Harbaugh says NFL’s new read-option rules gives defenders “the license” to hit Kaepernick in the knees and head

SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh spoke in the media tent Friday afternoon. Here’s what he said about the NFL’s new read-option rules.

Q: How do you feel about the clarification you got from the officials and the league on the rules about hitting the quarterback on the read-option?

HARBAUGH: I think it’s flawed and biased.

Q: Can you elaborate on that? Why do you think it’s biased?

HARBAUGH: I believe that when a quarterback is handing the ball or faking a ball – in the read-option case he’s reading on an option play, he’s as defenseless as a quarterback who’s in the act of throwing. I’m not advocating that they don’t hit the quarterback if he has the ball, but when he’s in the pocket I believe there should be a strike zone, the same strike zone that is given to the quarterback when he’s in the pocket throwing the ball.

I feel like you give a license now to players to hit quarterbacks at the knee or in the head, and it just seems to be a flip flop of what the league is trying to get accomplished. Player safety, I’ve heard Rich McKay talking about a competition committee looking into ways to reduce chop blocks or players getting hit at the knee, and now you’re really opening up a door and giving a license to defensive players to say, “I couldn’t tell if he clearly had the ball or not, so now we can hit him in the knee or the head.” It doesn’t make sense.

Now, once a quarterback has indicated that he’s going to be a runner, I believe he is a runner and should be treated as a runner. But when he’s in a pocket in that vulnerable position, in that reading position, then I believe he should have the same protection as a quote unquote throwing quarterback.

And then how do they decide? Who makes that determination? Whether he’s under center faking to a tailback or he’s in the shotgun faking to the tailback, by definition a fake is a deception. It’s a deceptive maneuver. The quarterback that makes the fake and then waggles out on a bootleg, he’s a runner or a thrower. Are they opened up to being hit in the head and the knees, treated like a running back?

So, that’s how I feel about it. It seems simple. It seems like they would have more of an appetite to look at that but they’ve said they don’t have an appetite to look at it any further. That’s where we’re at.

Q: Does that force you to adjust anything in terms of how you teach how long to carry out the play fakes after the ball is gone?

HARBAUGH: We talked about a gray area the other day – yeah, I know what the rules are. I know how they’ve been explained, but still there’s still some gray area. When you start using words like “he clearly doesn’t have the ball,” what does that really mean? Like, “I just handed it off, he’s got the ball!” (Harbaugh mimics a quarterback handing off to a running back, jumping away and pointing at the running back.)

Or put your hands up? So yeah, there’s a bit of a gray area there. To me, he’s a quarterback until he leaves the quarterback as a running threat. I think it’s flawed the way they have it now.

Q: How do you see that affecting the game Sunday?

HARBAUGH: We’re going to play football. We’re going to play, Kaep’s going to play and we’re going to play the game.

ME: Did the NFL disagree with your opinion for the necessity of a strike zone, or did they not want to talk about it?

HARBAUGH: I suggested the strike zone and the competition committee came back and said they didn’t have an appetite to change it.

Q: Has Kaepernick gotten hit before on a read-option hand off?

HARBAUGH: No, he was getting hit in the strike zone because that’s been the rule. There’s been a strike zone for quarterbacks in the pocket. But it’s just this new language where they keep saying, “Treat him like a running back, we don’t know who’s got the ball,” you’re opening up a license to hit them outside the strike zone. I’m entitled to my opinion, that’s why I answered the question. I think it’s flawed and I think it’s biased.

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      1. As the rule stands now, Mr. Wilson would have an advantage. He rolls out a lot, and would enjoy the full protection of a passer within the pocket. Conversely, Kaepurnicus as a deceptive ball manipulator within the pocket, would not be….

      2. This is not matter of playing soft. Jim Harbaughs point would also protect Wilson or any QB in the league! All jh is saying is that the QB should be protected on the pocket until they start running with the ball! Do you want defenses to hit QBs in the head or the knees just because the QB was in the act of reading the option !!!

