Cory’s Corner: Clay Matthews should move to ILB full-time

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- or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn


30 thoughts on “Cory’s Corner: Clay Matthews should move to ILB full-time

  1. If Clay moves inside that means offenses will be running to the outside. Lets see we have Nick “the fairy” Perry averaging 5 games a season and the 5 games he plays are pretty weak. Putting Clay inside means you have to draft a kick ass OLB.

    1. oh but you don’t get it….the Pack is sure Nick and DaTone are going to make the big “next step” anytime soon…

    2. In a draft year where ILB is weak and OLB is strong, finding another pass-rusher isn’t a bad idea. It frees up CMIII to play more snaps inside and diminishes the need to strike gold at ILB twice in the draft. That and the fact that Peppers isn’t going to play much longer…

      However…the strength in CMIII’s play comes from the fact that he could be lining up anywhere. That’s part of why the defense picked up, IMO. Leaving him at any one spot just allows opposing OCs and QBs to scheme away from him. Having to figure out just exactly where he is on every single play complicates things for the opposition.

      1. excellent observation dobber. so that would lead TT to focus on OLB early to get best OLB available at #30 pick and get best available ILB at #62, right? or go for for PBs in round 2 and 3 after a Rd1 CB.

        1. My bet is that they go DL in round 1 or deal down, but then I finished 23rd out of 26 in our NCAA pool, so I wouldn’t listen to me if I were you… 😉

  2. he should be happy but he won’t be, just like the Raji move backfired…do people like getting moved around at work from a position they are comfortable in?? In any job anywhere, i know i didnt like it…they’ve had all off season to shore up the ILB and TT hasn’t done anything so i guess they have other plans….

  3. While it is true that the Packers rushing defense was ranked top 5 during the 2nd half of the season with Clay inside, you have to take that statistic with a grain of salt.

    Look at the rushing offenses they played and how they ranked:

    Bears (27th)
    Eagles (9th)
    Vikings (14th)
    Patriots (18th)
    Falcons (24th)
    Bills (25th)
    Buccaneers (29th)
    Lions (28th)

    Clay is great, but moving him inside means we are losing a threat outside. Let’s face the reality that teams are not scared of Nick Perry or Mike Neal. If anything, I hope another OLB is drafted in 3 weeks, since Peppers is not a long-term solution, Perry and Neal will be FAs in 2016, and Bradford didn’t work out at OLB either.

    We have some serious holes at ILB and OLB is not much better.

  4. Clay should be able to move inside or outside as he sees opportunity on any given play.

    The supporting cast, both inside and outside, needs to be good enough to get by with Clay playing any position. That means at least one decent player (better than a role-player) in each of the roles. Right now we have Peppers (who is old) outside and ??? inside. Barrington may develop as a ‘thumper’ inside, but that makes him basically a role player, better than Hawk mainly because Barrington is younger.

    Last season, Clay was forced inside in most ‘base’ packages, which is not the way to maximize his impact. This year, opponents will have lots of film on when Clay moves in or out and be more able to take advantage of match-ups in those situations. To stay effective, Clay needs the freedom to ‘mess up’ those match-ups by moving inside or outside at will.

    ‘Solving’ the run defense problem by moving Clay inside is a patch, not a fix. It was a good patch, because of Peppers adapting to his position change and Perry becoming a decent role-player outside, but it is still just a patch.

    My feeling is that this year the defense will come together when whoever they get to play ILB gets comfortable with the pro-game and Dom’s system. I hope it happens sooner than Week 8.

    1. Well, it may not be a patch if you forward plan on having CMIII in multiple positions, and that is pretty impressive scheming for opposing quarterbacks, no? but yeah, you probably need average or above average fills for the spot when he’s not there. More difficult requirement is that the non-CMIII player has to be similarly versatile if they are going to have an impact on the play.

      1. Want versatility? Shaq Thompson would be a perfect compliment to CMIII, having experience playing inside and outside and good cover skills. Before someone says “he’s too small”, he’s essentially the same size as Kendricks

        1. He (Thompson) reportedly was playing under 220 at times this last season. Maybe if you can keep him covered up he’ll be fine. In reality, they need him to cover TEs and RBs as much as anything else, so maybe he’ll be fine, but with that rationale, they could play a third safety.

          1. Spot on, Dobber. Scouts mention narrow hips and lower frame, and are concerned about his ability to maintain much less increase his weight. I like Shaq but TT has to do his homework on this player. He might be a 4-3 OLB or Safety. Talent is there: is he a “tweener?”

