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Clay Matthews' Return: A Statistical Look at the Packers' Defense

Where we delve into the realm of stats to quantify #52's impact on the Packers' D

David Banks

This week, Clay Matthews returned to the lineup for the Green Bay Packers, and his impact was immediate. He recorded five tackles, including two sacks, and was relentless in pursuing Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears' ball carriers. Just how important is Matthews' return to the lineup? Let's take a look at some numbers that show his impact.

In the below table, I show the Packers' sack statistics from each game, along with the opponent's average sacks allowed in the other 13 games they have played over the course of the 2012 season. "Net" shows whether the Packers' pass rush performed better than an average opponent (positive numbers) or worse (negative). Certainly hurries and QB hits would be a better overall view of the pass rush as a whole, but there is enough sack data to show a trend here. Note that the games that Matthews missed are shown in bold, and the Arizona game in which he was injured part-way through is shown in italics. In most cases I will ignore the Arizona game, since he affected part of the game, but missed the other portion.

Week Opponent Sacks Avg Sacks Allowed Net
1 SF 4 2.69 +1.31
2 CHI 7 2.62 +4.38
3 @ SEA 1 1.92 -0.92
4 NO 2 1.62 +0.38
5 @ IND 4 2.54 +1.46
6 @ HOU 3 1.31 +1.69
7 @ STL 3 2.46 +0.54
8 JAX 2 3.08 -1.08
9 ARI 2 3.85 -1.85
11 @ DET 5 1.77 +3.23
12 @ NYG 1 1.15 -0.15
13 MIN 0 2.31 -2.31
14 DET 0 2.15 -2.15
15 @ CHI 4 2.85 +1.15

In the 9 games that Matthews has played fully, the Packers are +0.99 per game, in essence sacking the quarterback one more time per game than that opponent otherwise allows. Over nine games, that is obviously about nine sacks better than an average pass rush would expect against this schedule. Furthermore, the Packers only had a negative net sack number in two games with Matthews in the lineup.

However, over the four games that Matthews was out, the Packers average -0.35 per game. That is a net loss of 1.34 sacks per game without Matthews playing fully. Even worse, over the last three games that he missed they only recorded a single sack. Clearly, Matthews is playing a huge role in boosting the Packers' sack totals as a team, and it seems like a logical conclusion to draw that the pass rush is more effective as a whole with him on the field.

Now we turn to rushing statistics. I used the same methodology here for rushing yardage allowed. The only difference is that negative numbers are better for the Packers' defense, since they show the defense allowing fewer yards than their opponent averages in all other games.

Week Opponent Rush Yds Allowed Avg Opp Rush Yds Net
1 SF 191 160.7 +30.3
2 CHI 74 123.1 -49.1
3 @ SEA 127 163.3 -36.3
4 NO 45 92.6 -47.6
5 @ IND 119 106.2 +12.8
6 @ HOU 90 146.0 -56.0
7 @ STL 108 110.6 -2.6
8 JAX 62 84.0 -22.0
9 ARI 54 82.0 -28.0
11 @ DET 110 104.0 +6.0
12 @ NYG 147 112.5 +34.5
13 MIN 240 154.1 +85.9
14 DET 135 102.0 +33.0
15 @ CHI 83 122.4 -39.4

As you can see, in most games with Clay on the field, the Packers allowed fewer yards than expected on the ground. Only twice did they allow more, to the 49ers and the Colts. This includes the Bears game this week. With Matthews on the field, the Packers' rushing defense allowed an average of 23 yards less than expected. But with Matthews out, each of the games from week 11-14 shows a positive net. They average 40 rushing yards allowed over expectation with no #52, giving a total difference of 63 yards with and without him.

There's no doubt that Matthews is a huge factor for Dom Capers' defense, both in the pass rush and the run defense. Hopefully these numbers can put into perspective just how crucial he is in preventing other teams from moving the ball.