NFL Attempts to Clarify Roughing the Passer Controversy
This past offseason the NFL tightened its rules surrounding violence against quarterbacks. After Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone after being hit by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr last season, the NFL told its officials to start throwing flags for roughing the passer on plays in which a defensive player lands with his full body weight on a quarterback.
The rule drew some criticism during the preseason, but the outrage from players, fans and coaches alike has gotten the NFL’s attention just 3 weeks into the regular season. On Thursday the league attempted to clarify the rule change “to ensure consistency in officiating the rule.”
So far, roughing the passer has been called 34 times throughout the league. That is over twice as many roughing the passer flags as we saw through the same 3-week time span last season. The murkiness of the rules has resulted in officials throwing flags for plays in which it would have been otherwise impossible for a defender to make a tackle while also avoiding landing on opposing the opposing quarterback.
In a statement, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said that the league’s competition committee has sent a video to all 32 teams that attempts to clarify what is a legal hit against a quarterback. The video included 4 examples of hits that will still draw a penalty flag, including the aforementioned play involving Rodgers and Barr from last season. Senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said that penalties will continue to be called if there is “no attempt” by a defender to “break their fall” by landing directly on a quarterback.
The video failed to address some of the more controversial calls that have been made this season, including two against Rodgers’ teammate, Clay Matthews. The video also showed examples of legal hits on the quarterback, which include defenders sliding away from a falling passer or utilizing a “gator tackle” technique in which a defender pulls a quarterback to the ground.
The NFL did not say directly that they are hoping the clarification will result in fewer fouls being called. However, the league also clarified new rules regarding hits involving helmets after 51 penalty flags were thrown over the course of the first 33 preseason games. After the clarification, penalty calls involving the new helmet rule decreased considerably.
When asked about the video, Matthews still seemed unclear on how the officials plan to proceed. He said, “I don’t know if that statement really expresses how they’re going to call it moving forward. I’m sure what many, if not all of NFL fans and players, are hoping is that they’re not changing the rule but much like the helmet rule we saw in the preseason, it’ll change. But I said that after the Minnesota hit on [Kirk] Cousins, and nothing changed last week. If that’s the case, that’s truly unfortunate because I think I speak on behalf of everybody that doesn’t like the rule and the way it’s being called and the way it’s being officiated.”
Matthews has been flagged for 3 roughing the passer penalties through 3 games this season. However, he said that he has not been fined by the league for any of his infractions thus far.
Matthews also said that he has spoken with head coach Mike McCarthy as well as Mark Murphy, who is a member of the NFL’s competition committee regarding whether he needs to alter his style of play. He added, “That’s the biggest thing is, from speaking with Mark, Coach Mike, my position coach, everything, it’s not to change a thing. I just think somehow you need to program something in your head that when you’re coming with those straight-on hits with the quarterback, to pick a side, maybe go after the ball. Those are going to be the tough ones. As a pass rusher, most of your sacks – that’s not true.”
No flags for roughing the passer were thrown during the Los Angeles Rams’ 38-31 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night, so perhaps the league’s video is already paying dividends. Rodgers, Matthews and the Packers will look to rebound from a surprising loss to the Washington Redskins last week when they host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
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