            1. I don’t want Shaq in round 1. I’d be fine with him in round 2/3. Same with all the ILBs. None of them are exciting. They all have “problems” on film.

              Why not go OLB or CB in round 1? There’s MUCH more talent there in this draft.

              I really wish TT would have gotten himself a McClain or another mid level ILB FA who could be dependable or slightly better.

  5. I believe Barrington and Bradford will be the starting ILB’s this season with Joe Thomas rotating the position..Matthews will move around so OC can’t pin him down on any given play so look for him to play both inside and out this year!

    I think with a strong class of OLB’s in the draft this year they will draft one instead of going after a weak ILB class. Unless a prospect like Kendricks or Anthony is around in the second round. First round will be either traded down or they take a top corner if available.

  6. Whether he’s ILB,OLB or used as the hoped for roving play making lunatic to offensive OC’s and QB’s,the linebacker group as a whole for the Packers is an issue, no matter who does or doesn’t play where or when.

    Surely we hope as much as TT and MM likely are, that any or all of those on the PS or who played some last season can step up in the next season,but the dynamic that is ‘needed’ may be just a tad too much from any of these prospects based on their apparent very limited growth to date.Bradford,who was adored by many when selected and looked at as the guy,couldn’t been seen or heard of…at all.

    It appears the rungs on the ladder of growth for our LB’s are not of usually distance for stepping on and up but more like less rungs for a more advanced group than what we have..including the Neal and Perry dynamic duo of yesterday lore.

    My point at least is that moving Matthews inside,keeping him outside or as a rover,needs to be done if the position he leaves doesn’t become a larger one than that in which he’s move to fix.

    Teams will always have a hole somewhere but moving that hole around like a pea in a shell game and expecting the opponent to ‘not’ know the location of the pea will not work in the NFL as that pea is often too large to hide under a shell.

  7. Here’s my objection to this. Yes Matthews talents are realized in full when rotated from OLB to MLB, the numbers prove it, the tape proves it, it’s undeniable. It’s also incredibly foolish to think that this is enough.

    I am NOT Cow42 or any of the other haters, I have defended a lot in the past.

    Am I the only one who remember just how injury prone Clay Matthews is? The guy could miss 8 games next year, and next thing you know we’re missing both a good OLB and a starting MLB, it’s a double whammy that could kill this defense.

    Thompson has been extremely stubborn this offseason imo. Unless he fully intends to fix the linebacker problem in the draft, he’s gambling on Matthews BIG TIME. And even if he does find a suitable linebacker, one has to wonder if it was necessary to waste a draft on one when he probably could have very easily found one on the free market. Even Rolando McClain would have made sense at least for depth purposes. Heck, sign Brandon Spikes for a rotational player and eliminate the need to draft a linebacker in the early rounds.

    And even if Matthews stays healthy, this is something that is going to EXHAUST him! Remember the NFC Championship game? “Yeah we know you couldn’t keep up after 10 games, but we’re sure you’ll hold up after 16”.

    This whole thing has greatly irritated me. He gambled on not draft a CB or signing a RB in 2010, and if it weren’t for the 1 in a 1,000 shot MIRACLE that both Sam Shields and James Starks worked out, we would not have won that Super Bowl.

    He’s gambling again, for the love of love, just WHY??? It feels so unnecessary to do so!

    1. “Am I the only one who remember just how injury prone Clay Matthews is? The guy could miss 8 games next year, and next thing you know we’re missing both a good OLB and a starting MLB, it’s a double whammy that could kill this defense.”

      You can always say this about any number of players on the Packer defense. What about Sam Shields? Based on what we know about the Packer roster NOW, if Shields got hurt–regardless of how he played last year–the Packers would be in trouble. Matthews has missed 11 games in 6 seasons, 9 of those in 2012 and 2013. That means for 4 of his professional seasons, he’s missed 2 games total. Just reporting numbers.

      1. Because Matthews is the one with the history. Every year it feels like he misses five games or is limited by some injury, especially the dreaded hamstring. He had a knew problem and missed a game, and that was his healthiest he’s been in years. The year before he kept breaking his thumb and missed five games. Sam Shields? Not even close that kind of injury bug.

        1. I respect your point. It always feels like he’s nursing some kind of injury, but it was really only two of his seasons where he spent significant time on the sideline. I would argue that his injury track record isn’t too far from the norm.

