Roughing the passer has been in the NFL since 1938 and has seen multiple changes since its implementation. Roughing the passer is defined as the following; “Roughing the passer is a foul in which a defensive player makes illegal contact with the quarterback after the latter has thrown a forward pass. The penalty is 10 or 15 yards and an automatic first down for the offense.
Defenders are allowed to contact a player attempting a forward pass while he still has possession of the ball (a quarterback sack); however, once the ball is released, defenders are not allowed to make contact with the quarterback unless their momentum forces them to do so. The ruling is left up to the judgment of the officials on a case-by-case basis.
Of course, in the NFL rule book, there are subsections of the ruling which includes; “Roughing will be called if, in the Referee’s judgment, a pass rusher clearly should have known that the ball had already left the passer’s hand before contact was made.”
The ruling also states, “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.” Due to these rulings, plenty of people are in an uproar over these calls.
Roughing The Passer:
The NFL has changed the ruling over the years, and we saw the latest change come in 2018. Referees became more aware of the pass rushers landing on the quarterback with the brunt of their weight and making contact with the head of the QB.
These calls being left up to judgment is a massive part of the problem fans are having with the rule. We’ve seen multiple occasions in which a non-call or even a questionable call has cost teams on either side a win. The 2018 AFC championship game comes to mind when the Patriots were saved from the jaws of defeat by a roughing the passer call on Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones that wasn’t.
Clay Matthews was one of the first victims of the blatantly bad game-changing roughing the passer calls. In 2018he had two that would’ve been considered textbook plays. In 2019 he continued that trend of being victimized by terrible calls against the Seahawks during a week five Thursday night matchup. The call changed the game’s momentum, and ultimately, the Rams lost the game after being up five with five minutes left.
Roughing The Passer Problems:
In today’s NFL, when a penalty such as roughing the passer seems to handcuff the pass rushers of the league, it should not be left up to judgment. Using the examples above, we already know the damage these calls can cause to a team. Not every official in the league is the same, as some throw flags more often than others, and quarterbacks seemingly know what they can do to trigger that response. Taylor Heinicke is a prime example of that
This year, the Falcons lost a game to the Buccaneers due to this issue. The Falcons got the stop they needed, but the call extended a Bucs drive and allowed them to run the clock out and win the game. On the flip side, we’ve seen teams not get that call when it’s a blatant penalty, and it stalls out a critical drive.
We have proposals to change the rule to involve ejections for such penalties. Albeit that would come with a reviewable option for the penalty, and ejections would only happen on egregious actions but ejections on a judgment call? That seems to me like a bit much.
By The Numbers:
Over the last 10 years, there’s been a massive spike in these penalties. Starting from 2012 and 88 roughing the passers, the rise to 2021 is a 69% increase to 149 penalties. That increase is definitely due to the tweaking of the rule in 2018 and the fact that it is a judgment call by officials. Even though there’s been a decrease in the 2022 season to this point in the season, it’s still an issue with the number of penalties that go missed and ones that are egregious calls.
Since 2012, we can see which QB and which type of QB gets the calls. A pocket passer like Matt Ryan has the most drawn roughing-the-passer calls (46). The following two in this time frame are Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson (36). Wilson is the most mobile of the three, and if you have seen the video linked in, Russ can draw these types of penalties outside of the pocket.
The reason for this comparison is that Tom Brady has drawn 28 roughing-the-passer penalties. Jared Goff has the same amount in four fewer years. The more significant issue here is Josh Allen has two fewer penalties drawn after being drafted in 2018. This solidifies the problems with the rule and how officials handle it.
If the rule was to be changed in 2023, I do believe making it reviewable is a must. In my opinion, the rule needs not to be left to judgment, and the league must make the ruling set in stone to avoid these game-altering calls.
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