Generally speaking, the NFL does not want its linebackers launching themselves at quarterbacks. (Ben Margot/AP)
How to deal with Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback? Well, that was a point of focus for the Green Bay Packers all week -- and all offseason. Green Bay's defensive staff went back to the drawing board after Kaepernick fried their defense for a record 181 rushing yards in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, and Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said this week that the best way to deal with Kaepernick when he is in read-option mode is to tee off on him. The NFL specified its rules regarding contact on running quarterbacks in the offseason, and that did not make 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh very happy at all.
With 9:30 left in the first half of the season-opening rematch, Matthews did something that undoubtedly drew even more of Harbaugh's ire. As Kaepernick ran out of bounds after a four-yard gain from the Green Bay 10-yard line, Matthews launched himself at Kaepernick, hitting the 49ers' QB outside the field of play. Matthews was penalized, but that foul was negated when San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley got in Matthews' grill and threw punches. With offsetting dead-ball fouls as called, the play was re-done from the 10-yard line, and Kaepernick promptly threw a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin to give his team a 14-7 lead. However, as referee Bill Leavy admitted after the game, there should have been a different result.
“On the play where the quarterback went out of bounds and was hit late out of bounds, and then there was a subsequent hit by a San Francisco player, the down should have counted," Leavy said. "The penalties were both dead ball, and they should have offset at the spot where the runner went out of bounds. And it would have been fourth down.”
A Matthews-Kaepernick dustup seemed inevitable given the chatter leading up to the game.
“We’re always trying to get after the quarterback,” Matthews told the Bay Area media Wednesday morning. “It’s not like this game is any different as far as hitting the quarterback. But it does provide a clearer picture in regards to when a quarterback can be hit. “It looks like -- and, obviously, we’ll see in Week 1 -- it looks like any time that quarterback is carrying out that play fake, he loses that right as a pocket passer and the rules that govern that. So we’ll see. We’ll see the hits that are legal and aren’t legal … But we feel like our gameplan fits within the scheme of the officials and what we want to do.”
Well, launching at a quarterback, anywhere on the field, probably isn't within the NFL's purview.
“You’re hearing a lot of tough talk right now," Harbaugh responded, citing Matthews' as an example of intent to harm. "You’re hearing some intimidating type of talk. Kind of things -- same things we were hearing a couple of years ago. It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player. “You definitely start to wonder. A man will usually tell you his bad intentions if you just listen. You know what’s being said publicly, you wonder what’s being said privately. You hope that their intent is not going to be anything that’s not within the rules.”
Intentionally or not, that's what Matthews seemed to do. Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross was unimpressed.