May 22, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) talks to fellow linebacker Nick Perry (53) during organized team activities at Ray Nitschke Field. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
Clay Matthews is often thought of as one of the key players and one of the most steady performers on the Green Bay Packers defense. It's rare that players who fit that description are lumped in with the second and third year players that fans expect big improvements out of, but Matthews' numbers took a big dip in 2011.
Without Cullen Jenkins opposite Clay Matthews and without much of a pass rushing threat behind whoever played right defensive end or tackle, offenses were able to key in on Matthews. He was almost always double teamed in 2011, mostly because teams didn't have any reason to believe that other members of the Packers could beat their linemen one-on-one in a pass rush. They were right. The Packers' pass rush was abysmal in 2011.
Clay Matthews' stats in 2011: 15 games, 41 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 interceptions, 9 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles - In addition to being double-teamed regularly, which was most of why he only managed six sacks last year, he also dropped back into coverage more often. He was actually very good at it compared to his first two years in the league and improved his interception and passes defensed totals. He'll be doing even more of that this season, simply because Nick Perry has almost no experience dropping into coverage, but his sack numbers should still be helped by Perry's presence, which will discourage teams from overloading one side of their blocking scheme.
Why I might be full of it - Because Matthews put up his big numbers with Jenkins on the team, and Jenkins still hasn't been replaced. Additionally, while he's certainly big and quick enough to be a pass-rushing 3-4 OLB in the NFL, Matthews isn't exactly a physical freak by the standards of that position. He relies more on his moves than his physical attributes. Matthews can put up double-digit sacks regularly, but let's be honest, he is not Demarcus Ware.
Projected stats for Matthews in 2012 - 50 tackles, 10 sacks, 3 interceptions, 9 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles - The presence of Perry will keep double teams off Matthews, while Jerel Worthy could help the pass rush quite a bit as well. If players like Dezman Moses and Phillip Merling develop into useful players, that's even more pressure off Matthews to be the one guy providing a pass rush. Having said that, he'll be dropping into coverage more than he did in his second year in the league, so expect less sacks than his 13.5 in 2010.