GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy still doesn’t think Clay Matthews did anything wrong.
Even after the NFL said not only was the game-changing, roughing-the-passer penalty on the Green Bay Packers linebacker correct but that it also would include the play from Sunday’s 29-29 tie against the Minnesota Vikings on a teaching video to show what not to do.
And McCarthy is not alone.
Even Redskins coach Jay Gruden, whose team faces the Packers on Sunday, said he did not understand the call on Matthews.
“I’m just going to tell you this: We haven’t changed anything with the way we’re coaching our players,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “The way we coach the fundamentals, it’s a constant, everyday deal. The conversation I had with Clay was the same way. There needs to be some clarity on it. But just to say this is a black-and-white, right-and-wrong, I don’t agree with that. It’s irrelevant. I’ve got to coach the team to play in the game. I know the way we’re going to approach the game, we know how we’re going to rush the passer, we know how we’re going to hit the quarterback, and the way we’re teaching it is the way we’re going to do it.”
McCarthy reiterated that he thought Matthews’ intention was clear when he braced himself after he hit Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter. But referee Tony Corrente said he threw the flag because Matthews “lifted him and drove him into the ground.”
“That was a huge one with Clay the other day, which I don’t know how that was a penalty,” Gruden said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. “He did everything right, in my opinion. I think with offensive [pass interference], illegal contact, the helmet rule, I think you’re subject to a lot of questionable calls possibly that could go against you. That’s just part of pro football – always has been, always will be — that you’re going to adjust, you’re going to have to overcome some of the plays that don’t go your way.
“I think you have to be really in tune to what they are and what they’re looking for. We have to show these videos that are called. Even though our defense may not agree with it, but we have to understand what they’re looking at. Like driving them to the ground, we have to get our weight off of the quarterback, like Clay did, but as far as picking them up, I guess that’s a problem now. I don’t know. These guys are big men and they’re going at a high level of speed. To ask them to contort their bodies in the spur of the fraction of a second, sometimes it’s hard. You’re trying to wrap up mobile guys like Aaron Rodgers or big guys like Cam Newton or Carson Wentz, you’re putting these guys in a pickle. It’s just a tough deal but it’s something that we have to continue to monitor and coach and do the best we can.”
Matthews’ penalty wiped out an interception by Jaire Alexander that would’ve given the Packers the ball with a 29-21 lead. Instead, the Vikings scored on the drive and converted a two-point play to force overtime.
“I have zero interest in getting into tit for tat, but we have great confidence in the way we teach the fundamentals of how our players block, get off blocks, tackle, break tackles, all the basics,” McCarthy said.
“Their opinion is obviously – the way they’re communicating to their officials and so forth – but just like I said on Monday, I think it’s important any time you have an emphasis that you’re trying to make part of the game, you go through the preseason process, it’s important not to over-emphasize something where you’re creating a competitive disadvantage for another position.
“We all want the quarterback protection to increase, the emphasis, I think no one disagrees with that. But like I talked about on Monday, there’s more variables in tackling the quarterback than lifting his leg up. There’s more that goes into indicators, in my opinion, where the flag should come out. Unfortunately, it’s a process that’s not clean by no means, regardless of opinion, videotape. But hopefully we can get this thing cleared up because I know it’s – just look at Mike Daniels‘ rush. It’s the subconscious, it’s affecting the rush defenders some, and I think we can’t deny that.”
McCarthy was referring to a third-quarter play in which the Packers defensive tackle pulled up and did not hit Cousins.
McCarthy also said this issue should have been addressed before the regular season kicked off.
“I think these are things you work through and, frankly, you’d like to have seen this worked through in the preseason,” he said. “To think that we’re talking about it in the regular season and it potentially can affect the outcome of games, nobody wants that. I mean, nobody. And no one feels worse about this than Clay Matthews. But, hey, we’ve got to get ready to play the next game. These are things you can’t control. These are the uncontrollables. So we’ll focus on the things we can control and that’s sticking to our fundamentals.”