How Clay Matthews' Return Allowed Green Bay to Shut Down Chicago Bears
He finished the game with a crazy stat-line of two sacks, four tackles for a loss, and two pass defenses in his first game back from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the lineup for four games.
Matthews was especially productive considering he didn't play the full amount of snaps, as the Packers tried to ease him back into game action.
Initially, the Packers struggled to contain the Bears running game and Matt Forte. He rushed for 37 yards on the game's opening drive as the Bears drove down the field with ease. A false start penalty and an incompletion forced a punt. It was nice to force a punt, but it appeared it would be a long day with Forte running wild.
On the second possession, Matthews showed his ability to impact the game in other ways than through rushing the passer. With the game still waiting to be broken open, the Bears had great field position and had been having their way in the run game.
The Bears ran Forte for a 1-yard gain on first down and lined up looking ready to run on second down, needing nine yards for a first down.
B.J. Raji and Matthews got a great burst off the snap and each had a step on their blockers. Both were in great position if the hand-off were to go to Forte.
As the ball got handed off to Forte, Matthews' blocker had already failed at his desperation dive, leaving one Bears lineman, J'Marcus Webb, to deal with both Raji and Matthews. That's probably the best scenario the Packers could ask for on a given play.
As Raji got past Webb, Matthews gave a little nudge to ensure Webb was unable to recover to make the block.
Matthews then immediately bolted for Forte and finished the play as Raji can't bring down Forte. The loss of four yards turned a manageable down-and-distance into third-and-long. The Bears couldn't convert and the Packers were able to get the ball and take back some ground in the early battle for field position.
On the next drive, Matthews showed his vital impact in the pass rush with the same type of playmaking ability that ended a Chicago attack. His sack of Jay Cutler on third down forced another Bears punt.
Later in the game, Matthews got his second sack on a play that helped the Packers keep the Bears at a distance.
After an offensive pass interference penalty on Alshon Jeffery and a 3-yard gain by Forte, the Bears faced a second-and-long situation.
They lined up in an obvious passing formation with nobody in the backfield alongside Jay Cutler. The Packers lined up with Raji and Mike Daniels as the only down linemen and Matthews and Dezman Moses as outside backers.
The Packers ran a stunt with Matthews coming over the top of Raji and attacking the middle of the Bears offensive line as both linemen, Matthews and Moses, rush the passer.
As Matthews got over the top, two Bears blocked Raji, two blocked Daniels and one blocked Moses, leaving Matthews a free run at Cutler.
Matthews makes the Bears pay for their offensive line miscue by sacking Jay Cutler and forcing an insurmountable distance to gain on third down. The Bears line was so focused on Raji and Matthews coming from the left side, that when Matthews got towards the middle, the Bears were out of position.
The attention Matthews is able to draw allows the Packers to be much more creative in getting him and other players opportunities to find holes on the line.
If you look at the picture above, Matthews' ability to get to the quarterback not only resulted in a negative play for the Bears, but prevented a big positive one. Alshon Jeffery was able to get a step on Sam Shields and would have been open for a big-play opportunity if Cutler had had time to get the ball out of his hands.
Matthews' presence on the field was a huge factor in the Packers' ability to dominate the Bears offense both by stopping the run and rushing the passer. He consistently made big plays that ended Bears drives and kept points off the board.
With his ability to rush the passer individually and help others on the line get better matchups, Matthews also takes pressure off the secondary. This was the case when Shields was beaten by Jeffery, but Cutler was sacked.
This is the case not only on plays ending in sacks, but throughout the game as Cutler was having to throw quickly or worrying about locating Matthews and the rest of the pass rush.
Matthews being back in the lineup allows the Packers defense to get much more creative. The group has a chance to really get into a nice stride down the stretch. With a more balanced attack offensively, the Packers could be set for a long playoff run with the Matthews-led defense playing well.
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