Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who's been known for his sacking prowess since he came into the league, is dropping back into pass coverage more often in the Packers' 4-3 defensive scheme.
Opposing offenses beware: Clay Matthews is becoming a more versatile defender.
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The Green Bay Packers linebacker is dropping back into coverage more often in addition to his superior sacking prowess. He told Mike Spofford of the Packers' official website on Sept. 17 other teams are paying attention to his new role:
"Clay Matthews doesn't think all the moving around he's doing on defense this season is fooling opposing offenses.
"But he does believe they're paying attention, and the hope is that making the opponent constantly have to scheme and adjust to his location will pay off in the long run for the Packers defense.
"'I don't sense confusion, I sense they know where I'm at, and I think that's exactly what we expect from them,' Matthews said on Wednesday. 'I think what's most important is not staying stagnant.'
"There's been nothing repetitive about Matthews' game thus far in 2014. He has lined up plenty at his traditional pass-rushing edge spot, of course, but he has also stepped off the line of scrimmage as a strong-side linebacker and roamed into the middle, to attack or drop back in coverage.
"He says he's fine with the various duties and assignments, even if it means he might have a harder time reaching double digits in sacks, which he's accomplished three times in his career. He does have one sack thus far, chasing down backup (New York) Jets QB Michael Vick on his one snap last Sunday at Lambeau Field, and he had a half-sack (shared with Julius Peppers) wiped out by a teammate's penalty in Seattle.
"Even though his all-out rush snaps may be reduced somewhat with how he's being used, Matthews relishes the chance to prove he's a defender that 'can do it all.' He added that the theory behind his constant movement is to create mismatches, such as when a tight end or running back has to block him, and then pouncing on that chance.
"'Look no further than Charles when he was here,' Matthews said, referring to Charles Woodson, who won the league's defensive player of the year award in Matthews' rookie season of 2009. 'The fact that he's able to cover, rush off the edge, come up the middle, I think you have to use your athletes in a special way, and that's what we're doing here.'"
The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Weston Hodkiewicz also touched on Matthews' expanded defensive role:
"Relocation is nothing new for Clay Matthews. At 28 years old, he's played nearly every role imaginable in the Green Bay Packers' defense and never has stayed at the same linebacker spot for more than two seasons.
"Still, it doesn't compare to what defensive coordinator Dom Capers is asking of his four-time Pro Bowler this season.
"It's been only two games, but there's been an obvious change in how the team is using its best pass rusher, who's being asked to drop into coverage like never before.
"After notching career-high-pass-rush-rates in 2012 (84.4 percent) and 2013 (84.5), Matthews is rushing on 72.5 percent of passing downs this season, the lowest since his rookie year in 2009 (70.0), according to Pro Football Focus.
"Matthews says he's cool with it. In fact, he believes it will help show there's more to his game than the 51 career sacks that helped earn him a five-year, $66 million extension last year.
"'I think I can do it all,' Matthews said. 'I think over the years, I've been known as a sack guy, but I think what's been lost in the shuffle is the fact that I can cover, I can play in space and rush the passer as well.'
"Matthews continues to rush on the line of scrimmage in the 3-4 base and nickel defense. But he's experienced the most drastic change in the Packers' new 4-3 alignment, in which he's performed most of his coverage drops.
"When that formation is called, Matthews often lines up a few yards off the line of scrimmage next to the inside linebackers, while elephant linebackers Julius Peppers, Mike Neal or Nick Perry carry the rush off the edges. He can join them in pursuit, fall back or flank out to cover a receiver in the slot."
The 28-year-old Matthews is in his sixth NFL season -- all with the Packers -- and has amassed 254 tackles, 51.0 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions in 71 career regular-season games through Sept. 18, per ESPN stats.
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