelers penalized for illegal block.
12) 1st and 16. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Packers finally bring a blitz, with Woodson coming off the slot receiver, Hawk coming inside of Woodson and CM3 taking an inside position to try to draw blockers away from Woodson and Hawk. Raji at right DE on this play. Steelers pick it all up and Ben dumps off to Mendenhall.
13) 2nd and nine. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Drops into coverage.
14) 3rd and 9. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Drops into coverage, Hawk blitzes. Roethlisberger avoids the rush picks up 18 as there’s nobody in the middle of the field to stop him.
15) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Playing inside run support. Blocked well by Heath Miller. Woodson with the great open field tackle on the outside for a 2yd loss.
16) On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Rushes the passer but pulls up and holds his position. Obviously not a full out rush attempt, more of a gap control positional rush.
17) 3rd and 12. Lines up in the middle with Hawk, same as play #3. Holds his position for 2 seconds, then comes on a delayed blitz, but too late.
18) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Takes an inside rush to occupy blockers as Charlie Peprah comes on a blitz. Steelers RB picks up Peprah, Matthews holds his ground and chases Roethlisberger down as Ben has to run to avoid BJ Raji, who gets blatantly pulled down from behind.
19) 2nd and 8. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Straight up on Heath Miller. Seems to know it’s going to be a run and aggressively goes after Miller, knocking him back and disrupting the whole play. First battle he”s won with a Steelers TE.
20) 3rd and 7. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Comes on another controlled blitz. Double team is waiting for him. Packers hold Pitt to a field goal.
21) 1st and 1o. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Steelers overloaded to his side. CM3 knows they’re coming at him. Goes aggressively at Miller again, standing him up and causing Miller to hold him. Matthews is starting to win that battle now.
22) On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Rushes and is stood up immediately by Flozell Adams. Controlled blitz or is Adams just stonewalling him? Being that Matthews doesn’t keep coming hard, has to be that he’s just playing outside gap control.
23) 2nd and 4. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Has inside gap responsibility as the Packers try to bring Woodson on a very sneaky blitz. Steelers run to the other side. Matthews would have made the tackle as the RB cuts back, but he was being held by Steelers TE Matt Spaeth, who immediately puts his hands up in his best soccer-style “not me” gesture.
24) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Fakes a rush and then drops back into coverage. Roethlisberger again escapes up the middle as Hawk blitzed and there was nobody behind him.
25) 2nd and 5. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. His job is once again to occupy blockers as the Packers blitz Woodson outside of him. Steelers run to the other side and both CM3 and Woodson pursue and are in on the tackle.
26) 3rd and 6. Matthews is a sole inside linebacker. Standing over the center and just holds his ground, watching Ben. First real evidence of Matthews playing “spy” by himself.
27) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Steelers go back to the run seen on play #4. This time, Matthews go aggressively at the pulling guard and in effect, blows up the play. Tackle made by Bishop.
28) 2nd and 11. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Coming on an all out blitz. Pickett goes outside, CM3 loops inside. Roethlisberger gets it off in time, but Jarret Bush recognizes where he’s going, jumps the route and picks off the pass.
29) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Comes on another controlled blitz. Randel El pulls in a 37 yard completion. Shields goes off with an injury.
30) 1st and 10. Matthews is a sole inside linebacker. Standing over the center. Matthews holds his ground. Spy duty without a doubt. Woodson injured on the loing pass attempt to Wallace and the Packers wisely call time out to check him. Woodson stays in.
31) 2nd and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Cm3 comes all-out on an outside blitz. Jarret Bush blitzes inside of him, Hawks tips the pass and almost catches it in the air. Woodson wisely leaves the field.
32) 3rd and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Packers position Desmond Bishop right outside of Matthews, first time for that. Bishop picks up the tight end and Matthews does an inside stunt and comes on the blitz. He’s picked up and Hines Ward comes up with a huge first down catch for the Steelers. Raji plasters Roethlisberger as he gets the pass off.
