On one hand, it certainly wasn’t realistic to expect Matthews to continuing sacking quarterbacks at the incredible pace he had set early in the season.
On the other hand, his sack production has fallen off a cliff. Since injuring his shin against the Jets, Matthews has 2 sacks in the last four games (one was a gift “touch” sack of Brett Favre) and none in his last two.
For his part, Matthews says the injury has not affected him during games: “”I’d say it’s more a nagging thing,” Matthews said. “It’s just sore and constantly annoying than anything else. It’s fine, and I’m fine on Sundays.”
Mike McCarthy also says Matthews hasn’t been hampered physically, but perhaps somewhat mentally, due to missed practice time. This issue was explored on this site last week by Adam Czech.
But it seems to me that something else is going on. Certainly other teams are game planning for him, but exactly how much? Is he being regularly double-teamed? Are teams running/passing away from him?
My curiosity spurred me on to do a little film study. I used the 49er game for this study, since the Packers dominance of the time of possession meant the 49ers ran only 46 offensive plays (taking out punts, kickoffs and field goal attempts). That made my job a little easier.
I charted each 49ers offensive play and what they did to block Clay Matthews and what he did on the play. The full rundown can be found below, but I’ll summarize it here:
Of the 49ers 46 offensive plays, 25 were passing plays. Of those 25, Matthews was rushing the passer on 17 of those plays. You might think that’s a good ratio, but seven of those pass rush attempts came on the final meaningless SF drive. At that point, Dom Capers pretty much said, “go ahead and rush every play.”
But before that, Capers was not really using Matthews to create pressure, as he has in other games. Blitzing, in general, was kept to a minimum. Obviously, Capers was focused on stopping the run and then was willing to depend on coverage to handle Troy Smith and his inaccurate throwing arm.
Getting back to Matthews, he was obviously gassed on that last drive, and was even taken out on the final play that resulted in the Nick Collins interception. For the majority of the game, Matthews was used for the purposes of run defense and contain, keeping a close eye on Troy Smith (although he did not start out well, failing twice on the 49ers first possession). So when Mike McCarthy says he graded out very well by their criteria, he means based on what they were asking him to do this game. They were not asking him to be CM3, the disruptor. Merely CM3, one of an 11-man unit responsible for his area of the field.
And what did the 49ers do to help control Clay Matthews? Well, on 10 of those seventeen pass rush attempts, he was double-teamed. They used a variety of combinations, OT-OG, OT-RB, TE-RB, but you could tell they were very aware of where he was at all times. They also ran and threw a lot of quick passes to the other side of the field, away from Matthews.
And yet, despite all of this, Clay Matthews was very close to recording two or three sacks. Twice he had Troy Smith in his grasp (once around the waist and once around the leg) and both times Troy Smith was able to unload the ball. Now, in other games this season, I’ve seen quarterbacks be in the grasp for less time and be called down, so there was certainly no help from the referees on those plays.
So despite a nagging injury, limited chances due to being used more in a containment role, double-teams and a lot of plays away from Matthew’s side of the field, Clay still had some chances and came as close to recording two sacks as you can without getting credit for it.
So while this is a small sample size, the lesson is, don’t assume Clay Matthews is off his game just because he doesn’t rack up a bunch of sacks in a game or two. The Packers may be asking him to do different things from week to week. If he grades out fine by the coaches standards, that should be good enough for us (see AJ Hawk…).
Here’s the full rundown, if you’re interested (BOLD indicate the plays where he rushed the passer):
1-10-SF 29 T.Smith pass incomplete deep middle to M.Crabtree. [CM3 double team. Tight end and fullback]
2-10-SF 29 A.Dixon left tackle to SF 34 for 5 yards (F.Zombo, C.Peprah).[CM3 single team – run play away from Matthews]
3-5-SF 34 T.Smith pass deep right to M.Crabtree to GB 27 for 39 yards [CM3 – single team (Davis). Trys inside spin move, pushed down and sat on by Davis.]
1-10-GB 27 B.Westbrook up the middle [CM3 – single team. Davis with seal.]
2-8-GB 25(Shotgun) T.Smith pass short left to M.Crabtree to GB 26 for -1 yards [CM3 – would have been a double team (Davis & Westbrook) looking for him, but CM3 stays back in coverage.]
3-9-GB 26 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete deep left to M.Crabtree. [CM3 drops and covers Vernon Davis over the middle.]
1-10-SF 20 T.Smith left end to SF 30 for 10 yards R2 [CM3 double-team. gets caught inside. Planned rollout with guard pulling and running back both looking for CM3. He ends up making the tackle on other side of the field.]
1-10-SF 30 B.Westbrook left guard to SF 34 for 4 yards [single-team. Vernon Davis pushes CM3 down the line of scrimmage and Westbrook runs behind him]
2-6-SF 34 B.Westbrook up the middle to SF 39 for 5 yards [single-team. CM3 stunts to the inside, as Cwood and Hawk both blitz. Packers fooled by run]
3-1-SF 39 T.Smith pass incomplete short right to M.Crabtree. [CM3 single team (fullback off of playaction. When Cm3 sees pass, he drops into zone coverage in the flat]
1-10-GB 39 Del.Walker left end pushed ob at GB 34 for 5 yards [CM3 – single team – quick pass to opposite side.]
2-5-GB 34 T.Smith pass short left to M.Crabtree to GB 27 for 7 yards [cm3 – single team – quick slant]
1-10-GB 27 T.Smith pass short right to V.Davis pushed ob at GB 2 for 25 yards [CM3 single-team. picked up by Westbrook. Has arms around Smith and he still gets pass off – close to a sack]
1-2-GB 2 A.Dixon left tackle to GB 2 for no gain [CM3- left untouched on far side]
2-2-GB 2 T.Smith sacked at GB 10 for -8 yards [CM3 – single-team. In four point stance on goal line. Jenkins just beats him to the sack.]
