(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
For a defense in the middle of a transition, perhaps it makes sense a rookie has thrived early in the new system.
Clay Matthews did not have an official start until the game against Detroit Sunday, but he already leads the team in sacks. Matthews also provided a huge emotional boost early for the Packers.
Bursting out of the gates, Matthews tackled Lions running back Kevin Smith for losses on the first two plays. Matthews sacked Culpepper on the Lions next possession, and came up big when he was the first Packer on Smith on a crucial Lions fourth and one.
Then the first quarter ended.
At a position where the Packers have a couple of converted defensive ends (Kampman, Thompson), two backup linebackers (Poppinga, Jones), Matthews has stepped up into a role which was an unknown before the season started.
Back in April, I wondered
if Matthews was worth what Thompson traded to nab him. While it is still too early to tell, Matthews could not have made a more noticeable impact as outside linebacker.
Leading the team with his three sacks, Matthews has given glimpses into what Dom Capers' defense future may hold.
Matthews had the memorable strip on Adrian Peterson
to keep the Packers close in week four. He has not only pressured the quarterback (Matthews was also near Stanton when he threw the interception to Harris), but effective in coverage as well, knocking away three passes so far.
The complete way Matthews has played bodes well for the Packers. Playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 requires players to be extremely versatile. Players need to have the power to rush the quarterback while utilizing their speed and agility in coverage against running backs and tight ends.
Even extremely talented players such as Aaron Kampman need to adjust to cover all the skills required. Kampman is in a process to playing in coverage, Brady Poppinga lacks the power to consistently the quarterback.
Side note: There already is a huge fuss about Kampman's sack Sunday because he had his hand down before the snap. Yes, Kampman should be used more in this manner, but do not expect Capers to alter his plan with Kampman much.
What is more important is he got his first of the season, and was seen smiling after the game. Hopefully, his confidence will move up a notch and we can stop listening to every announcer spewing the same "he looks lost" crap. Of course he's lost, he's never done this before. Give him time, Kampman is worth it.
Green Bay seems like a perfect fit for Matthews from a hair perspective as well. His long, flowing locks match Harris, Bigby, Barnett, and Hawk. I won't lie, after seeing his lion's mane in the preseason, he has become a fan favorite of mine. I've heard CM3 as a nickname for Matthews, but the mane offers so many more interesting possibilities.
I have also taken a liking to Matthews for his strong work ethic. He walked-on to USC as a linebacker after not receiving an offer from any university. The intensity of his play has continued at the pro level. He never gives up on a play, the pinnacle of that persistence coming on his touchdown.
Outside linebacker is a crucial position to fill because of the aforementioned versatility. Clay Matthews has a real chance to become a superstar in Green Bay if he continues his high level of play. Locking down the left side for the linebackers is an important part of the defense as Kampman works out the kinks of the right.
If Matthews can build upon his early success, it will answer the preseason's biggest question and go a long way for the Packers making the playoffs.