At practice today, Jim Harbaugh addressed Clay Matthews’ remarks about hitting Colin Kaepernick when Kap runs the read-option play. This is what Matthews had said:
“One of the things that the referees have told us is that when these quarterbacks carry out the fakes, they lose their right as a quarterback, a pocket-passing quarterback, the protection of a quarterback. So with that, you do have to take your shots on the quarterback, and obviously they’re too important to their offense.
“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.”
In response, Harbaugh said today: “You’re hearing all the tough talk right now. You’re hearing some intimidating type of talk, the same thing we were hearing a couple of years ago. 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. And that’s being discussed publicly. You know what’s being said privately by what’s being said publicly. You hope that their intent isn’t going to be anything that’s outside the rules.”
As I understand it, Harbaugh is likening Matthews and, by extension, the Packers’ defense to the bounty hunters on the Saints a few seasons ago. That’s what Harbaugh meant by tough talk and by targeting a player. Harbaugh is overstating the case. Matthews did not talk about bounties. I believe he’s talking about hitting Kaepernick legally when he becomes a runner instead of a quarterback. Defenders are supposed to target the quarterback within the rules of the game. Matthews is planning to take what the rules allow. He’s not talking about cheap shots.
I’m sure Harbaugh knows that. He’s trying to get the officials on his side, to make sure they call the game correctly, and maybe even to get himself an advantage with them. I consider Harbaugh’s rhetoric in this case disingenuous and overheated. But it’s no big deal. His words won’t be nearly as hot as Sunday’s game.