Aaron Rodgers wasted no time letting the Ravens' Matt Elam know what he thought of Elam's tackle on Randall Cobb Sunday. The Packers' QB immediately got in the face of Baltimore's rookie, right after Elam injured Cobb with a low hit.
Just as Cobb caught a pass from Rodgers and started to turn upfield, Elam came flying with a shot on Cobb's right knee/leg. (You can watch the play in its entirety here.) There was no penalty on the play -- nor should there have been one, as Elam's hit was within the rules.
Still, Rodgers and the Packers were less than happy about it:
"I think a lot of us saw the hit on Dustin Keller," Rodgers said after Green Bay's 19-17 win, according to ESPNMilwaukee. "I just felt like [Elam] had enough time to make a hit in the legal hitting zone."
As mentioned, Elam's hit was perfectly legal despite Rodgers' protestations, though it fell into that gray area that usually launches discussion on "clean" vs. "dirty" tackles. Rodgers specifically referenced "the hit on Dustin Keller," which was a near-identical play in the preseason. There, Houston's D.J. Swearinger took out Keller's knee on a tackle, resulting in catastrophic injuries for the Miami tight end.
Like Rodgers did Sunday, Miami WR Brian Hartline chastised Swearinger for his tackle. And though the Houston rookie expressed remorse for the injuries caused, he explained away the hit by saying that, "In this league you've got to go low. If you go high, you're going to get fined."
Thursday on the NFL Network, Baltimore's Chris Canty came to the defense of Elam, taking up a similar argument to the one Swearinger offered.
"Well I'm a little disappointed in Aaron Rodgers coming out and making those comments," Canty told Andrew Siciliano. "I'm tired of hearing offensive guys talking about defensive guys hitting players in the knees. Offensive linemen cut defensive linemen all the time. So I really don't get it.
"It's a legal hit, it's within the rules. And if Aaron Rodgers doesn't like it, he should take it up with the NFL."
The NFL has outlawed "peel back" blocks, such as the one that cost Brian Cushing most of last season with a knee injury. Those hits used to be allowed outside the tackle box. That, plus the "Tom Brady" rule that prevents pass-rushers from diving at a quarterback's knees, are really the only provisions in place specifically designed to protect players against those horrific knee injuries. (The illegality of horse-collar tackles also came about because of a rash of leg injuries.)
The rules to protect both ballcarriers and pass catchers have continued to expand, though, with a fairly recent emphasis on helmet-to-helmet hits. And that brings us back to Swearinger's point -- and possibly Elam's mindset as he approached Cobb -- that defenders are limited in what they can do to stop receivers. Elam did have room to line up Cobb and appeared to have space to attempt a tackle near the midsection, but anything too high or too violent risks being flagged as a "defenseless receiver" call.
As a result, Elam went low. It is hard to fault Rodgers or the Packers for being upset, given that the hit cost them one of their key players for several weeks. It is almost as difficult to pin too much blame on Elam, given that his tackle was a legal one.