GREEN BAY - To hit the quarterback or not to hit the quarterback. That seems to be not just the question, but the source of several more. As the Packers prepare the open the 2013 season against the read option-heavy 49ers, Clay Matthews suggested that putting multiple hits on Colin Kaepernick could be a way to slow down San Francisco.
First, a quick primer: the concept of “read option” describes a variety of plays where the quarterback takes the snap, reads what a specific (often unblocked) defender does, and either hands the ball off to the running back or runs it himself. There are many variations on the plays, and San Francisco has been one of the NFL’s innovators with the plays.
On Tuesday, Matthews said on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” show that hitting the quarterback, whether or not he hands off the ball, could slow the read option. Thursday in the Packers locker room, the linebacker didn’t want to elaborate.
“I already answered that question, I think we'll leave it at that,” said Matthews. “We're just ready to play the game."
At least one teammate, however, sees the merit in keeping the quarterback on the ground, even when he hands off the ball.
"If he's going to carry the ball, of course, you've got to hit him,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “Whoever it is back there running read option, you've got to hit the quarterback. He's optioning the ball off, so, I mean yeah, we want to hit him."
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has heard those discussions, and expressed concern Wednesday about the strategy.
“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," said Harbaugh. "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.”
Thursday, Mike McCarthy was asked about whether hitting the quarterback as he carries out a fake is within the rules.
"We feel we have a strong understanding of how we're going to approach the game, and our gameplan will reflect that,” said McCarthy. “When a quarterback is part of the option, there's 3 components of the option, the quarterback, dive and pitch. The ability to go tackle that player is obviously within the rules."
The Packers won’t give away their gameplan and won’t divulge if hitting Colin Kaepernick often is part of it. They do feel more prepared on this trip to San Francisco than they did before the playoff game in January.
"Being able to have played them twice, you get a little more familiar with them,” said Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels. “It almost feels like a division game.”
"We feel good about our scheme, what we're going to try and accomplish up there,” said Matthews.
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