- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Jim Harbaugh was trying to scare the Green Bay Packers into staying away from his quarterback, it doesn’t sound like it worked.
A day after the San Francisco 49ers coach said he planned speak to the officials before the game about what he calls a “gray area” in the rules governing read-option plays, the Packers gave no indication that they have concerns about the legality of their plan to defend the offense that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran so effectively against them in last season’s playoff game.
Much of this stems from comments made by Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews on ESPN Radio’s "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on Tuesday, when Matthews said the best way to slow down read-option quarterbacks like Kaepernick was to hit them.
“I’m not really focused on anyone else’s comments,” Matthews said Thursday. “I’m really focused on what this locker room has to say, as well as the men in here. I think we’re just ready to play the game.”
Both Matthews and Packers coach Mike McCarthy indicated on Thursday that they have a complete understanding of the rules as they pertain to quarterbacks who run the read-option.
“The reality is, the quarterback is part of the option,” McCarthy said. “There’s three options obviously: the quarterback, the dive and the pitch. The ability to go tackle that player is obviously within the rules.”
Those rules were spelled out in the NFL’s weekly officiating video that was sent to reporters on Thursday. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino spent about half of the nine-minute and 41-second video reviewing several read-option plays, including one from the 49ers’ 45-31 win against the Packers in January’s NFC divisional playoff game.
The rules essentially come down to one thing when a quarterback is in a read-option situation.
“The quarterback can be hit like a runner until he’s clearly out of the play,” Blandino said on the video.
However, Blandino noted, once a quarterback hands the ball off he is protected from unnecessary hits if he is “backing up, fading backward or standing still.”
After watching the video, it's safe to say that if there is any gray area, perhaps it is in that final point.
The referee has the discretion to make that determination, Blandino said.
“I think the NFL does an excellent job, even more so this year (than) in prior years,” McCarthy said when asked if he has an understanding of the read-option rules. “There’s continuous education and updates starting in the spring with the visitations of the referees to our facility. That was no different this year. Any emphasis that is going to be for the upcoming season, those types of things are talked about, whether it was the crown-of-the-helmet (rule), the read-option as far as the protection of the quarterback and so forth.
“As far as what other people’s opinions are of that, we feel we have a strong understanding of how we’re going to approach the game, and our game plan will reflect that.”