What's a Sack? Clay Matthews Accuses NFL of 'Going Soft' over Roughing the Passer Penalty

Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers hits quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Washington Redskins in the first half at FedExField on September 23 in Landover, Maryland. Rob Carr/Getty Images

Clay Matthews has found himself on the wrong side of the law for the second consecutive week, after being penalized for roughing the passer.

The Green Bay linebacker sacked Washington's quarterback Alex Smith on a second-and-7 in the third quarter of the Packers' 31-17 defeat against the Redskins on Sunday. Matthews wrapped Smith up and landed on him, but was immediately penalized for roughing the passer—although the officiating crew did not detail which part of Matthews' tackle was illegal.

The foul call was all the more frustrating for Matthews as he was penalized for a similar incident last week, when he was flagged for a hit on Kirk Cousins. The Minnesota Vikings had thrown an interception following the sack, but the penalty allowed the Vikings to retain possession. They eventually scored at the end of the drive to tie the game at 29 apiece.

Following the penalty on Sunday, Matthews accused the league of going soft.

"Unfortunately this league's going in a direction I think a lot of people don't like. I think they're getting soft," he said, as reported by ESPN.

"The only thing hard about this league is the fines they levy down on guys like me who play the game hard."

Immediately after sacking Smith, Matthews walked away from the tackle with his hands held aloft, almost as if to apologize for the penalty he felt was forthcoming.

This is a foul for roughing the passer - the defender lands “with all or most of the defender’s weight” on the passer. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(b): https://t.co/s9YKN8NLuT #GBvsWAS pic.twitter.com/ei2QZkvvzx

— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) September 23, 2018

Before the season began, the NFL updated its playbook to place greater emphasis on penalizing defenders that use their body weight when landing on a quarterback. The decision is aimed at offering further protection to quarterbacks, after Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone last season in a similar hit.

However, the decision has clearly made life more difficult for linebackers. In the first two weeks of the season, there were an NFL-record 21 penalties for roughing the passers. Considering Matthews had been penalized a combined four times in his 10-year career prior, his frustration is understandable.

"Obviously when you're tackling a guy from the front you're gonna land on him," he added. "I understand the spirit of the rule, I said that weeks prior. But when you have a hit like that, that's a football play. "

If Matthews was incensed after the call, Packers coach Mike McCarthy was absolutely furious and made sure match officials knew his opinion.

Clay Matthews gets his 3rd roughing the passer penalty in three weeks

Mike McCarthy ain’t having it. pic.twitter.com/sn64THnOo8

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 23, 2018

"I thought Clay did exactly what he's supposed to do there," McCarthy was quoted as saying by USA Today. "How that will be officiated, those are questions for other people. He hit him with his shoulder. He was coming full speed off of a block, he braced himself. So I was fine with what Clay did."

The reaction on Twitter following the call was predictably brilliant. NFL network writer Marc Sessler suggested Matthews resembled a character trapped in a Franz Kafka novel, while USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour pointed out Matthews being flagged for roughing the passer was one of the few certainties in life.

Clay Matthews has become a character pulled from a Kafka novel.

— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) September 23, 2018

Death, taxes and Clay Matthews roughing the passer.

— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) September 23, 2018

ESPN analyst Matt Bowen argued the new rule put pass rushers in a very tough spot, while Marcas Grant's tongue-in-cheek reaction found many nodding their heads in agreement.

The penalty on Clay Matthews — Helmet to the side, shoulder contact, run through the tackle. Pretty much what is taught at the lower levels for proper tackling technique. And he tried to roll off the QB due to the new rule. This is putting pass rushers in a really tough spot.

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) September 23, 2018

Dear Clay Matthews,

This is how you properly take down a quarterback. pic.twitter.com/29njG4rwC5

— M.G. (@MarcasG) September 23, 2018

The Athletic's Andrew Brandt asked the question that was probably in everyone's mind, particularly among Packers fans, while Fox Sports analyst Chris Broussard was scathing in his criticism of the new rule.

What did Clay Matthews do to the NFL??

— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) September 23, 2018

This is just unfair - to Clay Matthews and all pass rushers!!! QBs today are playing flag football, while it’s tackle for the other 21 guys. When comparing today’s QBs’ stats to those of yesteryear, remember that!!!

— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) September 23, 2018

Others, meanwhile, had a ready-made solution for linebackers wanting to avoid penalties this season.

How to sack a quarterback in the NFL....wait nvm. pic.twitter.com/EYuOo4qNEq

— Sean McGann (@seanmickeyG14) September 23, 2018