It is no secret that Clay Matthews wanted to come home to Southern California, he grew up 30 miles from the LA Memorial Coliseum and walked on for USC. The Rams wasted little time obliging him when free agency opened this spring.
Clay Matthews may not have the impact of the defense he once had. Last season, the biggest headlines Matthews made were roughing the passer penalties and he has seemed to lost a step or two in the last few years, posting a statistically limp 2018.
Matthews is among several blockbuster free agents to join the Rams this offseason on defense as they attempt to one-up their Super Bowl run from last season. Matthews is convinced he can make a difference stating during his introductory press conference, “I know I have the ability to produce as I’ve done before. Not to make excuses, but there was some change last year in the Packers organization and unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me. As far as moving forward, I know I’m a difference maker.”
The Rams see his difference-making potential in two major categories.
The Rams are taking a page from the Patriots playbook and asking what this guy CAN do, not what he CAN’T. Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine looked at him to fill the role they needed, a traditional inside linebacker, which often dropped him back into pass coverage. What Matthews’ does best is to utilize his vision and understanding of offenses to penetrate into the backfield.
As Sean McVay put it, “When you have a player that has that versatile skill set, you can utilize him in a variety of ways. I think, obviously, what he does at an extremely high level is when he’s going forward and trying to affect and influence the quarterback, rushing the quarterback, setting the edge in the run game. So I think you’ll see a lot of that. But then when you get into some of those known-passing situations, you can get creative with where you’re moving him around.”
Similarly, the Patriots had success using Dont’a Hightower to act as a hybrid linebacker. What the Patriots don’t have is Dante Fowler and Aaron Donald. The Rams are looking for Clay Matthews to read the offense and, in essence, call defensive audibles.
Going into last season, the Ram defense was compared to some of the great defenses of all-time and for good reason. They added Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib to an already stellar defense. They never lived up to those comparisons, ranking 19th and 20th in yards per game and points per game respectively.
The unsigned, Ndamukong Suh has never been known as a “good teammate” and showed his lack of leadership by essentially taking the regular season off from playing with any vigor. Matthews will be the antithesis of Suh for the Rams. He is a charismatic and inspiring football player. He leads by example and with raw power and emotion on the field. It is an intangible portion of the game that was lacking from last year that Matthews brings in spades.
Clay Matthews also brings playoff and Super Bowl experience. An astounding statistic from Super Bowl 53 was that the Patriots had 38 players on their 53-man roster with Super Bowl experience. The Rams had four. Matthews has played in 15 playoff games, including a Super Bowl victory. That experience will matter to everyone from Sean McVay on down.