Due to injuries, scheme, and general ineffectiveness at the inside linebacker position, the Green Bay Packers have been forced to use Clay Matthews there over the past one-and-a-half seasons, moving him away from his full-time pass-rushing role in an effort to utilize his talents to best suit the defense.
On Monday, however, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy discussed the team's plans to move Matthews back to a full-time pass-rushing role in 2016, returning him to the outside linebacker position.
The Packers have a young, up-and-coming starter in Jake Ryan at one inside spot, and will have Sam Barrington returning from injury to man the other inside position. They also have some young depth in Nate Palmer and Carl Bradford on the roster, though Palmer struggled to make a positive impact in a half-season as a starter while Bradford has not yet seen the field in a regular-season game.
Still, the coaches expect to have Matthews move back outside, which will result in more pass-rushing snaps for him. As such, we would expect his sack production to increase back to pre-2014 levels. In the first five years of Matthews' career (2009-2013), he averaged exactly 10 sacks per season and 11.6 sacks per 16 games. Adding in the 7.5 sacks in eight playoff games during that span, and we see that average increase slightly to 11.9.
By comparison, since first playing inside linebacker during the week 10 game in 2014, Matthews' total sack production is down to 10 sacks per 16 games (17.5 sacks over 28 games, including playoffs). He still is used as a rusher, both on inside blitzes and lined up outside in obvious passing situations, but his numbers are down overall, at least a bit.
Regardless of the position he does in fact play in 2016, Matthews looks poised to become the Packers' career leader in sacks next season (which requires the caveat that sacks were not tracked as an individual statistic until 1982). His 67.5 sacks currently put him third on the Packers' list, behind only Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (74.5) and Reggie White (68.5). Another season of 7.5 or more sacks - a number which he has failed to reach only twice, in 2011 and 2015 - would give him the franchise's all-time individual lead.
Matthews is already a sure-fire Packers Hall of Famer, and if he continues his career trajectory he should be a legitimate candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well. But as he looks to focus more on rushing the quarterback in 2016 than he did this year, the KGB's mark should not stand much of a chance.
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