San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was rarely hit by the Green Bay Packers when they met in the 2012 playoffs, but 49eers coach Jim Harbaugh asked the league to look into comments from defenders that he believes imply targeting.
The NFL responded by saying quarterbacks running the read-option will be treated like running backs. That means defenders can hit the quarterbacks even after they hand the ball off and are carrying out a fake, but only if the quarterback is posturing to run.
Kaepernick set an NFL playoff record with 181 rushing yards against the Packers in January and said in the offseason that Green Bay's defenders were bickering and pointing fingers during the 45-31 loss.
As a running quarterback, Kaepernick hasn't been hit often -- he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and has been intelligent about sliding and finding the sideline. But the Packers, most notably linebacker Clay Matthews, said they plan to put a lick on read-option quarterbacks when given a shot. Matthews said in an interview on ESPN radio this week that officials have told them quarterbacks are fair game when carrying out run fakes.
That talk set Harbaugh on a mission for clarity from the NFL on the rule, and interpretation of comments about putting big hits on a particular player.
"You're hearing a lot of tough talk right now, you're hearing some intimidating type of talk, the same thing we were hearing a couple years ago," Harbaugh said. "It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player. You definitely start to wonder.
"A man will usually tell you his bad intentions if you just listen. You know what's being said publicly, not what's being said privately. You hope that their intent isn't going to be anything that's not within the rules."
Matthews and the Packers open the season against the 49ers and then take on Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, who used a similar scheme last season.
"You do have to take your shots on the quarterback, and obviously they're too important to their offense," Matthews said of attacking the quarterback outside the pocket. "If that means they pull them out of that type of offense and make them run a traditional, drop-back, pocket-style offense, I think that's exactly what we're going for. So you want to put hits as early and often on the quarterback and make them uncomfortable."
NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino sent an officiating video to the media, according to NBCSports.com, and it says read-option quarterbacks can be hit like runners, even if they don't have the ball.
If a quarterback had handed the ball off but is still carrying out a fake, he can be tackled as if he still had the ball.
"He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play," Blandino said, according to the report. "The quarterback makes the pitch, he's still a runner - he can be hit like a runner until he's clearly out of the play."
However, Blandino noted that if the quarterback is posturing to pass, he is protected.
"The basic concept is, the quarterback position is not defenseless throughout the down. It's the posture he presents that will dictate his protections," Blandino said