The NFL's newest weekly tradition is trolling Clay Matthews apparently, because the Packers pass rusher has now been hit with a roughing the passer penalty for three straight weeks. The first one, against the Bears, was entirely Matthews' fault. The second one, against the Vikings, was a victory. But the third one may be the worst one yet, with Matthews getting flagged for tackling Alex Smith on a quarterback sack.
On the play in question, Smith was holding the ball when Matthews burst into the backfield, Smith pulled the ball in to brace for contact and avoid a fumble, and Matthews tackled him to the ground. It's a pretty standard sack situation.
It is incredibly difficult to understand what Matthews is supposed to do here. He turns his head to ensure there is not a helmet-to-helmet situation, he wraps up Smith and he tackles him.
The NFL has made a point of noting that anyone who drives the quarterback into the ground or puts their full weight on a quarterback is going to be penalized for roughing the passer. You can see how this would fall into one of the two situations, but it feels like picking on Matthews more than it feels like that rule should apply.
Rain is pouring down on FedEx Field, the Packers are trailing and trying to create a turnover/find some way to get back into the game and there wasn't much more that Matthews could have done.
And yet, the NFL continued to double down on the situation, noting that Matthews put his weight on Smith as they went to the ground.
It would be nice to hear the NFL weigh in on what happened with the Redskins on defense, because there was one play in particular that certainly should have been a flag if the Matthews play was a flag.
After the play, Packers coach Mike McCarthy was less than enthused about the situation.
There was a lot of outrage on social media as well:
Just saw the Clay Matthews alleged roughing the passer. What are we doing here?— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 23, 2018
Clay Matthews just got jobbed again— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 23, 2018
Clay Matthews is no longer allowed to sack quarterbacks. It is against the rules.— Robert Mays (@robertmays) September 23, 2018
The roughing the passer calls against defenders for clean, form tackles landing on QB's has got to be done away with NOW.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) September 23, 2018
Clay Matthews was running directly at Alex Smith, tackled him and landed on him. There was no way not to land on him. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers was spun to the ground and thrown down earlier with no call. There has to be a consistent standard.— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) September 23, 2018
Maybe Matthews broke the rule in terms of the letter of the law, but it's just preposterous to ding him for making this play. There is not a lot he can do, and it should be obvious that Matthews was not trying to injure Smith, but merely making what is an obvious football play.
The NFL wants to keep quarterbacks safe, but there needs to be more consistency than what we're seeing from the referees in the early going.