      3. Yes Chicago JH’s rule would protect any QB, the problem is that it isn’t a NFL rule and that I doubt that JH will avoid hitting other mobile QB’s because he feels his rule will protect a QB.
        JH is playing mind games to protect Kaep right now, he’s pretty good at that.

      4. He’s not even saying NOT to hit the QB, he’s saying hit them in the strike zone. It makes total sense.

        Is Peyton Manning allowed to be hit in the knees or head when making all his ball fakes? You often can’t tell when he has the ball, but just because he’s no threat to run they don’t have to hit him low or high.

      5. The difference with Manning is that he is stepping back after his ball fake. He isn’t faking to be a run threat. Same thing with Brady.

      6. We’re talking about hits that likely occur prior to him making the move to leave the pocket and certainly before you can tell which direction he’s headed. It’s the grey area where no one is sure who has the ball. Peyton does this and THEN he steps back to throw. Are you going to allow hits on him as he makes the hit or just after in the new expanded strike zone?

        If so, then, as Harbuagh points out, how is it different when the QB rolls out of the pocket? Is he a runner or what at the point? The athletic QB can run at any moment.

    1. I Completely agree with coach Harbough! This is bunch of BS. If the nfl is trying to protect the defenseless players and specifically protect the most important player in the offense, the QB then they should apply the same rule to protect the QB as long as they are in the pocket and have not initiated the act of beComing the runner! Any kind of major injury due to this rule will impact the competitive nature of the game by destroying the season for the team and potentially putting the key player(QB) at the risk of career ending injuries.

      1. I concur Chicago…if the QB is in the pocket what is really the difference between a play action fake or a read option fake? The QB can still pull the ball down and run or decide to pass.
        Doesn’t make sense that the league wants to expose the guys who make the show happen (QBs) to unnecessary hits to the head & legs.
        Does anyone want to see the Niners vs Redskins with McCoy & Cousins at QB or the Seahawks with Jackson playing instead of Wilson? Bad for business IMHO.

  1. In the day and age of trying to protect players, particularly QBs, it does seem a strange interpretation of the rule. But personally, I think QBs have been treated like endangered species for too long anyway. If you are going to hold onto the ball until the last second to deceive the defender, you have to expect to get hit.

    1. Not if you’re in the pocket. If a quarterback rolls out on a waggle, he is still protected as if he were a passer in the pocket, correct? Why then would you not protect a deceptive hand off within the pocket?

      1. As I said, it is a strange interpretation. I just think QBs in general shouldn’t be protected as much as they are. When they are defenseless in the pocket looking downfield as a passer (i.e., high difficulty knowing exactly how close defenders in your blind spots are), sure, they should be protected from low shots, etc. But when they are rolling out they need to be aware of where defenders are, they shouldn’t be defenseless, so let them be hit.

        Similarly, if the QB is trying to deceive nearby defenders on a handoff, they should know where the defenders are, and thereby no longer be defenseless.

  2. Wont even need the read option. Gore Hunter should chew up that GB defense. Now can CK be a drop back QB and play from the pocket and make good reads? If so, blow out city!

    1. Geezus, Prime!! You postededed a comment I didn’t roll my beautiful brown eyes at. Well done young man!! I agree with your sentiments!

    2. Pt, ck played from the pocket the last ten games and he has sjown that he can be a pocket passer. He has the ability to do so as long as the play design does not call for him to run.

    3. The Niners ran something like 30+ play out of the Pistol in their last game with GB and Kap killed them…that’s what all the hub bub is about. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they plan something entirely different this time. Try a few RO plays and if GB still can’t cover then keep mixing it in…if not then just beat em the old fashion way.

  3. The players association needs to step in and file a grievance, after recently settling their concussion suit with the retired players i do’nt think the NFL wants another problem.