3-10-GB 10 T.Smith up the middle to GB 8 for 2 yards [CM3 – double-team (OT & RB).
1-10-GB 48 PENALTY on SF-B.Sims, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at GB 48 – No Play.
1-15-SF 47 B.Westbrook up the middle to SF 49 for 2 yards [CM3 – single team – inside run D]
2-13-SF 49 T.Smith pass incomplete short right to J.Morgan CM3 – single team – inside run D, then spying Smith as Smith leaves the pocket]
3-13-SF 49 (Shotgun) T.Smith sacked at SF 46 for -3 yards. [CM3 – double team (OT & OG – 3 man rush]
(9:38) A.Lee punts 42 yards to GB 12, Center-B.Jennings. T.Williams to GB 22 for 10 yards (C.Maragos). SFT.
1-10-SF 8 A.Dixon up the middle to SF 6 for -2 yards [CM3 – single-team – run D]
2-12-SF 6 A.Dixon left end to SF 7 for 1 yard [CM3 – single-team – run D]
3-11-SF 7 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete deep left to M.Crabtree. [CM3 – single-team – stays at home]
4-11-SF 7 A.Lee punts 47 yards to GB 46, Center-B.Jennings. T.Williams to 50 for 4 yards [CM3 –
1-10-SF 34 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete short middle to B.Westbrook. [CM3 – single-team failed screen]
2-10-SF 34 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass deep right to V.Davis for 66 yards, TOUCHDOWN. [CM3 – single-team. inside rush to free Woodson on an outside blitz]
1-10-SF 17 (Shotgun) B.Westbrook up the middle to SF 28 for 11 yards [CM3 – single-team, draw play]
1-10-SF 28 B.Westbrook up the middle to SF 30 for 2 yards [CM3 – single-team – run D]
2-8-SF 30 (Shotgun) B.Westbrook up the middle to SF 32 for 2 yards [CM3 – single-team, run D]
1-10-SF 31 ) A.Dixon up the middle to SF 35 for 4 yards [CM3 – single-team, run D]
2-6-SF 35 A.Dixon up the middle to SF 35 for no gain [CM3 – single-team, run D]
3-6-SF 35 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass short right to V.Davis to GB 45 for 20 yards [CM3 – single-team, inside blitz]
1-10-GB 45 A.Dixon up the middle to GB 42 for 3 yards [CM3 – single-team, run D]
2-7-GB 42 T.Smith pass short left to Del.Walker pushed ob at GB 27 for 15 yards [CM3 – single-team, quick pass, opposite side]
1-10-GB 27 A.Dixon right end to GB 10 for 17 yards [CM3 – single-team, run D]
1-10-GB 10 A.Dixon left end to GB 5 for 5 yards [CM3 – single-team, run D makes tackle from the backside]
2-5-GB 5 B.Westbrook up the middle to GB 5 for no gain [CM3 – single-team, run D]
3-5-GB 5 T.Smith pass incomplete short right to M.Crabtree [CM3 – double-team (OT & TE)
4-5-GB 5 J.Reed 23 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-B.Jennings, Holder-A.Lee.
1-10-SF 27 T.Smith pass incomplete deep middle to V.Davis. [CM3 – single-team – not coming]
2-10-SF 27 T.Smith pass incomplete short right to Del.Walker. [CM3 – single-team – not coming]
3-10-SF 27 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete deep left to T.Ginn. [CM3 – double-team (OT & OG) Matthews on right side for first time]
4-10-SF 27 A.Lee punts 36 yards to GB 37, Center-B.Jennings. T.Williams to SF 43 for 20 yards
1-10-SF 47 T.Smith pass short middle to Del.Walker to GB 49 for 4 yards [CM3 – drops in coverage]
2-6-GB 49 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass short right to A.Dixon to GB 45 for 4 yards [CM3 – double team (OT & RB), Gets to Smith and is holding on to his leg as Smith gets pass off.]
3-2-GB 45 T.Smith sacked at 50 for -5 yards [CM3 – double-team (OT & OG) ]
4-7-50 A.Lee punts 50 yards to end zone, Center-B.Jennings, Touchback.
1-10-SF 26 (Shotgun) B.Westbrook left end pushed ob at SF 29 for 3 yards [CM3 – double-team (OT & OG) ]
2-7-SF 29 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete deep left to J.Morgan. [CM3 – single-team – run D]
3-7-SF 29 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass short right to V.Davis to SF 44 for 15 yards [CM3 – single-team, inside stunt, no lanes]
1-10-SF 44 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete short left to T.Ginn. [CM3 – single-team, looks tired]
2-10-SF 44 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete deep right to J.Morgan. [CM3 – single-team, inside stunt, no lanes]
3-10-SF 44 (Shotgun) T.Smith pass incomplete short left to T.Ginn. [CM3 – double team. Inside move beats both blockers, bearing down on Smith, but it’s a quick pass]
4-10-SF 44 (Shotgun) T.Smith right end ran ob at GB 40 for 16 yards [CM3 – double team. Inside move beats both blockers, dives for Smith’s foot and just misses]
1-10-GB 40 (Shotgun) T.Smith sacked at GB 46 for -6 yards (B.Raji). [CM3 – double-team (OT & RB chip]
2-16-GB 46 (No Huddle, Shotgun) T.Smith pass short middle intended for V.Davis INTERCEPTED by N.Collins at GB [CM3 – came out of the game – obviously gassed]
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.