33) 1st and 10. Matthews is a sole inside linebacker. Standing over the center. Matthews holds his ground. Has spy duty and then puts on a late quick burst at Roethlisberger. One yard completion.
34) On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Fakes the controlled blitz and loops around Pickett, but ends up in heavy traffic again. Another completion to Ward.
35) 1st and goal: On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews plays outside gap control again, making sure Ben doesn’t take off outside. Jarret Bush once again shows why he is only effective when the play is in front of him, as he’s seen flailing his arms looking for the ball as Hines Ward gets behind him for a TD. 21-10 Packers
7th series (2nd half)
36) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Straight up with Matt Spaeth who keeps Matthew under control. Mendenhall has nothing up the middle so he pops it outside Spaeth’s block and picks up 17 yards and crashes into a cameraman on the sideline.
37) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Straight up with Heath Miller. Matthews stands up and is engaged with Miller, when the Steelers pulling guard Chris Kemoeatu comes around and plows into Matthews, flattening him. Redman picks up 3 yds.
38) 2nd and 7. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews Jarret Bush blitzes outside of Matthews, and Matthews has only Heath Miller blocking him, so he figures this is his chance to take a shot at Ben. He beats Miller inside, but Roethlisberger steps up between Bush and Matthews and heads for the right sideline. With Matthews over-committed outside, there is no contain for Big Ben and he picks up 6 yards before Charlie Peprah comes up to bump him out-of-bounds.
39) 3rd and 1. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Packers have 4 DL in, Steelers run to the other side, Matthews comes around the edge hoping to make a play from behind, but Redman breaks it off around the other end and takes advantage of a Nick Collins inside over-commit to pick up 16 yards.
40) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Straight up with Heath Miller. Matthews stands up and is engaged with Miller. Steelers pull Kemoeatu again. Mendenhall follows him into the hole for a power 8-yard touchdown run. 21-17 Packers.
41) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Straight up with Matt Spaeth. Steelers come back to the same power run with Kemoeatu pulling towards Matthews again. But anticipating this, Capers has gone to the 4 DL alignment. Ryan Pickett, just inside of Matthews, gets penetration and meets Kemoeatu head on, while Raji and Green plug up the middle.
42) 2nd and 9. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. The Steelers let Matthews come untouched and throw a quick wide receiver screen over his head to Mike Wallace.
43) 3rd and 1. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage, even with the RT. Steelers have 3 tight ends to his side. Surprisingly, the Packers have only 2 DL in, but Matthews and Raji plug up the middle and Moore has nowhere to go. He manages to escape and bounce off to the outside, however, where there is no contain.
44) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. He is unblocked, and Steelers show the power run again, with Kemoeatu pulling towards Matthews. But it’s play action, which Matthews recognizes and wheels to run with Mendenhall, who is heading for the right sideline. The Steelers had been setting up this play all game, as off of play action they take a deep shot to Mike Wallace coming across the field. The ball appears to be overthrown, but Big Ben is seen making a disgusted motion towards Wallace, as if he was not where Roethlisberger expected him to be. Seemed to me that Wallace may have made his cut too soon.
45) On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews is coming this time, but slips trying to get around Flozell Adams, who then pushes him down and holds him there. Ward with a catch over the middle for a first down.
46) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews is untouched, and Steelers appear to be running to the opposite side. But Heinz Ward is going the opposite way and runs by Matthews. Matthews recognizes the fake and breaks towards Roethlisberger instead. Matthews jumps and blocks the pass, almost catching it out of the air.
47) 2nd and 10. Matthews is a sole inside linebacker. Standing directly over the center. Matthews in full spy mode. Watching Ben while mildly engaging with the Steeler’s center to keep him from helping out on anyone else. Packers get good pressure with a 3-man rush and Ben dumps off to Heath Miller and Bishop takes him down for a 2 yard loss.