  8. I remember Matthews wasn’t doing much of anything until the move to ILB… at which point his game, and his stats, came alive.

  9. I advocate moving CM3 inside on running downs, and then playing him all over on passing downs. I think it is a fix, not just a patch. Peppers, Neal, and Perry can man OLB while Matthews plays inside.

    In terms of drafting, this seems to me at least to be a simple issue. Does anyone drop to #30? (Clemings, Malcolm Brown, Armstead, Collins, Peat, Goldman, Fisher, Shaq, Peter?Phillips? If so, take the best of any of those. This draft is loaded with pass rushers, DTs, OTs, RBs. CB has maybe one 1st Rd talent and two more 1st/2nd rd talents if you include off the field goof), but it has some depth. The ILB class is not top heavy, but there is some depth. So, draft to the strength of the draft. If no one surprising falls and TT can’t trade back, draft the best player at DT, OLB, CB, OT, even RB (if TT thinks he’s special) that is on the board. OLB, DT, and OT all make tons of sense. Regarding Chad’s concern that CM3 might get injured, my response is that drafting a quality OLB or DT is better than drafting a mediocre ILB. TT might have to move up to get an ILB that he likes in the 2nd. If so, so be it.

  10. In this era of the pass in the NFL, the defense needs a premier rusher. CM3 is that player for the Packers. Moving him inside and outside as the Packers did last season is an effective approach to preventing OCs from game planning against him and double teaming him. Unless or until the Packers sign or more likely draft (at this point) a player who can be effective as a full time ILB or OLB I would continue to move Matthews around. There may be some opponents where he spends more time at OLB than ILB or vice-versa. Or in games where we have a big lead when we can rest him. For now, I don’t think it’s an either or situation for the Packers defense. I think it is a necessity to move Matthews in and out based on down, distance and game score. Thanks, Since ’61

  11. I think we stick to the game plan we used the 2nd. half of the season minus Hawks and Jones which IMO were better of used on the sidelines than on the field anyway.

    As far as the draft, just draft the best damn line back available. I don’t care what you have to do to get that done.

  12. Clay was absolutely more effective inside rather then outside last year. He was actually pedestrian the first 8 games at OLB. Teams were not even double teaming him anymore. They move him to ILB and he immediately became a wrecking ball again involved in way more plays then he was at OLB.

    First 8 games exclusively at OLB: 2.5 sacks / 15 solo tackles
    Last 8 games predominately at ILB: 8.5 sacks / 30 solo tackles

    Keep him inside in base. Leave him as the only ILB in nickel. Shift him to OLB on obvious passing downs and bring in Barrington as the ILB when Clay shifts to OLB.

    Matthews sure helped in the run defense BUT the bigger factor was Capers consistently dropping Burnett into the box on first down. That was only possible because Ha Ha became good enough to play single high safety and the CB’s were locking down WR’s.

    1. Agree Eddie Lee. Matthews was just a guy at OLB last year. He was invisible for most of those early games. He switches to inside and suddenly he’s a monster making plays all over the place. I agree with you and Cory.
      People are wondering why no signings at ILB? Isn’t it obvious they (the Packers) already feel pretty damn good about inside linebacker based on what Matthews did last year? I think is crystal clear they plan on using him extensively at ILB this upcoming season. They also have Carl Bradford who I feel is going to bust out and make some noise this season. They are fine. It’s the fans that are not fine. Bunch of worry worts if you ask me.
      I drove by 1265 Lombardi last night. TT’s office light is usually on well after midnight. Well, the past couple weeks it’s been off. I think that says is all about how Ted feels about our linebacker situation. That’s a damn good sign. Go to bed people!! lol

  13. Clay Matthews is an impact player on defense. He has proven that he can play multiple positions. He should line up wherever he can make the most impact. Inside , outside, blindside, weakside – whatever. Wherever we can get the most impact from him, put him there. Label him what you want for a depth chart, but put him wherever he makes the most plays.

  14. The most telling statistic is that eight of eleven sacks came from the inside.

  15. The Raji move has nothing to do with CM3. Raji was not moved for any reason other than he was terrible at nose. The move was to help the team and help him, he was the AJ Hawk of the DL. The results of each move speak for themselves. Raji continued to be lazy and un productive even without facing double teams. No bad player left the field, the bad player was Raji and he stayed on the field. with CM3 getting hawk off the field was a good upside by itself.

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