Questionable Calls: Roughing the Passer

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Raymond Rama, Writer

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As the leaves change color, we move quickly back into the swing of football season. And with every season, like the leaves turning over, new rules begin to show their colors as well. One rule, in particular, however, has caused a recent uproar: the new “body weight” roughing the passer rule has players, coaches, and fans outraged.

The new addition to the blanket “roughing the passer rule,” as stated by the NFL rulebook is: “A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as “stuffing” a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball, even if the rusher makes his initial contact with the passer within the one-step limitation provided for in (a) above. When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight.”

This rule was created in the offseason in response to a play from the 2017 season where Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr slammed down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and snapped his collarbone. Rodgers, arguably one of the faces of the NFL, was then sidelined for a majority of the season, leading to his team not living up to their expectations and missing the playoffs. 

Nevertheless, in response to the new rule, Aaron Rodgers has surprisingly stated, “We enjoy the protection below the knee and above the shoulders, but I don’t know many quarterbacks who want those calls. There are very few opportunities in the game for us to show any kind of toughness. We’re not getting hit every play. Hopefully not.” It seems as if we are seeing a controversy every week regarding the new rule. Rodgers’s teammate, linebacker Clay Matthews, has received a penalty every week of the season through Week 3 for roughing the passer. The Green Bay Packers star addressed the sports media post-game saying, “Unfortunately this league’s going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like. I think they’re getting soft.” Matthews is the first defensive player since 2001 to be called for roughing the passer in each of the first three games of a season. Many other players have also voiced their frustrations about the rule as well. It has cost some teams’ games as the penalty assessed at the end of the call often changes the complexion of the game. Players and coaches can argue that without one of these calls, the outcome of a game could have been different.

Due to the uproar, the NFL competition committee decided to speak out on the issues regarding the rule, issuing a statement that read: “There’s some concern that the officials are going a little bit too far with some of these calls.” According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, “Through three weeks there has been 34 roughing the passer calls, in 2017 through three weeks there were only 16, and in 2016 there were 20 penalties through Week 3.” This statistic shows an obvious issue with the rule. Additionally, Miami Dolphins defensive end William Hayes tore his ACL while trying to slow himself down to avoid the “body weight” sack flag on Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

Nevertheless, players will continue to get frustrated and injured unless action is taken place and fans will get angry when a poor call changes the outcome of their favorite teams’ games. Something has to be done. 

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