The Green Bay Packers' best defense player over the past few seasons has been outside linebacker Clay Matthews. However, through the first 11 weeks of the 2013 season, Matthews had been relatively quiet for Green Bay, and its defense suffered in a big way.
Thankfully, Week 12 rolled around, and a matchup against the Minnesota Vikings seemed to be exactly what Matthews needed to jump-start his season. He finished the game with four total tackles, two of which were for a loss, two quarterback sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Over the course of that game, Matthews proved that he's finally back to being his dominant self. And it couldn't have come at a better time, as the Packers are fighting for a division title.
Let's take a look at the film from Sunday's game and see exactly what Matthews did to prove that he's back to elite form.
Against the Run
It's never easy to slow down a running back like Adrian Peterson. And while the Packers defense was extremely unsuccessful at stopping him on Sunday, Matthews wasn't the reason why.
In the picture below, Peterson wants to turn the corner and cut upfield.
However, Matthews does a fantastic job at getting his hands on tight end Rhett Ellison and keeping him engaged. In fact, Matthews actually pushes Ellison back and forces Peterson go wider than he originally wanted to.
Matthews remains engaged with Ellison as Peterson runs past him. As you can see in the picture above, Matthews fails to make the original tackle.
That's obviously not what is so impressive about this play. What's so impressive is that Matthews quickly gets up off the ground and gets into perfect position to stop Peterson from making a cutback to the other side of the field.
He forces Peterson up the field and ultimately makes the tackle to stop him for a slow gain. His hustle on this play combined with the discipline to do what was necessary of him is exactly why Matthews is such a dangerous player.
Matthews has improved against the run since he first entered the league, and this play was the perfect example of it all coming together for him.
Pressuring the Quarterback
There are two plays that show the talent and versatility that make Matthews one of the most dangerous pass-rushing linebackers in the league.
The first play came early in the game. He's matched up against offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who is no slack of an offensive tackle. In the picture below, Matthews hesitates like he's going to rush inside, but he's ultimately going to run around Kalil. This slight hesitation is enough to get Kalil off balance and give Matthews the edge.
When Kalil does engage, Matthews uses his hands to quickly get around the offensive tackle.
This is the first time since Matthews broke his thumb that we've seen him successfully use his hands to get pressure on the quarterback.
After beating Kalil, Matthews displays an incredible burst to close on quarterback Christian Ponder in no time. The end result was Matthews' first sack of the season and an eight-yard loss for the Vikings.
With the second play we are going to look at, we see that Matthews is once again lined up across from Kalil.
Instead of using a hesitation move to beat Kalil, Matthews shows off his versatility and advanced repertoire of pass-rushing moves to get to the quarterback. As you can see in the picture below, Matthews uses a spin move to easily beat the offensive tackle.
While the end result of this play wasn't a sack, it did force Ponder to throw the ball away.
In these two plays, Matthews displayed the ability to keep offensive linemen guessing when he's coming after opposing quarterbacks. His versatility combined with his nonstop motor and impressive athletic ability makes him nearly unstoppable.
What Matthews Must Continue to Do
Is Matthews good enough to turn around the entire Packers defense?
One great game simply isn't enough for Matthews. This is especially true with how terrible the rest of the Packers defense has been this year.
What Matthews must continue to do is consistently impact games on the defensive side of the ball. He doesn't always need to come up with a sack or a defensive stop, but he needs to do enough to set up his teammates to make an easy play.
With the Packers still capable of winning the NFC North, Matthews return to dominance couldn't have come at a better time. He's going to need to play the best football of his life over the next four weeks if the Packers want a chance to finish the season atop the division.