49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media on Wednesday, and he had a chance to discuss some of the talk we've heard about getting hits on read option quarterbacks. This came a day after Packers linebacker Clay Matthews discussed some things he heard from refs, and what it mean in the Packers plans against the 49ers:
"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," Matthews said Monday on ESPN Radio, via NFL.com. "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."
The media asked Harbaugh his thoughts on when a QB is hittable in such situations. He said:
My opinion is before the quarterback has declared being a runner, then he should be afforded the protection all quarterbacks are afforded. Until he declares and gets out of the pocket and starts running with the ball or running an option or carrying out a bootleg and attempting to run or pass when he's outside of the pocket, but when he's inside the pocket I believe he's a quarterback until he declares that he's a runner. Those are the conversations right now. Haven't gotten final clarification on what it's going to be.
He said he has been in contact with the league, but did not expect clarification by Sunday. He did say he would probably discuss it with the referees, particularly given the talk we've heard around the league. There has been frequent discussion beyond just Matthews about hitting the quarterback even after he has already given up the ball on the read option.
Matthews explained the reasoning behind it in terms of getting the offense into a more traditional drop-back, pocket-style offense. That's all well and good, but the fortunate thing for the 49ers, at least as I see it, is that they have an offensive unit that can excel in a more traditional look. Last season the 49ers had the best run-blocking offensive line in football, and the entire unit returns intact. They will still mix up their formations, but they are very much still a "punch you in the mouth" offense.
And I do think Colin Kaepernick can make plenty of plays from within the pocket. He is at his most dangerous when he is running, but that arm has the power and the precision to make the more traditional QB plays as needed. And if the Packers feel they need to overcompensate for the read option attack, the 49er have the tools to counter that effectively. They still have to execute on Sunday, but potentially limiting the read option does not suddenly turn the 49ers offense impotent.