Clay Matthews’ latest flagged tackle suggests the NFL is going soft

Clay Matthews' hit on Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith was a major talking point. Picture: AP.
Clay Matthews' hit on Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith was a major talking point. Picture: AP.
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It has been 16 years since Miami started a season with three straight wins. That sequence of results this time has put them on top of the AFC East.

The LA Rams and Kansas City Chiefs also came out of Sunday’s games with 3-0 records, but not without problems.

The Rams lost all-pro cornerback 
duo Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to injury and, with a short week before hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, their unbeaten record may not last until the weekend.

The Buffalo Bills used last week’s critical headlines as motivation and demolished the much-fancied Minnesota Vikings 27-6 but the game of the weekend has to have been visitors 
New Orleans beating Atlanta 43-37 in overtime.

The game was an offensive slugfest, with nine changes of lead and ending with an eight-minute overtime drive. Throw in Drew Brees breaking the NFL record for career completed passes, and it was a special night.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders are all sitting with 0-3 records and should start worrying.

The Cardinals pulled starting quarterback Sam Bradford and replaced him with first-round draft pick Josh Allen in the fourth quarter.

The switch didn’t change the result, but it gave the fans reason to stick around a little longer.

Oakland look to be in a crisis but the reason for their poor performances could be a combination of new coaches and uncertainty, with them set to become the Las Vegas Raiders next year?

The New England Patriots have looked distinctly average so far, but I don’t foresee a big problem. We have often seen Bill Belichick make adjustments and, with 13 games still to play, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom Brady in the play-offs after Christmas.

One of the most significant talking points of the weekend was a tackle by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on Redskins quarterback Alex Smith in the third quarter of the Green Bay’s 31-17 loss to Washington. Referee Craig Wrolstad immediately threw a flag for the roughing the passer.

That negated a sack, loss of down and yardage and was Matthews’ third flagged tackle of the year. Putting that in context, Matthews has only ever been penalised for roughing the passer four times in his nine previous years in the NFL.

So why the change?

This summer, the NFL amended Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(b) – yes that’s how deep you have to go in the rulebook to find it.

The idea was to protect quarterbacks from being unnecessarily targeted and, to quote the book, stop defensive players from “committing such intimidating and punishing acts as “stuffing” a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down.

In particular, Wrolstad stated that he called the penalty as “in my judgment, I ruled that he [Matthews] landed on him with most or all of his body weight there.”

The irony, of course, is the rule was introduced after Green Bay’s superstar QB Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in a similar tackle last season. But how much further will the NFL go to protect the quarterback?

Last year the tackle would have been considered fair and carried out with exemplary technique. But now the tackler is seemingly responsible for making sure the quarterback lands safely and softly on the ground.

The NFL often makes rule changes for the safety of the players, but I can’t help but think this rule has been put in place to manage the security of their profit margins.

After all, running backs often lead into tackles with their helmets, something for which defensive players are increasingly penalised.

Yes, the league also introduced a rule to reduce this but there have been only four calls for unnecessary roughness on all offenses.

On the opposite side, defenses had been called 21 times before week three for roughing the passer.

The NFL has made changes to help facilitate offenses, generate bigger scoring games and keep their superstars on the field but if this progression keeps going Clay Matthews may well be right in his assessment, the NFL is “getting soft”.