    1. I agree. By the way protecting the QB it’s also more beneficial for the nfl by promoting more offensive production and excitement. So not only your will reduce risk of injury but you will promote the game of football.

    2. Yeah but there are 3 QB per team vs 25 defenders per team that may enjoy nailing those skirt wearing QBs…lol. Personally I don’t think Kap is intimidated by guys going after him.

  4. From Cam Inman:
    The NFL’s Competition Committee is comprised of representatives from eight teams, none of whom have a starting quarterback proficient in read-option plays. They are Rich McKay (Atlanta Falcons), Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams), Stephen Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals), John Mara (New York Giants), Mark Murphy (Green Bay Packers) and Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens). The eight-coach subcommittee is made up of Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Joe Philbin (Dolphins), Ron Rivera (Panthers), Leslie Frazier (Vikings), Mike Smith (Falcons), Tom Coughlin (Giants), Andy Reid (Chiefs) and John Harbaugh (Ravens).

    1. Razor: You are correct with regard to the Competition Committee, but on the coaches’ subcommittee, the Panthers (Rivera) run some option with Cam Newton. Also, the Chiefs (Reid) brought in Chris Ault as a consultant, but it is not yet clear what that means in terms of the Chiefs’ playbook.

    2. I think this committee should be made up of former NFL players and coaches who are not active on any particular team. I can see Jeff Fisher saying “why would I give Jim and his 49ers, or Pete and his ‘Hawks an advantage”, same with Tom Coughlin or Stephen Jones regarding the Redskins. Or even Mike Smith who knows there’s a good chance he’ll face us if his team goes to the playoffs. This just seems unfair.

      That being said, I think we’ll show them why we have the best coaches in the league.

    3. Kevin Lynch also pointed that out in his column. He also had an interesting quote from Tomlin – who happens to be on the committee:

      Tomlin voiced his opinion this spring at the NFL owners meetings about the read option.

      “I think it’s the flavor of the day. We will see if it’s the flavor of the year. We’ll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit,” Tomlin said. “We look forward to stopping it. We look forward to eliminating it.”

  5. The Ravens put out the blue-print on how to slow down CK.
    Is there a way to work around it?
    Yes, go old school by allowing CK to drop-back and hurt teams with his arm. CK is more than capable to win games with his passing.

    1. The Ravens didn’out out a blueprint… They really didn’t slow him down; he didn’t run much and everytime the outside backers crashed down to hit him Frank or LMJ was running up the middle or where that backer had vacated. Baltmore did the same thing ATL did which resulted in running lanes fir Gore. Nata was the difference that game against the run. CK got hit but could have easily cut blocked the LBs and made them slow down or think twice about coming in to hit him. I hope we see that tactic in response to this rule.

  6. It is as if people forget the Patriots game last year ever happened — you know, the one where the offense didn’t employ the read-option or even use the pistol formation very often and CK7 threw for four touchdowns.

    1. I’ll throw down for 38-30 Niners.

      A$AP Classic has 38-27 Niners. 11 point spread for A$AP Classic. 8 point spread for me if we’re counting points differential.

  7. This is my personal impression of the situation….but, I get the impression that the league (and decision makers) are kind of irritated with RG3 because he’s in his own world somewhere, they don’t like Cam Newton because he’s a cocky little baby, they don’t like Jim Harbaugh because he’s abrasive, cocky, “too competitive” and so by default don’t care for Colin (and are generally unsure of “who he is” anyways)….but they LOVE Russell Wilson. If Wilson gets hurt, they’ll change the rules in a hurry. Russell has a “story” that they like more than Kaep’s (I think fans like Kaep’s more though), so they want to see that one in the head lines. So if we beat up Russell in two weeks, they’re reconsider.

    On an instersting tip, I think the fact that the folks on the competition committee are people who Jim Harbaugh has to compete against, he’s going to look for “revenge” for their not reconsidering this rule. It’ll make interesting football for sure if Jim Harbaugh has seven other “Pete Carrol”s in the NFL.

