A few years ago, the hit would've been celebrated. Last year, it would've gone down as a drive-ending sack.
But in 2018, with the NFL's new emphasis on defenders not being able to fall on quarterbacks with a lot of force, Clay Matthews' very normal-looking third quarter takedown of Alex Smith was ruled roughing the passer.
As a result, the Redskins got to stay on the field. And for the second week in a row, Matthews found himself at the center of a very controversial call.
"Unfortunately, this league is going in a direction that a lot of people don't like and I think they're getting soft," the veteran said after Washington's 31-17 win over Green Bay. "I've been playing this game for over 20 years and that's how you tackle."
Matthews has a point. In a sport that's concerned about dirty or dangerous collisions, this looks like a flawless hit:
But the roughing the passer flag was tossed not because of where Matthews hit Smith or when he hit him. The issue, in the eyes of the officials, is the way he finished the sequence.
"I had judged that the defender landed on the quarterback when he was tackling him with most or all of his body weight and that's not allowed," referre Craig Wrolstad said following the contest. "That was basically my key, that he landed on him with most or all of his body weight."
The person on the not-so-fun end of the exchange had no problem with it, though.
"It's tough," Smith said during his time at the FedEx Field podium. "I'm glad I don't play defense... I felt like he’s playing football. He’s played a long time. He hit me right in the strike zone."
Smith wasn't the only 'Skin to speak out in support of Matthews, either.
"What else do you want the man to do?" Josh Norman (who actually has the same agent as Matthews) asked reporters in the home locker room. "Like, seriously, what else do you want the man to do? "
"When I saw it, there was no malicious, ill intent," Norman continued. "I understand the rules of the situation, but at the same time, it sucks being a defender now. They hit your pockets and then they hit you for a penalty."
The NFL is clearly trying to make itself safer, which is both smart and necessary. But its approach in how its doing so has been confusing in a few critical areas, and this part of roughing the passer enforcement has temporarily surpassed the catch rule and the helmet rule as the most muddled of them all.
After all, when the QB and other opponents have no complaints about a tackle but the refs and the wording of the rule do, there's a disconnect. One that should be addressed.
"I think there's some gray area here with this that needs to be ironed out," Smith observed.
For a signal caller who was accurate for much of the afternoon, that statement might've been the most on-point part of his day.
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