GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy doesn’t like to discuss scheme, so when it comes to his defense’s utilization of Clay Matthews, the head coach explains it rather simply.
“I want to see Clay chase after the guy with the football,” McCarthy said on Thursday. “I think that’s the best thing for our defense.”
What that means is the Packers are going to line up Matthews where he can help the most against the opposing offense. It’s a job description that can change on a weekly basis.
Last week against Seattle, on the heels of Sam Barrington’s season-ending injury and with the Seahawks featuring a power running back, mobile quarterback and dynamic tight end, Matthews played the entire game at inside linebacker, keying the run defense and dropping into coverage. He even stayed inside as the lone linebacker in the dime package to help defend Jimmy Graham over the middle.
As a result, Matthews didn’t rush the passer from the edge once, in all likelihood a first in his seven-year career. For a star with 61 career sacks, it’s almost unheard of, but Matthews gets it, even if he’s two games into a season without any sacks for the first time in his career.
There just aren’t many guys that good at everything he does. He’s the most powerful chess piece on Green Bay’s side of the board.
“I think it’s just about the team’s needs right now,” he said.
“I was up to the challenge and I thought it went well. For the most part, I thought I did my job.”
The defensive effort against Marshawn Lynch (15 carries, 41 yards) and Graham (1 catch, 11 yards) was exemplary. Russell Wilson hurt the Packers with his legs more than with his arm, but taking everything away isn’t realistic.
Matthews had plenty of help in the defense’s solid overall effort. McCarthy said nose tackle B.J. Raji played maybe his best game as a Packer, either eating up or defeating blocks in the middle all night long.
“I appreciate coach for the comments, but he has that vantage point, and that’s his job to decide how well I’m playing,” Raji said. “My job is to just play as well as I can.
“My mission is, the way we’re taught here, if one guy is on you, you have to be a man and play both gaps. That’s what I try to do. Sometimes they get two bodies on me and it’s a little more difficult, but our belief is, if we have one blocker on us, we should make the play.”
Which gets back to the utilization of Matthews. McCarthy talked about creating “targeting issues” for opposing offenses by moving Matthews around. More uncertainty about his assignment means more difficulty scheming to limit his impact.
It’s how the Packers designed their defense in the second half of last year after initially giving Matthews new duties to help against the run.
“You’ve seen the results and what’s come from playing all over the place, specifically inside,” Matthews said. “Statistically speaking, our defense has improved since last year at the midway point. You can’t argue with that and you can’t argue with the fact we’re 2-0.”
What does that mean against the Chiefs this week? Jamaal Charles is a breakaway running back, and tight end Travis Kelce is their most productive pass-catcher (164 yards, 2 TDs in two games). QB Alex Smith will run the zone read and also scramble at times, though he’s not as big a threat at either as Wilson.
That difference at quarterback, combined with the defense being another week removed from the news on Barrington, is probably why Matthews left some anticipation in the air in his locker-room interview Thursday.
He suggested his job against the Seahawks was just that – his job against the Seahawks – and everything is up for adjustment.
“I’ll have my opportunities,” he said. “This thing changes week in and week out. Let’s talk again after next week.”
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