    1. Base on what facts or data you believe the league does not like Jim Harbaugh or CK! Ck’s jeresy was the highest selling jeresy this summer so I would be shocked if bunch of business men would not like a player or organization that is generating revenue for their business! Don’t forget this is a business and All they want is money!!!

  8. Hey Jim. If you don’t want your QB to get hit don’t run the option.

    At every level of football the first thing you teach your ends when playing an option team is to hit the QB every single time they run it. Make him want to stop running it.

    I like Harbaugh, but this whole thing is stupid, and I don’t blame the competition committee one bit for not wanting to look into it.

    1. I’m not sure Jim DOESN’T want the QB hit, I think he just wants a clear strike zone. So you can hit the QB just “not in the head or knees, or don’t drive him into the ground.” I think that’s fair and is consistent with a QB running a bootleg. That QB still has the protection of a passer in regards to strike zone. So in order for the league to be consistent, they’ll either need to alter the rules on QBs running bootlegs or alter the rules on a QB running an option.

      1. Once the QB makes the handoff on a read, if he takes a step forward and doesn’t drop his hands the End should put him on his ass.

        If they don’t want Kaepernick hit, they need to teach him to hand it off, drop his hands and step back. The problem is, they don’t want him to do that because it takes away the option look and allows the backside of the defense to flow faster. Also that makes it look completely different when they do want him to keep it.

        Harbaugh knows the way the rules are drawn up are a disadvantages for his team and he wants it fixed for him.

      2. This isn’t limited to the read option plays either. There are a number of times they will call a stretch or power in which after the give Kaepernick will step forward towards the end. The defense must be allowed to react to that accordingly and according to the rules the QB is fair game to be hit once he takes that forward step.

        Interesting that we aren’t hearing any complaining on this from our nations capital.

      3. I don’t disagree with that (neither does coach), I think issue again is strike zone. If Kaep steps forward sure they can drill him, just not in the head or the knees. Kaep knows to step backwards after the hand off.

        Besides Kaep stepping forward or backwards doesn’t have that much of an impact on the read-option. Once he hands the ball off, the read has been made. The defender has moved where he wanted him, so anything else he does is just simple leverage. The true advantage is that blockers get to engage BEFORE the defender is ready.

      4. I know what Harbaugh is saying and I disagree with him. As soon as the QB takes that forward step he has declared himself as a runner, and therefore the protections given to a QB should not apply.

        I can tell you with certainty that if the QB just steps back it is an advantage to the defense. The offense works quite a bit on the QB/RB mesh points so that the defense cannot distinguish who has the ball. That’s why they want the QB to be able to step forward.

      5. I’m sure it gives some advantage to the defense, but I don’t think it’s big enough to make them change their main approach. In the end I think we’ve got something up our sleeve for the way teams are likely to play us. This probably speaks volumes to why Mangini was hired. I can imagine the “chess match” that Mangini and G-Ro go through for game planning.

    2. Jack it’s all gamesmanship to protect Kap and throw the Packers off all the while keep the refs aware.
      I’m willing to guarantee we don’t see the read option more than a handful of times. No one is better at lighting up smoke screens than Jim Harbaugh.

    3. Jack I am not sure what you are talking about here! Jim is not stating the defense should not hit the QB! Why does the QB recieves protection in the pocket but if you are running the option the Defense is allowed to hit the QB in the head or the knees in the pocket before the QB has become the runner!

      1. Chicago,

        The reason is that once the QB makes the move towards the end he has declared himself a run threat and is no longer considered a QB.

        If he gives the ball to the running back and then backs up he is still afforded the QB in the pocket protection. Same if he just gives the ball and drops his hands. Running a bootleg could be considered a form of backing up as well, thus giving him that protection, but any forward movement turns him into a run threat and he becomes fair game.

