GREEN BAY—On Wednesday, Jim Harbaugh spoke of needing additional clarification from the officials regarding the rules for hitting, or protecting, a read-option quarterback.
On Thursday, Mike McCarthy spoke as though the rules have been made crystal clear.
“There are three parts of the option – the quarterback, the dive and the pitch,” McCarthy said. “The ability to go tackle that player is obviously within the rules.”
“That player” is, of course, the read-option quarterback, who is deciding a few yards behind the line of scrimmage whether to give the ball on the dive, pitch it outside, or tuck it and run. “That player” on Sunday will be San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
McCarthy said the team’s communication with the officials during the offseason was similar to any other year. Explanations on rule changes, such as the new “crown of the helmet” rule for a ball-carrier, were given.
Read-option quarterbacks were part of those offseason discussions, too, according to comments from Packers linebacker Clay Matthews earlier this week on a national radio show. In short, Matthews said defenses have been told a quarterback executing the read option doesn’t have the same protections as a quarterback dropping back to pass.
“When these quarterbacks carry out the fakes, they lose their right as a quarterback, a pocket-passing quarterback, the protection of a quarterback,” Matthews, in his radio interview, said he was told. “So you want to put hits as early and often on the quarterback and make them uncomfortable.”
A standard protection in the rules states that a quarterback who is standing still or moving away from the play can’t be hit when he doesn’t have the ball. But the explanation the Packers received, and that Matthews alluded to, is that a read-option quarterback loses that protection and can be treated like a runner.
In other words, even if the QB gets rid of the ball on the dive or pitch, he’s not protected like a pocket quarterback because of the potential for fakes. From a defender’s point of view, the QB might still have the ball, therefore, he’s still subject to being hit or tackled legally and within a reasonable time frame given the development of the play.
Matthews declined to reiterate the explanation or re-open the discussion of hitting quarterbacks on Thursday when he spoke with reporters at his locker, but he didn’t indicate anything he said previously needed additional clarification.
“I think we’re ready to play the game,” Matthews said. “We’ll see. We feel good about our scheme and what we’re going to try to accomplish out there.”
A primary objective is to contain Kaepernick, whether he’s running the read option or scrambling out of the pocket. In the NFC divisional playoff meeting in January, Kaepernick torched the Packers early on with scrambles and then caught them off-guard in the second half with the read option.
His 56-yard read-option TD run – untouched – midway through the third quarter to break a 24-all tie was the signature highlight of San Francisco’s 45-31 victory.
This time around, the scheme won’t surprise the Packers, who devoted a lot of offseason study and practice time to defending it.
“Schematically, we’re much more sound,” Matthews said. “We understand what they’re capable of doing, the capabilities of not only their scheme but also their players as well and what they possess. I feel like we’re more than ready to handle the read option, and it’s about executing now.”
Part of that execution will include hitting the quarterback legally. Whether or not the added attention the issue has received this week will affect the game and the way it’s called is an issue for Sunday.
“I don’t know,” Matthews said. “We’ll have to find out.” Additional coverage - Sept. 5