Roughing the passer rules still confuse Packers linebacker Clay Matthews
GREEN BAY — Hoping to “ensure consistency in officiating” its controversial roughing-the-passer rules, the NFL issued a statement — accompanied by a dos-and-don’ts video — on Thursday in hopes of tamping down the criticism its enforcement has drawn from players, coaches and fans.
Clay Matthews was unimpressed.
The Green Bay Packers’ edge rusher has been at the epicenter of the controversy, having had a roughing penalty in each of the team’s first three games. He admitted after the opener against Chicago that that penalty was deserved. But he didn’t agree – to put it mildly – with his hit against Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins two weeks ago being a penalty, nor did he feel his sack of Washington’s Alex Smith last Sunday merited a flag.
In the video, NFL officiating chief Al Riveron narrates a handful of hits that he says were fouls. While the video was not intended to be a compilation of all the penalties so far this season, Matthews noted that neither of his hits were in the video as examples of what not to do.
Matthews also pointed out that with one exception — the clip of Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr driving Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers into the U.S. Bank Stadium turf last October, which led off the video — the plays that were shown that were fouls all involved pass rushers coming at the quarterback directly or almost head-on. Meanwhile, the plays used as examples of how to legally hit the quarterback were from the edge or the side of the quarterbacks, making it easier for those players to avoid landing on the QB.
“After seeing the video, all hits on the quarterback that came from straight on which is what they teach you since Pee Wee football with running backs, receivers or whatever is to approach them head on if you can those were all illegal hits. Much like the two hits I had on Cousins and Smith, which were conveniently left out of the video,” Matthews said. “All of the acceptable hits which were legal came from off the edge or quarterbacks that were trying to fight out of a sack.
“If they continue to call it like that, I think there’s going to be more penalties, players are obviously going to be upset, coaches are going to continue to not know how to coach it and fans will continue to be upset by the fact that the NFL can’t seem to get out of its own way,” Matthews said.
The NFL released the statement and video both to teams and publicly on behalf of the league’s competition committee, which met via conference call Wednesday night. The focus of the committee’s discussion was “with a specific emphasis on the use of body weight by a defender.”
Matthews, who has not been fined for either hit, said he spoke with Packers team president/CEO Mark Murphy, who is on the competition committee, after the conference call and asked him what he should do.
“It’s not to change a thing,” Matthews replied when asked what the message was. “I just think somehow you need to program something in your head that when you’re coming with those straight-on hits with the quarterback, to pick a side, maybe go after the ball. Those are going to be the tough ones. And unfortunately, I think as I saw from Monday Night Football watching the game, the field is just going to be littered with flags trying to protect the quarterback, trying to protect business.
“Obviously I just think it’s not practical. Physics would say when you’re coming from straight on, you can’t hit somebody with just your shoulder. (You’re going to) wrap up with your arms. I mean, that’s the way you play football, and I think that’s what fans want to see. So, I get it. As I continue to say, they’re trying to protect the quarterbacks. Good football is when good players are available — especially star players. But it’s putting everybody else at risk and taking away from the game, and I think that’s what fans are disappointed about.”
So what’s Matthews’ solution?
“It’s hard to officiate intent. But that’s what you’d like to see, because that’s the biggest thing is what you see from – at least my two hits on the quarterback – it’s intent. There’s a big difference between falling on a guy and driving a guy on the ground, and I think that would allow the officiating to be much cleaner,” Matthews said. “But maybe they can make room and put one more guy on the competition committee – me.”
From the infirmary
For the first time since suffering the injury on Sept. 9, Rodgers was able to take part in a Thursday practice. His participation was officially listed as “limited,” but that he was out there instead of up in the Lambeau Field rehabilitation area with athletic trainer Nate Weir and the medical staff was a strong indicator that his knee is feeling better. He’s expected to practice again on Saturday — a lighter, shorter practice he’s taken part in for the past two weeks — and once again play on Sunday.
When Rodgers came out to practice, backup quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle teasingly and good-naturedly applauded his arrival.
“He’s the best in the business,” Boyle said. “I’m learning how competitive he is and how much he really does not like being in here. He wants to be out there with us.
“It kind of puts things in perspective that a guy who’s getting paid that much money (and) has that high of a status, most guys would want to (stay) in here and rehab his knee. But he’s itching to get out there (for practice). It’s good to see him out there.”
Meanwhile, right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and tight end Jimmy Graham (knee) were in pads for practice as well. Bulaga, who left last Sunday’s game at Washington with the injury, had been a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice; Graham had sat out Wednesday for what coach Mike McCarthy had termed “maintenance” for his knee.
Bulaga said his back locked up right before the end of the first quarter last Sunday and the pain became unbearable around halftime. It wasn’t until Tuesday that it loosened up and he’s spent much of the week doing physical therapy-style exercises in hopes of preventing any further issues.
“We’ll continue to treat it and get it as good as possible for Sunday,” Bulaga said. “I feel good about it. I don’t think we’ll have any setbacks with it from now until then. Just try to decrease the swelling, the pain in it and calm that whole area down as much as you can.”
Cornerback Kevin King, sidelined since injuring his groin against Minnesota, also took part on a limited basis and could return to bolster the secondary.
“Every time the Packers go out there and I’m not out there, it’s frustrating. I always want to be out there. But I’ve just got to keep with it,” King said. “I feel good. I feel really good. I’ve just got to keep going day to day, doing what they tell me to do, rehab it and see how I feel. I feel good.”
Right guard Justin McCray (shoulder) did not practice and while he said he hasn’t given up hope of playing on Sunday, the team is expected to go with Byron Bell as his replacement.