Matthews deserved fine, but not criticism

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews deserved to be fined for his late hit out of bounds on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The amount -- $15,000 as was announced by the NFL on Friday -- is debatable.

What should not be questioned is Matthews’ integrity as a player.

In no way should he be lumped in with players like Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who last season was voted the NFL’s dirtiest player in a poll of players conducted by The Sporting News.

There’s nothing in Matthews’ history to suggest his play resembles that of Suh or the rest of the players on that list.

A check of Matthews’ past shows this is hardly a pattern.

Since entering the league in 2009, Matthews has never been penalized more than once in a season for a personal foul. As a rookie, he was called for one roughing the passer penalty (against Baltimore on Dec. 7). In 2010, his lone personal foul was a facemask (against Chicago on Sept. 27). In 2011, he had one roughing the passer infraction (against Minnesota on Oct. 23). And last season, he also had a roughing the passer (also against San Francisco on Sept. 9).

Before this week, the only one of those penalties that drew a fine was the facemask of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in 2010. Matthews was docked $5,000 for that. At least one of those penalties, the 2011 hit on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, could safely be considered a bad call.

The rest of Matthews’ career penalties all have been minor infractions.

There’s no doubt Matthews plays hard and plays to the whistle. All great players do, and Matthews certainly qualifies as such. In some ways, he resembles his position coach, Kevin Greene, an aggressive player who holds the NFL’s career record for sacks by a linebacker.

“I just know that I’m going to coach them one way and, generally speaking, you get what you emphasize as a coach,” Greene said on Friday. “I’m coaching, ‘Hey, you play with your heart and all of your drive and desire and determination and fire -- and that’s play after play after play after play, and never let up. You want to hunt and hunt and keep hunting. That’s what I’m hoping to get from all of my kids.”

Matthews has taken that to heart. Since he entered the NFL in 2009, only four players have more sacks than Matthews’ 43.5. He also is an underrated run defender.

“Clay, he’s got a motor and he’s a talented guy that has a motor,” Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said on Wednesday. “Anybody with that immense amount of ability that plays every snap like it’s his last is a dangerous guy. We’ll be aware of him. You’ve always got to respect your opponent, and I respect Clay Matthews as a player, and that’s all you can say. My team respects him as a player, and that’s the way we have to go about it. You’ve got to prepare, there’s going to be great players in this league that you have to play against, and he’s one of them.”

And anyone who plays with the kind of intensity that Matthews brings is bound to go overboard every once in a while. But that doesn’t make him dirty. Before 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh insinuated this week that Matthews was a dirty player, there had never been even a whisper of that during his first four NFL seasons.

As Matthews said earlier this week, “I think my résumé is pretty good right now. I think we’re doing all right.”