Clay Matthews took one for the team last year.
When coach Mike McCarthy came to the standout outside linebacker, Matthews accepted the role and the team got better.
Matthews’ debut at inside linebacker was Nov. 9 in a blowout win vs. Chicago. He led the team in tackles with 11 and also tallied a sack. But most importantly, the Packers only allowed 55 yards rushing.
In the final eight regular season games, a Matthews-infused inside linebacking corps only allowed an average of 86 rushing yards a game. That would’ve put the defense at fourth in rushing yards allowed per game right behind vaunted Seattle.
Which is why McCarthy needs to pay Matthews a visit again. The team needs Matthews to play inside to plug holes that were caused by a suspect defensive line.
Matthews has every right to bristle. He’s the Clydesdale of this defense. He will be the fourth-highest paid outside linebacker in the NFL next season according to base salary. He was drafted 26th overall in 2009 to seek and destroy quarterbacks and make life miserable for running backs and receivers that cross his path on the outside.
But now the Packers have a huge need. A.J. Hawk, the quarterback on defense, is gone and his knowledge of alignment and opposing offenses will be sorely missed. Who better than to turn over that role to a five-year Pro Bowler?
With his speed, Matthews can still cover the entire field. However, when he plays inside he must realize that he cannot afford to freelance as he once did when he lined up outside.
And with Matthews taking over a mentoring role, maybe he can get something out of guys like Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford and Nick Perry. The Packers need those guys to produce, especially Perry who has only started 15 games in three seasons.
But this all comes down to Matthews. If this is a move he doesn’t fully endorse, McCarthy isn’t going to push. The Packers’ coach obviously knows how important Matthews midseason position switch was by solidifying a defensive center that had gotten about as soft as cookie dough.
Matthews’ anchoring the middle would immediately make offensive coordinators think. No longer can offenses attack the middle relentlessly, knowing that it would eventually break open. But I don’t see that happening on a consistent basis as long as Matthews is staring down the quarterback eight yards away.
Will it hurt his sack numbers? Probably. Will he still be respected as a dominant defender throughout the league without the numbers to back him up? Unfortunately, by most people probably not because most people only look at the numbers.
Of Matthews’ 11 sacks last season, eight were from the inside linebacker position. So he’s still able to disrupt the pocket, I’m just not sure how consistent he can be.
The question has to come from McCarthy, but the answer is ultimately Matthews’. From a personal level, it may not make a lot of sense. But he’s not an unrestricted free agent until 2019 and he’ll be 33 when that season starts. He isn’t playing for another big contract, so he should be happy trying to help the team capture another Super Bowl.
A second Super Bowl title will all but cement his case for the Hall of Fame. And there’s nothing bigger on a personal level than that.——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn