Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Looking For A Claymaker

The Green Bay Packers’ last-second win against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday had more than its fair share of ups and downs. Fans started the game with some bravado when they watched Aaron Rodgers and the offense march down the field on the opening drive to score a touchdown. From there, however, they witnessed some frustrating stalls, a few head-scratching penalties, and the defense lose its ground in the second half.

One of the concerns to come out of this game was the performance of outside linebacker Clay Matthews. A number of read-option plays from the Dolphins offense successfully targeted him and gained significant ground. But this has only punctuated the lack of impact plays across the season.

Matthews, who is one of the highest paid linebackers in the league, only has one sack in six games. This projects to just under three sacks for a season, which would be his lowest total of his career. (That includes last season, when he missed five complete games.) For some perspective, the following players each have two sacks to their name so far: Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels, and . . . wait for it . . . Letroy Guion.

My question this week, then, is this:

Is Clay Matthews still “tilting the field” for the Packers defense?

In this installment of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, we’ll take a look at the issue from both angles, and then determine whether our mug is really “half empty” or “half full.”


According to, the Green Bay Packers defense is 15th in Sack Percentage and 16th in Sacks Per Game, which sits right in the middle of the league. And when you look at the past three games, they actually bump up a few spots in the ranking. Furthermore, the Packers defense is 7th – yes, top ten material here – among all teams in Opponent Yards per Pass Attempt.

Where the Packers rank at the bottom of the heap is their rushing defense, but that’s not anything new. The point here is that Clay Matthews is primarily a pass rushing specialist. That doesn’t absolve him of his duties to set the edge in the running game, but let’s be honest with ourselves here. We’re not worried about his run stopping numbers; we’re worried about his sack numbers.

If Matthews had already racked up more sacks this year, we wouldn’t be so worried that he couldn’t contain a few read-option plays. We’d be satisfied with his overall numbers.

Where’s the silver lining then? Well, the Packers don’t play defense with just one player. It takes eleven guys per play to make things happen. Furthermore, Clay Matthew’s performance might be tilting the field towards other players more than it’s been tilting his own stat sheet. And when you really look at the numbers, you’ll notice he has significantly more quarterback hits, hurries, and batted passes than just about every other guy at the front of the defense. (Julius Peppers is his only equal in that array of categories.)

Sure, we’d like to see him go Predator more often, but can we be upset when the defense as a whole is top ten against the pass?


Okay, so our big beef might be with his sack numbers, but the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back this week was Clay Matthews’ inability to stop the read-option running plays. How can you consider a player “great” when they can be run right at for big chunks of yardage?

Matthews is part of an excellent passing defense, but he is also part of a horrendous rushing defense. Yes, the linemen and inside linebackers are mostly to blame for opposing offenses running them through the guy; however, we’ve also seen a number of outside running plays break contain around the edge. And that’s where Matthews takes responsibility.

His Achilles’ heel has always been his over-pursuit of the sack. Teams have found ways to take Matthews out of the play by using this aggressive drive against him. They simply run through the holes he creates by getting into the backfield too quickly.

We also have to consider the fact that Clay Matthews has been dubbed the “China doll” lately. He seems to have a yearly battle with hamstring pulls, and on top of that, he missed about a third of last season with a broken thumb. This year, it’s been a groin problem that seems to be lingering. Can we have a “field tilter” who is never at 100%?


This is a tough issue to tackle. On the one hand, Matthews isn’t posting his big sack numbers. On the other hand, the defense is doing very well against the pass, and his performance could be the impetus behind others getting pressure and the secondary finally getting some interception opportunities. It’s really hard to tell without going through each game and dissecting everything.

So I’m going to hold off on my judgment of whether or not Matthews’ mug is half full or half empty at this point in the season. You can feel free to debate that among yourselves in the comments section.

However, I do want to say this: think twice before holding the Dolphins’ game against him.

Rather, go back and watch the game tape. I had the misfortune of missing the game on Sunday; though, I did follow the action on Twitter and a couple phone apps. I also watched some highlights, tuned into the weekly radio shows, and read numerous blog posts about the game to get an idea of what happened. So when I finally got to sit down and watch the NFL Game Rewind footage on Wednesday, I approached it expecting the worst from Matthews.

What I saw, though, did not match the criticism. I focused on the line play for each side of the ball, always keeping my eyes tuned in to Matthews when the defense was on the field. For probably the majority of his snaps, Clay Matthews revived his role of quarterback spy, which we’ve seen him be tasked with a number of times in the past. This meant that he was more concerned with keeping the quarterback contained (or mirroring him) than actually ripping through for the sack.

This seemed to be a very reasonable design by Dom Capers when attacking a guy like Ryan Tannehill, and I’m certain we’ll see more of it next game against Cam Newton.

Also, on the running plays, I never really saw Matthews get pushed off the line unless he was being double-teamed. He held his ground and kept contain on the edges. In fact, there were a couple plays where this forced the running back inside for a stop.

Finally, we have to address the read-option plays. On Tannehill’s big gain to start the second half, I will concede that Clay Matthews whiffed. He was reading the running back when he probably should have been reading the quarterback, especially given his role during the first half. That said, the secondary didn’t help matters with some pretty poor tackling. Matthews let him through, but a chunk of that yardage could have still been prevented.

On the Miami Dolphins’ second touchdown drive, they ran a couple read-option plays to get them near the goal line. These were successful, but I would argue that Clay Matthews did his job. Tannehill ended up handing the ball off to the running back, who did the damage, because Matthews kept his contain on the quarterback. He actually did what he was supposed to do.

See, the read-option play is designed to take away impact players like Clay Matthews. The whole point is that the quarterback reads a certain player and either hands off or keeps the ball based on what that player does. No matter how good a guy is, he is going to be hard pressed to stop two guys at once. The best Matthews can do in these situations is stay on his man and trust his teammates to clean up the rest.

Is Matthews tilting the field this season? Probably not as much as we’d like him to, but I still see him making a significant impact for the defense. Either way, be careful about your gut reactions to his performance against the Miami offense. Things are not always what they seem at first glance.


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


13 thoughts on “Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Looking For A Claymaker

  1. It’s a paradox, because as the numbers stay low, the pressure increases and his strengths become weaknesses that work against him.

    I hope he takes a page from AR’s book of football mantra’s and can find a way to R-E-L-A-X. I think he’s pressing.

    1. I really don’t think he is pressing, though. I’m going to go back and “AJ Hawk” him in the first five games, but against the Dolphins, I never got the impression that he was trying to over-do it at all.

      1. RE: AJ Hawk – WHEN are we going to get a true ILB? Lattimore can bring the wood, but he’s a liability in the pass game. Hawk is all around meh. Jones just isn’t an NFL level talent. Barrington and Bradford – who knows?

        It’s been like this since Bishop got hurt in the preseason of 2011. THREE YEARS of poor ILB play! COME ON TED!

  2. I think that opponents shows much more attention to Julius and Clay (to Julius after his few very good games), and that is why the guys from the middle od DL had more success in bullying QB, or even recording sacks. ALso, when Clay is out of the field, they doubles Julius and liberated space for Nick and Neal… Can this be something that should be taken in consideration when we are trying to judge Clay’s performance up to date…

    1. Bingo. The Dolphins paid Matthews a lot of attention. It’s why he was the read player on their option plays. Take him out of the equation, and the other players have to step up.

  3. What I get via the article and some comments below is….

    Matthews has been figured out and his strengths have been turned against him and cutting his Fabio(hair) was a need not as like Sampson..He is now not only his own worst enemy but he is becoming the teams worst enemy.

    I’m not of the thinking that Matthews is helping others(Perry,Neal,Peppers) play better but rather it is what I’ve said,Peppers was brought in to help the team via helping the others,as Matthews has apparently failed at doing such the last couple of years with those mentioned.

    Suddenly,Perry and Neal look improved and while even Peppers himself has played better than Matthews,how can it not be half empty.

    In another article here,I said, if some think Perry is the better OLB now and should start him over Matthews,wait and see what Newton does to Perry, and now,I would think the Panthers are praying for Matthews to remain as the ability to use the strengths against its wielder is the best weapon to use against him and his (ahem) army.

    As to the read-option and the bloody nose Matthews adorns after each battle with it…the question is why can’t a guy like him ‘learn’ from such face punches and/ or why can’t the defense learn to use his beatings to get a positive outcome.

    I hope the defense can show some real level of learning against the Panthers read-option,since MM said they are a long way from the two year ago look,because if not,I and others will simply be on the curb waving another Division(at-best) pennant like a punished child in the ‘time out’ corner thinking why didn’t we learn …again and again and again. 🙂

  4. He had no tackles in the Miami game and no assists but he did bat down a pass. He has that groin problem and I have not heard definitively if the thumb is 100% healed. I’m not sure how effective he is but the coaching staff must think something of him or he wouldn’t start.

    1. I wouldn’t use tackles as a statistic to measure the effectiveness of a 3-4 OLB. It’s a pretty good measure for the OLB in a 4-3 system, though.

    2. “I’m not sure how effective he is but the coaching staff must think something of him or he wouldn’t start.”

      When you’re paying a player the way Matthews is being payed,it’s harder to just bench him than to let him play through the ails,especially if his replacement isn’t really above his bad, regardless of the ‘stat sheet’.

      Matthews is a half empty player right now,and though I at times seem harsh on players,the end result is Matthews is more likely to become half full while others are only really half empty regardless.

      The problem is,it takes too many half empties to make/get a half full look,which vs the read-option,makes no difference it seems. 🙂

  5. Some things that I can say about CMIII with confidence: 1) he is still our best linebacker; 2) he is under-performing his contract; 3) he plays hard; 4) he makes our defense better.

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