Roughing the passer rule rustles fans

By Travis Politakis

As NFL season is in full swing, new rules are implemented for player safety, but many players and fans remain unhappy and confused with the new roughing the passer ruling. Rule twelve, article two, section nine of the official NFL rulebook states, “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; pass rushers are responsible for being aware of the position of the ball in passing situations… thereafter the rusher must be making an attempt to avoid contact and must not continue to ‘drive through’ or otherwise forcibly contact the passer.”

However, one part of the rule has everyone confused. The rule states that a defender must avoid “landing on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.” It literally defies the laws of physics. This rule puts the defender at a complete disadvantage, as they cannot tackle a quarterback the way they were taught to when they learned to play football at a young age. This rule is completely subjective as referees call this penalty differently each game. The penalty does nothing but “muddy the water” for defenders, and has some players playing in fear.

The reason behind the penalty makes sense, as the NFL is trying to protect their players from injuries and concussions which have massively increased over the past few years, but there has to be a better way. There is confusion among the players, coaches, referees and fans, as many people are becoming disgruntled and fed up with the league. Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has been in the middle of this situation lately, as he has been flagged two consecutive weeks, for what looked like a routine play. Matthews made a terrific play week two, sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, giving the Packers the ball back with a chance to win. The play was called back for roughing the passer, taking away the opportunity to win. The next week, Matthews made the same play sacking Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, giving Green Bay momentum, but again the play was called back due to roughing the passer. Postgame, Matthews was understandably upset as he expressed his confusion saying, “I really don’t know. Unfortunately this league is going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like. I think they’re getting soft.”

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino even watched the footage of Matthews’ play, and said that it shouldn’t have been called. This has been happening throughout the entire league and is taking the fun out of the game. So far, a total of 822 penalties have been called, in only three weeks of the season, and 34 roughing the passer penalties have been called. That’s a record high, more than double of what was called last season. Houston Texans star JJ Watt expressed his view on the penalties as he tweeted, “These roughing the passer calls are absolutely out of control.”

This rule is so difficult, that Miami Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes tore his ACL, trying to avoid the penalty. It is absolutely ridiculous that players are getting hurt because of this rule. The defenders are playing scared, which causes them to make mistakes and even causes injuries. The rule is simply taking the fun out of the game for both the fans and the players. There have been so many penalty problems, after every play everyone is looking around for penalties because they are afraid they did something wrong. That is how unclear the rule is. People are unhappy and the league must do something to fix it.

Travis Politakis can be reached out at

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