Saturday, July 17, 2010
I'm Calling It: A Sophomore Slump for Clay Matthews
With it clear that Aaron Kampman was not ideally suited for the 3-4 scheme, the Packers were in desperate need of a playmaker in the front seven. Clay Matthews filled the void in a big way. He started by ripping the ball straight out of Adrian Peterson's hands and didn't relent until he'd racked up 10 sacks on the season and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. His tenacity and resiliency were exactly what the Packers needed off the edge. He was more or less a godsend.
However, as great as Clay's first year heroics were, and as much as I'd like to believe he'll only be more productive in 2010, I just can't convince myself that it'll play out that way. Basically, I'm expecting Clay Matthews to have a bit of a sophomore slump. Here's why.
Let's be real. In 2009, Clay Matthews was the Packers' pass rush. After his 10 sacks, Cullen Jenkins was next on the list with only 4.5. In fact, of the teams 37 sacks, Mr. Matthews had over a quarter of them. If there was someone wearing the Green and Gold that the opponents needed to neutralize, it was Clay. You know it, I know it...though I'm not sure other teams realized this until the latter part of the season. But make no mistake about it- heading into 2010, every team on the Packers' schedule knows they need to take Clay Matthews into account.
Which is a bit of a problem. In '09, Clay Matthews came onto the scene as a relatively unknown quantity. He was only a rookie, and heck, he only had one year of starting experience at USC. Not a whole lot of tape to go on. For this reason, I think he caught a lot of teams by surprise. But now, after a double-digit sack, Pro-Bowl season, it's safe to say the cat is out of the bag. Although I'm sure Clay is flattered about all the press and accolades he's received, he's now going to be facing the kind of unwanted attention that he really wasn't exposed to for most of 2009. I'm talking double-teams; chip-blocks; plays designed to roll the pocket away from him; the works.
The fact of the matter is, there's just no one else on the roster that other teams are going to worry about when it comes to pass protection. Kampman is gone. Brady Poppinga has never lived up to his billing. Brad Jones is a decent player, but I honestly don't think he's much more. So let's face it: Clay Matthews appears to be the only legitimate pass-rushing threat on the Packers...and he's about to be singled out.
I think the Packers had a chance to do something about this, but they didn't. They passed on the likes of Jerry Hughes in the 2010 draft, and instead opted for "tackle of the future" Bryan Bulaga. I was completely fine with this pick. However, what I was not crazy about was the fact that the Packers came out of the draft without selecting a single OLB. This just positively baffled me. You see, I was under the impression that in order for a 3-4 defense to work, you needed OLBs that could get to the QB. The Packers needed to come out of the off-season with a solid, left-side compliment to Clay. As I scan the roster today, I see one proven pass-rusher, and his number is 52. The Packers haven't given the help Mr. Matthews needs.
To say that the Packers have completely neglected Clay Matthews and the pass-rush would be taking it a little too far. As Aaron at CheeseheadTV notes, they drafted a pair of defensive ends with the goal of intensifying their pass-rush up the middle. It's also true that scheme adjustments from DC Dom Capers should help improve the team's pass rush. And hey, for what it's worth, Clay himself has bulked up.
Now these moves are all fine and dandy. But in my opinion, a couple of new 3-4 lineman, some tweaked schemes, and 10 pounds of additional weight do not do as much for Matthews and the pass-rush as adding a quality OLB to the leftside would've done. Because none of the aforementioned changes are really going to stop a team from looking at the Packers, and honing in on #52. The Packers have done some, but they certainly haven't done enough. And I feel the consequences will take the form of a year of lower production for last year's rookie sensation.
Admittedly, I may be jumping the gun a bit. Training camp hasn't even started. Who knows, maybe Brad Jones will develop into the next Lavar Arrington, or perhaps a realtive nobody like Cyril Obiozor or Frank Zombo will follow in the footsteps of James Harrison. But I'm not counting on it.
In 2010, Clay Matthews will be hassled, harangued, and hindered in every imaginable way. Opposing teams will do everything in their power to prevent him from getting to the passer, and given the fact that he's the only identifiable pass-rusher of any significance on the Packers' roster, they'll be able to devote a lot of resources to this task. Now I'm not saying the overall team defense won't be successful, or that Matthews won't be able to be effective in other ways aside from pass-rushing. But I am not expecting another 10 sack year out of Clay in his second season. And he's not to blame.