Is Matthews A Liability Against The Run?

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Clay Matthews

The Steelers figured out how to run on the Packers.

I don’t think anyone can argue that Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is one of the best defensive players in the league.

He’s one of the NFL’s top pass rushers, he can completely disrupt opposing offenses and he has to be game planned for. That being said, he’s not the greatest run-stuffing linebacker, even on his own team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers ran at Matthews with a good degree of success in Super Bowl XLV.

“He doesn’t want to take on the run,” Pittsburgh running backs coach Kirby Wilson told running back Isaac Redman before the game. “He’s a pass-rush specialist. He wants to pass rush Mike Vick. He wants to pass rush Matthew Stafford. … We’re going to keep pounding and make this guy quit.”

I doubt anyone’s going to make Matthews quit, but Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall gained 66 yards running to Matthews’ side in the Super Bowl. He totaled 63 yards on the day, netting zero to the left and negative three up the middle.

Those are pretty telling statistics.

Matthews, of course, made one of the biggest plays of the game when he forced a Mendenhall fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter, ending a Steelers’ drive at the Packers’ 33.

You could argue the Steelers went to the well one time too often or that a playmaker will eventually make a play, given enough opportunities.

That doesn’t change the fact Matthews was exposed in the running game, at least on this occasion. The Steelers pull their guard and center often and those big boys neutralized Matthews.

That seems to be the blueprint for running on the Packers. It will be interesting to see how they work to combat that and whether they do it through personnel or schematically.

About The Author

Monty McMahon is one of the founders of Total Packers. He is probably the most famous graduate of UW-Oshkosh next to Jim Gantner.

11 Comments on "Is Matthews A Liability Against The Run?"

  1. peter

    last years off season he focused on arm slap and pass rush move I’m sure this off season he is going to focus on play better at the run. Although he has improved over the course of the season. Not too worried about the claymakers play vs the run.

  2. Sacram3ntal

    They absolutely went to the well once too often- Matthews was never going to quit, and the rest of that footage is pretty sweet.

    He tells everyone the run is coming his way, starts yelling at Pickett to spill it, maintains the outside edge (while Pickett actually occupies two blockers) and the rest is history.

    Now, he’s given up run yards to his side all year- he gets caught up inside and can still have trouble disengaging laterally once in a while.

    But, no way is Matthews just a one-dimensional “pass-rush specialist”: he’s made numerous plays agaisnt the run in the backfield, he’s great at reading the play, awesome at running down the play when its going away from him, is a very good tackler and has excellent instincts and speed.

    He’s a 2nd year player, and is only going to get better- I was honestly taken aback at how adept he became over one off season at handling double teams, for example.

    • ay hombre

      Well said. He’s a little on the small side for stopping the run…but getting him to quit? That’s pretty laughable. Props once again to Dom for making a gutsy decision to make Clay predominantly Big Ben’s shadow…and it worked too. You know Ben wanted to run all day and you know why? Because he’s not an accurate passer. How many times did they throw the WR screen that game? It had to be close to 10 times.

      But yep…I’ll give up those yards all day in exchange for a couple big plays, and no doubt CMIII will improve in this area.

  3. DevilDon

    I don’t think it’s a lack of CMIII’s ability to stop the run as much as that’s how Pittsburgh runs it. You can’t convince me Zombo is that much better against the run that the Steelers were scared to run his way, it was their way of trying to “tire” the Claymaker. It didn’t work.

  4. Ryan

    Did anyone else notice that in the picture above Clay is being held? I realize holding happens on almost every play, I just find it kind of ironic.

  5. martinez

    it is documented by our talented friends at espn that rashard mendenhall ran the ball to the right 127 times for 623 yards this season. Up the middle he ran it 74 times for 209 yards. and to the left 92 for 278 yards. The steelers just like to run that direction because thats where they are most effective, it says nothing at all about Clay’s ability to stop the run. Who wouldn’t want to run behind Flozell’s fat ass all day? Clay was double teamed, held, tripped and it was the other linebackers and linemen to flow to the football and make the stop.

    • FrozenFanatic84

      Great points Martinez! Statistics can always be manipulated to say anything people want them to say! If anything teams should be afraid to run to Matthews side of the field!

    • jeremy

      Most teams are more effective rushing to the right because the best run blockers play there. The best pass protectors usually play on the left.

      Anyway, who gives two shits if they run for 5 yards per carry on the right. Rodgers throws for 8.3 yds per pass; let them run.

  6. Vijay

    In a zone pressure scheme like the Packers have, I believe its the D line who will have to continue to improve in this regard. jolly was an expert at stuffing the run and Pickett is pretty fair at this as well. They need to help Matthews by balancing the support he gets against the run in order for him to make more plays. If they pull the O-Line and double him, its tough for anyone to set the edge and control the run game. Don’t forget that Pittsburgh is an elite offensive running team and that their scheme and lineman excel in run production vs. pass. When you face elite competition, all you can really hope for is to limit production by the opposition and try to neutralize their strengths. I think Clay does a fine job in run support but yeah, more big boys who can stuff the run would help his cause too.

  7. Shawn iltarion

    No, it was a great break for the Packers that the Steelers stuck with their strength of running right. Matthews is a play maker. You keep going at him; eventually, he’s going to make a play.

    The Steelers had their best success running when we only had two defensive linemen on the field. We can always throw in the big boys if we need to stop the run.

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