They don’t call him the Claymaker for nothing. Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews is an absolute beast, striking terror in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen. But can Matthews alone save Green Bay’s dismal defensive front seven? Though he’s an outside linebacker, we can talk about Matthews as a de facto lineman because of his pass rushing ability.
The stats tell most of the story. Green Bay with Clay Matthews: 28 sacks through nine games. Green Bay without Clay Matthews: seven sacks in four games, including just two sacks in the last three weeks.
The Packers have been playing with other injuries on the line that are a factor. Losing Nick Perry for the season left Green Bay without a solid number two rusher across from Matthews. C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and B.J. Raji have been banged up at different points throughout the year.
With Matthews looking to return next week against the Chicago Bears, the question is if he alone can pick up the ineffective group. What Matthews’ talent and playmaking ability hides is the fact that the Packers have a very weak linebacking group. With Perry, Desmond Bishop, and D.J. Smith all done for the year, the linebackers that remain are A.J. Hawk, Frank Zombo, Erik Walden, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Terrell Manning, Dezman Moses, Rob Francois, and Vic So’oto. Not exactly a Pro Bowl lineup there.
While some of the linebackers have shown flashes of promise – Jones, Walden, rookie Moses – none has proved dependable on a week in, week out basis. It’s not enough of an excuse to blame injuries here; most of these guys have had multiple years to make a statement on the field and have failed to do so.
Since Matthews went down, the shakiness of this unit has been exposed in glaring light. In the last four games, teams have averaged 146 rushing yards against the Packers. Only the New Orleans Saints defense has a worse season average.
The Green Bay run defense has become training wheels for any team that needs help getting the run game going – just run against them until you’ve got enough going for Dad to take his hand off the seat of your tricycle.
The truth of the matter is that Matthews is so dominant that he will cover up a lot of these problems when he returns. But he can’t do it all. Despite his Predator sack celebration, Clay is still human. Until someone else on that line steps up, Matthews will continue to be double and triple covered.
The Packers have a very strong chance to make it to the playoffs and, when they do, they’re going to be facing tougher teams and tougher quarterbacks than they have in the regular season. If they cannot find a way to put some sort of pressure on those quarterbacks, it’ll be another one-and-done postseason for the Pack.