49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 6, 2013
Harbaugh calls NFL's read-option rules "flawed and biased"


Jim Harbaugh continued to question - in animated fashion this time - the league's position on read-option quarterbacks on Friday, calling it "flawed and biased." Harbaugh also voiced his concern on Wednesday and said at the time he had approached the league for clarification on the issue.

The league's competition committee responded but said it wasn't interested in changing the rules. "They said they don't have an appetite to look at it any further," Harbaugh said. "So that's where we're at."

The topic has been popular around the league this season as defenses figure out how to adjust to the proliferation of read-option quarterbacks in cities like San Francisco, Washington and Seattle. It's a particularly hot one this week because the Packers defensive players have been open about their intent to hit the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick when he is in the read-option formation, perhaps even when he doesn't have the ball. Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards - an NFL record for a quarterback - when the teams met in January.

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, for example, said this week that the strategy was to hit read-option quarterbacks enough that their coaches stop calling read-option plays.

In an officiating video distributed to the media, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino says that read-option quarterbacks can be viewed by the defense as a ball carrier, even when they no longer have the ball. "He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play," Blandino said. "The quarterback makes the pitch, he's still a runner -- he can be hit like a runner until he's clearly out of the play."

Harbaugh argued that, while in the pocket, a quarterback running the read-option should be given the same protection as he is in a more traditional formation. Defensive players must hit a pocket quarterback in the so-called "strike zone," which extends from the knees to shoulders.

"He's as defenseless as a quarterback who's in the act of throwing," Harbaugh said. "And I'm not advocating that they don't hit the quarterback if he has the ball. But if he's in the pocket, I think there should be a strike zone, the same strike zone as when he's in the pocket and throwing the ball.

He continued: "I feel like you give a license now for players to hit quarterbacks at the knees or in the head. It just seems to be a flip flop of what the league's trying to accomplish, you know, player safety."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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