This is now officially ridiculous. Oh, sure, the way players were being penalized for roughing the passer was nutso in Week 1 and frustrating in Week 2, but after the rule reared its ugly head again in Week 3, some fans and analysts are calling for a change.
Sadly for Clay Matthews, he has become the poster child for the rule, which has brought the “what is a catch?” debate and its confounding lack of clarity into the defensive realm. For a third consecutive game, the Packers linebacker was called for roughing when it looked for all the world as if he were merely tackling quarterbacks the way players are taught, cleanly and without malice.
“There are more egregious helmet to helmet hits taking place on every play that put players in much more danger that are NOT being called that should be...yet Clay Matthews getting flagged for today’s sack of Alex Smith?” ESPN’s Louis Riddick tweeted. “Don’t ruin the game #nfl...be careful.”
Matthews has now been flagged for the way in which he brought down the Bears' Mitchell Trubisky, the Vikings' Kirk Cousins and the Redskins' Alex Smith. Each has brought a fresh wave of outrage, and you can’t blame Matthews — who had just four of these penalties over his first nine seasons — for being befuddled.
“When you have a hit like that, that’s a football play,” Matthews said after the Packers fell to 1-1-1 with a loss to Washington. “Unfortunately, this league’s going in a direction a lot of people don’t like. They’re getting soft.”
He was echoing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who last week said he thought the roughing-the-passer penalties were “going in the wrong direction.” Rodgers himself could have benefited from a roughing call earlier in the game after being hit by Daron Payne, yet no flag was thrown. It’s an irritating inconsistency pointed out by The Post’s Mark Maske, who noted that “Matthews was running directly at Alex Smith, tackled him and landed on him. There was no way not to land on him. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers was spun to the ground and thrown down earlier with no call.”
A week ago, Joe Thomas, the former Browns offensive lineman, called Matthews’s sack on Cousins “the least roughing the passer . . . I have ever seen.” He didn’t like what he saw Sunday, either, and shared the NFL’s official video, in which it backed the call.
“Please add another tweet to this public service announcement and tell us how a player, running at full speed, can tackle a quarterback squarely from the front, and not land on said quarterback with most of his weight?” Thomas tweeted. “I’ll hang up and listen now.”
Of course, the Packers' Rodgers is one big reason for this increased emphasis on protecting the quarterback. The Vikings' Anthony Barr landed on Rodgers with all his weight last October, breaking his collarbone and all but ending his season. That was one of a number of injuries that took many of the league’s star players off the field, and the NFL doesn’t want to see its moneymakers sidelined again.
According to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9: “A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as ‘stuffing’ a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball . . .” Among other things, the technique of grabbing the passer from behind the leg(s), scooping and pulling in an upward motion is considered a foul.”
Still, there’s a sense that this is out of kilter. Plenty of people had sarcastic suggestions for how players should tackle now, ranging from a SpongeBob take . . .
. . . to a Wisconsin resident’s suggestion (that likely would have drawn a flag for lifting the quarterback up off the ground) . . .
. . . to ESPN’s Booger McFarland, who suggested that Matthews “just pick up the quarterback and carry him off the field and sit him on the bench.”
Ed Hochuli, the former NFL official who is now a league consultant, told Pro Football Talk’s Peter King that Matthews’s hit was a “textbook” case of roughing because the emphasis of the rule relates to the placement of all or most of the defender’s body weight on the passer.
“They’ve been calling it this way for six weeks,” Hochuli said. “It’s as clear of an example of roughing the passer as you could have.”
Hochuli’s solution for Matthews? The linebacker, he said, had two steps before he hit Smith and could have rolled to the side, putting his weight on the ground, not on the passer.
“If I could show an example of fully body weight on a passer,” Hochuli said, “that would be the play.”
Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison wasted no time weighing in on the matter on NBC’s Sunday night “Football Night in America,” with Harrison calling the call “ridiculous” and begging the NFL to “change the rule, please.” Dungy called for the NFL to “use common sense here. Take the pile driving out of it, but you are going to land on the quarterback sometimes, and that’s okay.”
Kind of makes a person long for the good ol' days when we couldn’t decide what constituted a catch.
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