The LA Rams have had a fairly quiet off-season by the standards set the last two years, but they’ve made significant moves nonetheless. One of those moves was the signing of long time Packer and LA native Clay Matthews. Matthews has very deep family roots in the NFL. His grandfather, with the same name, played in the NFL in the 1950’s. His father, again with the same name, was a 4 time pro-bowl linebacker and his uncle, Bruce Matthews was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. 3 of his cousins made it to the NFL, most notably Pro-Bowl LT for the Atlanta Falcons, Jake Matthews. His brother also made a brief stint in the NFL playing 4 years for the Eagles. So its fair to say that football is in his blood.
The Rams signed Clay to a very modest two year $9.25mil contract. It’s an absolute steal for a savvy veteran player that will help lead the linebackers of the Rams. There has been a lot of chatter in the Rams’ and NFL world about Clay Matthews being washed up and over the hill, but this is not based in fact and is a mostly unsubstantiated claim, but we’ll get back to that. First let’s talk about what Clay brings as far as experience.
Clay was drafted in the first round by the Packers in the 2009 NFL Draft. He spent the first five years of his career playing almost exclusively at EDGE for the Packers and had quite the start to his career. In those first five years Clay had the 5th most sacks, 4th most tackles for loss, 5th most QB Hits, 2nd most interceptions and 3rd most passes defended among EDGE rushers. Its easy to say that for those five years, Matthews was one of the top 5 EDGE rushers in the NFL.
The next five years of his career would change and so would his position. In 2014 the Packers would start experimenting with playing Clay at ILB. He would split time between between EDGE and ILB and ended a good season with 11 sacks, 22 QB Hits and 16 TFL. In 2015 he would play ILB full time. After an injury that kept him to 12 games played and only nine starts, Matthews was back to full-time EDGE duty and saw a revitalization of sorts in 2017. Clay finished that year with 21 QB hits, good enough for 20th in the NFL despite only playing in 14 games. It would be the first time he would play full time at EDGE in four years and the first time he’d reach 20 or more QB hits in three years. This all despite the fact that the Packers donned one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
2018 was a different story all together. Long time coach and the man who had been #52’s DC his entire career Dom Capers was fired. The Packers brought in Mike Pettine and the results were not great as the Packers struggled on defense and finished at 18th in Yards Allowed, 22nd in Points Allowed & 29th in Takeaways. Clay would go on to say this at his Rams press conference: “Not to make excuses but there was some change last year in the Packers organizations that didn’t work out for me.” This is likely in reference to the coaching changes made by the Packers. Pettine has simply never shown himself to be a great DC. Any good season he’s had as DC was riding the coat tails of Rex Ryan with the Jets. To make matters worse, Clay would go back to playing all over the defensive front and have no consistency.
Now on to the question at hand, What does Clay Matthews bring to the Rams? Well as noted above, he is a veteran talent who will bring a ton of experience not only to the linebacker room but to the defense as a whole. The veteran savvy and leadership he brings will be invaluable for our young EDGE rushing group of Ebukam, Fowler Jr., Ogbo and Young. Most people will agree on the intangibles, experience and leadership that Matthews brings. And of course he has won a Superbowl, so there is that championship knowledge. He knows what it takes to win at the highest level. Did we mention he will only cost $3.5mil this season?
The second half of that equation is what can we expect from this man on the field? Will he be Clay Matthews of the first five years of his career or the Clay Matthews of last year, washed up and over the hill? First thing of note is Mike Pettin is no Wade Phillips. Hell, Pettin can’t even carry Wade’s jock strap. Second thing to note is that the Rams have a much better support system for Matthews. The Rams secondary is elite which will give Matthews more time to get to the QB and the Rams offer a much better D-Line for him to rush with. This will ensure he garners much less attention than the last few seasons with a weak Green Bay defense surrounding him.
The third and most controversial factor was that the NFL targeted certain players early in the season to protect QB’s even more with a new stipulation to roughing the passer. Clay Matthews who had 4 total roughing the passer penalties in his first 9 seasons combined was called for 3 controversial roughing the passer penalties, all in the first 3 weeks of the season. Not only were the calls themselves questionable but the timing of them was too, as they were called at critical junctions of the game. One can easily see how that might cause a player like Clay to play with less aggressiveness in the following games as the referees learned how to judge this new rule.
So taking all these factors into account, let’s make a prediction as to what we might be able to expect statistically from Clay Matthews in 2019, if he’s healthy. The easiest thing to do is put up a best / worst case scenario but lets go bold and give a single educated statistical prediction. All factors taken into account lets say Clay puts up 9 sacks, which would be his highest since 2014 and the second highest on the Rams, 20 QB Hits which would have been 2nd on the Rams last year, and 10 TFL which would also be 2nd on the Rams last year. If these numbers seem like a stretch to you, just know that Clay would have done all of these had he played a full 16 games in 2017, instead of 14.