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Break It Down: Video Breakdown of Clay Matthews' Game Against the Niners

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers warms up before the NFL season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Justis MosquedaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012

After coming off a "lackluster" 2011 campaign, Clay Matthews, the Packers starting outside linebacker, has seemed to have once again elevated his game for the 2012 season.

Clay came into the league as a reach of a first-round pick by Ted Thompson. Already having a pick (B.J. Raji) early in the first, he traded his next two picks to move up to get Matthews for Dom Capers' new 3-4 defense that was going to be installed that year.

His rookie year was a success. Gaining 10 sacks was enough for him to be Lance Briggs' replacement in the Pro Bowl, and with that he became the first Packer rookie to play in the game since 1978. He lost the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award to another former USC linebacker Brian Cushing. (Note: They later had a re-vote after Cushing was accused of taking performance enhancers and Cushing still won.)

Matthews' success only continued from there as he racked up 16 sacks his sophomore year (while earning Defensive Player of the Year) and caused six turnovers with two defensive scores the next year. In 2011 the pass rusher notched his third straight Pro Bowl, but he finished his first season under double-digit quarterback sacks and had critics clamoring about his plateau or even possible decline. Four quarters into the year, you can already make a case that they were wrong.

Matthews started his assault on the 6'5" San Francisco All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley from snap number one. It only took him 1:27 into the game before he trucked Staley on his way to a diving sack of Alex Smith, his first of 2012. Clay didn't just use brute force to get by Staley on Sunday either, his rip-and-spin move looks even more impressive than it was last year.

After getting in Smith's face early on in the game, it seemed like the Niners refocused their pass blocking scheme to help Staley with the former Trojan. Trying to keep Matthews quiet might have worked towards the middle of the game, but by the end, it couldn't stop Clay from racking up 2.5 sacks and hitting Smith at least a half dozen times.

Matthews was a mobile piece of scarce victories the Packers had on defense last week. Rushing the QB to force bad throws, having his hands up to get in the way of passes or covering tight ends and backs to make sure that Smith couldn't make a safe connection with the football. Matthews did it all against the pass not including all the cutback lanes he shut down while cashing the Niners down the right side of the field. He even lined up at inside back during some of the one lineman passing downs to rush from the interior, something we rarely have seen from him.

On Thursday the Packers face the Chicago Bears in a home night game on NFL Network. Cutler, the Bears QB, has come out and said, "good luck," to the Packers secondary. However, with an offensive line that allowed two sacks against one of worst defenses in football (with their major pass rusher injured), Cutler might be the one needing some luck.

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