Clay Matthews still viewed as outside linebacker
Clay Matthews proved that he was versatile enough to play either outside or inside linebacker this season.
But where does that leave the five-time Pro Bowler for 2015? That's what coach Mike McCarthy and his staff will have to determine when setting the defensive agenda for next season.
That decision could come down to how well the Packers are able to improve their inside linebackers this offseason. The position came under fire with the defensive struggles in the first half of the season and eventually resulted in veterans A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones seeing a large reduction in playing time.
The key for a turnaround wound up being Matthews' shift inside after the bye week. The move, along with Sam Barrington's promotion inside, was critical in the defense cutting its rushing yards allowed in half during the last eight games. It seemed to rejuvenate Matthews, too. Of his 11 sacks, 8 1/2 came in the second half of the season.
"I mean, Clay's an outside linebacker," McCarthy said. "I think we all recognize that. But he was very productive in his role when he went inside. I think as we build our roster and go through the player acquisition phase, there will be more answers, hopefully more options and we'll see how it goes."
Matthews' value to the defense never was more evident than when he missed the final two series of regulation in the Packers' 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game. After being contained for the first three quarters, the Seahawks' offense produced 119 yards and two touchdown-scoring series with Matthews off the field.
Neither the Packers nor Matthews has offered a clear explanation for what happened. Matthews left briefly with about 11 minutes remaining in the game after appearing to suffer a blow to the head after deflecting a pass intended for Seattle tight end Luke Willson, but returned in overtime.
Matthews could be seen stretching his legs during the final series. When asked after the game, Matthews said his absence stemmed from "a medley of things," but said he was all right. He went onto play in Sunday's Pro Bowl.
"I don't know about a concussion," McCarthy said. "I know he was being looked at there at the end. His knee. But he did have a couple collisions, and we may be talking about the same play. I saw it and I actually walked towards him, because Jordy Nelson waved to me. I talked to Clay and he just said he needed a minute. Looking him in the eye and everything, I didn't see any reason for concern there."
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