Sept. 24 (UPI) — Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews says the NFL is “getting soft” after he was flagged for roughing the passer for what appeared to be a clean sack.
The roughing the passer flag was the third Matthews has seen in as many weeks. He drew his most recent during a sack of Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith during the Packers’ 31-17 loss on Sunday at FedExField in Landover, Md.
Green Bay was trailing 28-17 with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter during the sequence. Smith took the snap on a 2nd and 7 from the Redskins’ 46-yard line. Smith scanned through his progressions as Matthews scorched through the Redskins’ offensive line. He then came face-to-face with Smith, bringing him to the ground and falling on top of him. Matthews rolled off of the Redskins quarterback and put his hand up after making the play, but was still flagged.
“Obviously, when you tackle a guy from the front, you’re going to land on him,” Matthews told reporters. “I understand the spirit of the rule. I said that weeks prior. When you have a hit like that, that’s a football play.”
Matthews said he approached Smith after the game to ask what he can do differently. The Packers defender said he didn’t think Smith thought the hit was illegal.
“Unfortunately, this league is going in a direction that I think a lot of people don’t like,” Matthews said. “I think they’re getting soft. The only thing that’s hard about this league is the fines they levy down on guys like me who play the game hard. I’m just gonna keep playing hard. Maybe now pass rushers, you just have to attack the ball. I’ve been playing this game for 20 years — that’s how you tackle.”
The NFL cited the rulebook, standing behind the roughing the passer penalty. “The defender lands ‘with all or most of the defender’s weight’ on the passer,” NFL Football Operationssaid on Twitter.
Many former and current athletes disagreed with the call and voiced their opinions on social media. Former NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino — who now serves as Fox’s rules analyst — said the rule is asking NFL players to do the impossible.
“Do I like the call? No, I don’t like the call,” Blandino said. “But this is what the NFL is directing their referees to call. This is a new interpretation. You cannot land on the quarterback with all or most of your body weight. That is what referee Craig Wrolstad called.”
“But the NFL is asking defenders to do something that is nearly impossible.”
If I’m Clay Matthews I would just pick the qb and carry him off the field and sit him on the bench.
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) September 23, 2018
Wrolstad stood behind his call.
“If you’ve got a shoulder into him and then landed on him with most of his body weight off him or released him when he went down, then he would have been OK,” the referee said, according to ESPN. “But in my judgement, I ruled that he landed on him with most or all of his body weight there.”
— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) September 23, 2018
Matthews, 32, has six total tackles on the season, but has yet to log an official sack. He had 7.5 quarterback takedowns in 2017.