While several current and retired players have decried the roughing the passer penalty called on Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews after he hit Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins last Sunday, the Ravens took a noncontroversial stance on the subject of hitting opposing quarterbacks.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the dean of sacks in Baltimore, paused Wednesday before answering a question whether he understood how he was supposed to hit a quarterback according to NFL standards.
“I was told to be political,” he said. “So you’ve got to gently lay the guy down. Just gently lay him down, caress him and all of that.”
Sarcasm aside, several respected voices have backed Matthews, whose sack wiped out an interception by cornerback Jaire Alexander and allowed Minnesota to tie the score at 29, which is where the game ended after a 10-minute overtime.
Two former league heads of officiating, Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira, have disagreed with current head of officiating Al Riveron’s ruling that Matthews lifted and took Cousins to the turf. Former Packers quarterback Brett Favre and former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas have ridiculed the explanation, and even Cousins acknowledged that the penalty was “probably a generous call.”
Even Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco sympathizes with his defensive teammates.
“Listen, this is football, man,” he said. “We all sign up to get hit. You might get hurt. That’s what makes this league different from any other professional sports league. We’re not really putting our life on the line, but every time we do go out there, we’re putting our career on the line. That’s what makes football a little bit different, and that’s part of what makes it interesting to watch. It’s a violent sport. It’s meant to be that way. So I definitely have feelings for those guys over there because not only are they penalizing people and affecting the outcomes of games, but they’re also taking paychecks away from people, and they’re acting like it’s no big deal. That is a big deal. That’s a lot of money for anybody. So there’s a lot of issues with it, I think.”
The resulting waves of discussion has reinforced to coach John Harbaugh the need to remind the players what is permissible and what is not.
“I think the biggest thing we try to teach our guys is, we’re not as much hitting the quarterback as we’re tackling the quarterback,” he said. “The tackling rules are very similar. Quarterbacks have more protection certainly [because they are] in a passer-type posture. So we recognize that, we know where the strike zone is. What it was for a quarterback, it’s similar for everybody now. So we want to tackle the quarterback. When you tackle a guy, you’re not going to lift the guy up and dump him on the ground. You’re not going to drive your body into the guy and try to create an injury, and that’s the type of thing that you’re trying to get out of there with the quarterback because he’s not protected. So we try to tackle the quarterback. You’re not trying to shove him to the ground. We’ve been penalized for that once. We’re not trying to drop our helmet into the crown of the helmet because that’s dangerous to the tackler anyway. We’re basically trying to tackle the quarterback and do it within the rules as it’s stated with the defenseless-quarterback type of situation.”
Suggs said emphatically that he has not had to change the way he plays, and outside linebacker Matthew Judon said there’s nothing to be gained from complaining about the protections for quarterbacks.
“We have to play by the rules,” he said. “In order to play in this league, you have to play by the rules. To keep all of your money, you have to play by the rules. So that’s what we do. We’re going to continue to play by the rules and continue to abide by the rules and try to win by the rules.”