When the news came this off-season that the Packers would be moving Clay Matthews back to the right side, I did a little jig (ok, since I’m Italian, it was more of a tarantella).
Watching Matthews speed rush the passer from the left side the last year, there was something missing. The initial explosion was still there, but once engaging the right tackle, something strange was happening – usually one of two things. Either Matthews would get stood up and lose momentum, or lose his balance and end up on the ground. In either case, Matthews was easily handled and posed no threat to the quarterback.
Fast forward to this season and Matthews’ speed rush from the right side includes not only speed, but a violent punch, low pad-level and much better balance.
So is Matthews just a better speed rusher from the right side? Um, maybe…
In his rookie season, when Matthews played right outside linebacker, he recorded 10 sacks, despite not starting until game four. In 2010, the Packers’ Super Bowl Championship season, Matthews was moved to the left side and finished with 13 sacks in 17 games, with another four in the playoffs. As we all know, Matthews’ production fell off in 2011, with only six over the course of the season.
But what didn’t fall off was his quarterback hits and hurries. in fact, they increased over 2010. This happened despite the fact that Matthews was given more responsibility in other areas in 2011. He played more in coverage, had more run game responsibilty and even was asked to shadow or provide contain on some of the more mobile quarterbacks the Packers faced. When he did get to rush the passer, Matthews was still generating pressure, but he just wasn’t completing the final task of dis-engaging from the right tackle. He basically wasn’t winning enough one-on-ones.
Lets take a look at some videos from last season’s Packers – Giants playoff game. In this first video, you’ll see Matthews looking to execute an outside speed move, but he’s never able to get any kind of punch or get under the tackle. Instead, he’s easily forced wide at arms length, and ends up losing his balance and slipping to the ground.
In this video from that same game, you see that Matthews is too high, and also initially squares up with the tackle, making it easier for the tackle to keep Matthews away from his body. The result is that Matthews is easily forced to take a wide path to the quarterback and is easily kept away long enough.
Now let’s take a look at Matthews against the 49ers’ Joe Staley. Here you see Matthews show excellent pad level and balance, as well as the ability to get into the blockers’s body and shed him with a violent thrust. It all looks so much smoother and natural for Matthews.
Is it possible Matthews is just more comfortable from the right side? Of course it’s possible. From my limited football playing experience (OL/DL in High School), I can say that I was definitely a “right-sided” player. I could never seem to get much done in one-on-one drills when rushing from the left side.
We are, however, talking about professional athletes, here. For his part, Matthews has said on many occasions it makes no difference to him which side he rushes from, and I believe him. Certainly my theory would hold more water if Matthews hadn’t had so many sacks from the left side in 2010.
Some have suggested that perhaps Matthews’ renewed explosiveness is due to finally being completely healthy. The 2010 season again destroys that theory, as Matthews suffered from a variety of ailments that season, including a stress fracture in his leg and a hamstring injury.
Others will point out all the newly imported defensive help Matthews has been given, but that has little to do with one-on-one execution and performance..
So I’m sticking with my theory – as far as Matthews’ execution of the speed rush, anyway. Matthews just looks more natural from the right side, where he played at USC.
Anybody have a better theory?