In Sunday’s 29-29 tie between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was flagged late in the 4th quarter for roughing the passer on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins that would eventually be the catalyst for the league’s second tie game in a week.
Cousins threw an interception on the play, one that would’ve likely ended the game with a Packers win, but with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter, the Vikings would become the beneficiaries of what can only be described as mismanagement and bad judgment by the officiating crew. Just after the throw, Matthews took Cousins to the ground and during the process, even put his arm out to lessen the blow of the hit as he tackled Cousins. The flag kept the Vikings chances at tying the game alive and they would go on to send the game into overtime with just :31 seconds remaining in the fourth.
Under the NFL “points of emphasis” this season, hits to the quarterback where the defender drives the quarterback into the ground and lands on him with all or part of their body weight are being given greater scrutiny, ironically after a play that occurred the first time these teams met last year. The hit that sparked debate during last season and in the offseason centered around a hit by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr that would sideline Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for most of the rest of the season with a broken collar bone. In that play, Rodgers had rolled out to his right and was taken to the ground by Barr just after he threw and incomplete pass. Barr landed with all his weight on Rodgers.
The hit that Matthews used to take down Cousins however, was nowhere near in the realm of the hit that knocked out Rodgers last season. As you can tell in the gif above, Matthews executes what appears to be a perfect form tackle, the kind being taught by various teams around the league in an effort to make the game safer for their players. He gets his helmet to the side of Cousins torso and leads with his shoulder, wraps him up at the hips, and takes him to the ground. Before he lands with his weight on Cousins, he deliberately puts his arm out to lessen the blow.
It can’t get anymore textbook or safer than this.
The league still isn’t satisfied. In their continued overreaction (and quite frankly over-correction) to these hits this week, they are making Matthews (and Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, who had a hit on Rodgers that was flagged earlier in the game) the subject of a training video on how not to hit the quarterback. The league noted that the “scoop and pull” technique employed Matthews is a foul, and will re-educate players on how to do this legally.
Rule 12-2-9 states:
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 …
One wonders if they’ll include this hit to show how the defender should approach hitting the quarterback.
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 17, 2018
Asked to explain what is essentially a judgment call, referee Tony Corrente explained, “he picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground.” Of course, what was missing from that was an actual lift of Cousins beyond a conventional tackle and a drive to the ground that is an unnecessarily rough tackle. In their weekly segment on Fox Sports Last Call, former heads of officiating for the NFL Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino both stated their displeasure as well, saying they didn’t like the call because the league is overreacting to hits that do not put the quarterback at risk of injury.
What’s less clear is why this seems to be the time to be having this discussion — in Week 2 of the NFL season. These issues, like the new “use of the helmet” rule, should well be past the point of litigation and training videos since it is no longer preseason. The NFL already releases an officiating video each week to explain certain rules and fouls from the previous week, but a rule widely viewed as a judgment call should have already been cleared up for teams and players, especially when the potential is there for altering the outcome of important games.