With QBs Protected, Bears Keep Caution In Mind

September 19, 2018 - 3:23 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Veteran Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, a six-time Pro Bowler who has made a career rushing the quarterback, has become posterboy of a new NFL rule and the controversy that surrounds it.

In consecutive weeks, Matthews has been flagged for a personal foul on what in the past would've been considered a clean, legal football hit on a quarterback. In both instances, he was trying to make a game-sealing play with the opponent driving. 

The Bears couldn't convert on their chance when Matthews hit quarterback Mitchell Trubisky late and hard in the fourth quarter of their season opener on Sept. 9. The Vikings did come through Sunday after Matthews was called for "lifting" quarterback Kirk Cousins on what would've been a game-sealing interception. Cousins led his team for the game-tying touchdown in a game that would produce no winner -- Packers 29, Vikings 29 -- and a great source of controversy.

Bears star outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who has 42.5 sacks in his career, was well aware of what happened to Matthews.

"Those things are unfortunate," Mack said. "Know what I’m saying? You play this game at a high level and then, Clay, I know he plays it at a high level. He just wants to make that play for his team. 

"You just got to be smart in certain situations. But that play in particular is one that I feel the refs need to take a look at."

Defenders are now prohibited from pressing their bodies into the quarterback or lifting them from the ground -- the kind of crushing tackles that can potentially sideline quarterbacks with injuries and end seasons.

The Packers experienced that firsthand last season when Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr forced the throwing shoulder of quarterback Aaron Rodgers into the ground, breaking his collarbone and crushing Green Bay's hopes of reaching the playoffs. That's not what the NFL or fans want to see for the good of the game.

With that in mind, it's still a quarterbacks' league -- even with stars like Mack roaming on defense -- and they're assets to be protected. Take it from Bears coach Nagy, a quarterback at Delaware and in the Arena Football League.

"You understand that it’s for the safety of the quarterback," Nagy said. "And there are some times where there’s some big-time hits where guys are really leaning their shoulder into them and it can be an issue. The league is going to send that home and make sure they teach that to everybody, they teach that to the coaches and they teach it to the players. And they’ve done a great job with that. "

Like the other 31 teams, the Bears have been educated on the rules and proper tackling techniques on a quarterback. Early in training camp, they met with head referee Walt Coleman, who coincidentally officiated their game Monday night, and watched the instructional videos.

Nagy is hoping the education process that his Bears have experienced prevails, especially in the late-game situations where it has cost the Packers. But when a quarterback is standing in the pocket and a clean shot is there for the taking, it's hard to flash the mind back to an instructional video.

Ultimately, it's the officials' discretion at game speed as to whether a defender crossed the line. The early indication is that they will protect the quarterbacks and force players like Matthews and Mack to adjust.

"Your instinct is to make the right play," Mack said. "I feel like (Matthews) did everything he could to make the right play — kept his head out of the way — but I feel like that was a perfect form tackle."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​