  9. We OWN the Packers!!!

    Ckone can stay in the pocket all day and we will still crush them…….this no longer is a rivalry its a beat-down every-time we play them…….

    AR is waaaay overrated………and Ckone’s potential is Offfffff the charts…..

    with a rookie LT, AR might not finish the game.

      1. Chicago – I knew Denver opened up 9.5 – 10 point favs over Ravens. When line dropped to 7.5 it was easy money on Denver. Peyton is still solid.

  10. I think something else has come out of this as well, that is the threat of being hit every time. Losing CK would be devastating and I actually think JH maybe did a disservice by bringing so much attention to this topic because teams may now just start hitting CK without question.

  11. C’mon people…Harbs is simply playing head games with Roger Goodell, Packers & media. Dude’s a genius! If Kap were to get hurt on read/option play, Harbs would say “I told you so fools!”
    In Harbaugh I trust!

  12. Let us quote Coach Harbaw:
    a flawed fight
    a biased fight, but nevertheless…
    a football fight.

    Do not, I repeat, do not blame a loss to the Packers on the refs.
    Do not expect penalties against the opponents to win games for you.
    The zebras will not hand you the Lombardi trophy on a silver platter.

  13. The so-called “competition committee” is composed of nine (9) head coaches, all of whom run a traditional offense and none of whom who runs a pistol or read option. Would they rather have fans in the second half of the season watching the McCoys and other 2nd stringers? Apparently these coaches have interests contrary to those of the fans enjoyment and the players’ health.

  14. This is all pretty hyped up. Lots of HS & college teams run option plays and sure the QB gets hit but usually not in a way that is going to knock the QB out of the game. Like Kap said, it’s football, you are going to get hit. He’s good at making those hits more of glancing blows not direct hits. Same with Wilson. RG3 on the other hand seems to get lit up regularly so the onus is on the QB to be smart. After all on the RO he is looking right at the defender so after handing the ball off he can move a little to avoid the big hit. If the defender goes for the runner he can pull it back and run…just get down or our of bounds before taking any punishment. So far Kap has been excellent at that in both college and the NFL.

  15. I’ll take RO controversy over the whole “This could have been us, San Francisco *tears*” dialogue when facing the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

    But honestly I think this is being blown up too far. Harbaugh is 100% correct that there should be a strike zone. If nothing else, then for the fact that there is an unwritten rule against targeting the knees in football, regardless of situation. And the fact that targeting ANYONE’S head is considered illegal . The only beef he really has is the driving the QB through the ground situation, which should be legal.

    Not to mention the fact that you gotta catch Kaep (or Wilson or RG3 for that matter) to hit him square. Most of these hits Clay is promising to dish out will either be sidestepped to some degree or will be half speed.

  16. The Nfl protects qbs because it’s a good business decision. They know fans want to see lots of touchdowns. It’s why they give qbs extra protection and handicap what defensive players in coverage can do. When a qb is injured it hurts the offense and hurts the entertainment value of the brand. So it’s curious why the NFL would support a rule they know will result in more hits on qbs like Kap, Wilson, Newton etc.

    I don’t like it when star athletes play the race card since these are multi millionaires but this doesn’t pass(pardon the pun) the smell test. Perhaps the old guard doesn’t like qbs like Kap being the face of the Nfl? Perhaps like last yr when the nfl took steps to ensure a ravens Super Bowl win (shady selection of ref crew, horrible non calls on td return and obvious personal fouls committed against Crabtree on final plays). Maybe they decided this time Peyton Manning winning one more SB is the storyline they want to market. So they make it more difficult for the teams most likely to stand in his way of another championship.

    Luckily we have a ferocious defense and I’m sure they know what to do if an opponent intentionally injurs our qb.

  17. The Niners defense is like a nuclear arms deterent for our opponents. Mutually assured destruction if they target our qb in a way that we feel is out of bounds no matter what the nfl says.

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