- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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So this whole thing started Thursday, when New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride casually dropped into his weekly interview session the suggestion that San Francisco 49ers star defensive lineman Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding interior offensive linemen as a means of clearing room for the 49ers' pass rush.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh responded Friday with a blistering attack on Gilbride and Gilbride's insinuation, calling it "outrageous, irrational and incendiary," and saying, "It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff's sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating."
Glad we're not getting too emotional about this, huh? I mean, really? "Sole purpose?"
Especially once I learned that Harbaugh's response came in the form of a statement released by the team hours ahead of his regularly scheduled Friday news conference, my first thought was something along the lines of, "Methinks he doth protest too much." And a few minutes later, with the help of a re-tweet from USA Today's Mike Garafolo, I saw something that backed me up. It is this Sept. 6 piece from Football Outsiders, in which Item No. 3 uses clear film evidence to support FO's own conclusion that Smith is indeed coached to hold the jerseys of opposing guards and tackles:
San Francisco’s secret? Holding. They have a pair of top-tier defensive ends in Justin Smith, arguably the best 3-4 lineman in the league right now, and Ray McDonald, one of the game’s most underrated players. Those guys are taught to grab the left outside of the offensive guard’s jersey or the right inside of the tackle’s jersey. The umpire and referee, who are tasked with holding on the interior line, often can’t see this -- there is too much congestion in the middle of that action. They are standing in the backfield, and can’t see through the offensive linemen to get a look at the defensive end’s hands. The grabbing prevents the blockers from getting over quickly enough to pick up the stunting blitzer.
The camera doesn't lie, coach Harbaugh. And it seems as though it might have been wiser for the 49ers' coach to keep his mouth shut rather than inflame a controversy of which the officials scheduled to work Sunday's game at Candlestick might not otherwise have been aware. If it was Gilbride's intention to get the officials to pay closer attention to Smith's extracurricular work on the interior (and I actually think he might just have been offering an honest answer to a question), then Harbaugh's overly emotional response might have helped him accomplish just that.