After yet another roughing-the-passer penalty, Packers search for answers

September 26, 2018

GREEN BAY — There certainly have been conversations inside 1265 Lombardi Avenue, Mike McCarthy said Monday, about the seemingly constant roughing-the-passer flags being thrown in Clay Matthews’ direction.

With team president/CEO Mark Murphy on the NFL’s competition committee, McCarthy and general manager Brian Gutekunst have huddled with Murphy at the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field headquarters about the controversial calls against Matthews the past two weeks. But the three also realize they can talk until they’re blue in the face, since the NFL is showing no signs of changing what it considers an undue hit on the league’s marquee players — its quarterbacks.

Of course, McCarthy’s face was another color on Sunday — bright red — when Matthews was once again cited for a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty, one that occurred when he sacked Washington quarterback Alex Smith during the team’s 31-17 loss at FedEx Field.

FOX Sports’ cameras caught McCarthy having a conniption after Matthews was flagged for his second debatable penalty in a seven-day span.

“(I) don’t want to be that way,” McCarthy said Monday, adding his anger was in part because he felt the officials had miscommunicated with him on what had happened on the play.

This one wasn’t as costly as the call that went against Matthews in last week’s tie with Minnesota; that penalty wiped out what would have been a victory-clinching Jaire Alexander interception. Still, this one nullified what would have been a momentum-shifting play and was called because, in the estimation of referee Craig Wrolstad — and with senior vice president of officials Al Riveron adamantly supporting the call from New York — Matthews landed on Smith with most of his body weight, constituting a penalty.

“I know Mark (Murphy) has had more communication the last two weeks (with the league),” McCarthy said. “And it’s stating the obvious: Yeah, we’re all talking about it internally and going through it. … You want some clarity and how can we communicate and maybe make it more of a clearer situation. So Mark’s been very involved from that perspective, yes.”

The official NFL rule, it should be noted, states, “When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g. during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not necessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.”

Retired referee Ed Hochuli told Pro Football Talk that what Matthews should have done was wrap Smith up, then turn his body so that as the two went to the ground, Matthews would be the one hitting the ground first. Of course, that’s essentially what happened to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers when he was thrown down by Washington’s Daron Payne, who was not penalized — despite Rodgers being tossed onto his head. Wrolstad told Rodgers that he didn’t see the play because he was screened by a host of players.

McCarthy said Monday that, “I think we can all safely say without criticizing that the play with Aaron definitely could have warranted a flag. I don’t think any of us have a problem saying that.”

Matthews certainly didn’t.

“Was that the one where Aaron got suplexed? I watched that on the sideline and said, ‘How come that’s not a flag?’” Matthews said after the game. “Hey, let’s be honest — we’re talking about the MVP quarterback gets suplexed, that’s a good hit? But me, I put 250 pounds on a quarterback the right way, and here comes a flag. Like I said, I don’t know the direction in which they’re going. I just, I don’t like it.

“I’ve got to play the game the same way. I think moving forward, I’ll probably start attacking the ball more. But it’s so hard because you’re going full speed against a tackle who weighs 300-plus pounds, and within two steps you’ve got to back off. You’ve got to back off of the quarterback now. So that’s what’s difficult. After nine years of doing it one way in the NFL successfully, and now it just seems that way doesn’t work. And it’s frustrating.

“I don’t run the league office, but you’d like to see football be football. And football has hard hits. Like I said last week, it’s a physical game. It’s not for the faint of heart. We get after one another. We’re warriors, we like to battle. But like I said, I think it’s going in the wrong direction.”

Health watch

Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s season-ending ankle injury was the most severe injury, but it wasn’t the only one sustained during Sunday’s loss.

The Packers finished the game without the starting right half of their offensive line. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a back injury and right guard Justin McCray aggravated a shoulder injury just before halftime.

Also, outside linebacker Nick Perry was diagnosed with a concussion and is now in the NFL’s concussion protocol, making his status for Sunday’s game against Buffalo unclear.

McCarthy said the injuries to Bulaga and McCray were why he didn’t use his timeouts at the end of the first half in an effort to get points before halftime.

“Bryan was injured on the touchdown (to Geronimo Allison). So, going into that last (Washington) series, I know we had the three timeouts, but we were also talking about (how McCray) was hurt at that time, too,” McCarthy explained. “We (as coaches) were talking about just going into the half, and obviously they hit the play and the next play they score. That’s why I didn’t call timeout, because we were just trying to get to the locker room because we weren’t sure if Justin was going to be out and I think Bryan was already in the (medical) tent. So that was more of a medical decision.”

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