48) 3rd and 13. Matthews is a sole inside linebacker. Standing directly over the center. Matthews spying again. As Joe Buck says “Packers do not yet have a sack of Roethlisberger in this game, Frank Zombo, part of the Packers 3-man rush brings Ben down. Roethlisberger has nowhere to throw, wants to run up the middle but can’t because Matthews is waiting for him, and that lets Zombo record the sack. Huge play. Steelers are forced to try a 52-yard field goal and miss .
49) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Square with Spaeth, who he pushes backwards, forcing Mendenhall to run around him. Hawk fills the hole,
50) 2nd and 6. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Steelers run another variation off of their power run at Matthews. They invite Matthews in, Kemoeatu pulls again, but there isn’t even a fake handoff this time, they just throw a quick pass over Matthews’ head to Mike Wallace.
51) 3rd and 2. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews with the controlled blitz on Adams, just maintaining position. Roethlisberger throws high to Mike Wallace, who can’t make the catch and then gets plastered by Tramon Williams.
52) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Steelers have yet another TE, David Johnson, in the backfield lead blocking for Mendenhall. While Matthews in engaged with another player, Johnson blocks him to the inside and Mendenhall bounces off the block for an 8 yard gain.
53) 2nd and 2. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Packers bring their big four in. Steelers try the same play with Johnson in the backfield. With Pickett getting penetration once again, Johnson can’t get to Matthews, who smack Mendenhall and causes the fumble that changed the course of the game.
54) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews with the controlled blitz, quick pass completed to tight end Matt Spaith.
55) 2nd and 1. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews with the controlled blitz. Steelers looking to take a shot down field but settles for Wallace on a short crossing route in front of Hawk and Zombo.
56) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews comes on a true blitz. Takes Flozell’s outside shoulder. He slips, but crossing behind him was Jarret Bush who gets to Roethlisberger untouched, forcing him to hurry his throw and then also puts a hit on him.
57) 2nd and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Squared up with Heath Miller. Steelers show run block, but throw a quick WR screen to Mathews’ side. 14yds and a 1st down.
58) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews is double-teamed by Heath Miller and Flozell Adams. Jenkins gets pressure up the middle flushing Roethlisberger out towards Matthews. Jenkins gets taken down from behind, drawing a penalty. Buck and Aikman both think it’s on Adams holding Matthews, which it was not.
59) 1st and 20. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews spars with Miller while Steelers throw a wide receiver screen to the other side.
60) 2nd and 18. Matthews is a sole inside linebacker. Standing directly over the center. Matthews spying again. Hawk also spying Mendenhall and Bush misses a coverage. The result is a wide-open Hines Ward in front of the Packers safeties. 15 yard completion.
61) 3rd and 3. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews comes on a true blitz. Again slips trying to circle Flozell Adams.
62) 2-point conversion. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Double-teamed by Adams and Miller. Steelers run option play to the other side. 28-25 Packers
11th series: (2 minutes left in the game)
63) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews with the controlled blitz as part of a 3 man rush. 15 yard completion to Miller.
64) 1st and 10. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews with the controlled blitz opening a hole for Hawk and Bush to blitz inside of him. Hawk almosts blocks the pass, which is complete to Hines Ward for 5 yards.
65) 2nd and 5. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews drops into coverage, as Zombo, Hawk and Bush all blitz from the right side. Hawk just misses Big Ben, who has to throw the ball away. This is the play where Mike Wallace had his hands up, wondering of what the play call was.
66) 3rd and 5. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. Matthews with the controlled blitz. Packers bring 4, all with good lane discipline. Plus, Hawk is spying this time. No holes for Ben to escape out of. Roethlisberger throws deep and incomplete as there was no Steelers receiver there. More mis-communication?
67) 4th and 5. On the left edge, standing on line of scrimmage. More Steelers confusion. Ben talking to his 3 receivers after the huddle. Then has to re-position Randel El. Matthews rushes under control again, just holding his position. Tramon on the pass brake up.
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.