In recent years, roughing the passer penalties have gotten out of hand. It’s great to err on the side of safety but it’s also a physical game and it got to the point where if a quarterback got breathed on it would be a penalty. Now, it appears there will be an attempt to remedy that.
According to NFL documents and reported by CBS Sports, NFL head of officiating Walt Anderson instructed officials of the mandate change that only “forcible” contact to the head or legs constitutes roughing the passer. Officials are applying those changes throughout training camp and the preseason so teams are aware and can adjust by the start of the regular season.
The main change is that incidental contact to the quarterback will not be penalized for roughing the passer. For instance, a defender who is blocked into a quarterback’s legs or a defender who grabs at the quarterback while on the ground shouldn’t be a penalty. When it comes to the head, the NFL saw that there could be some leeway. If a defender is trying to block a throw and accidentally hits a player’s helmet, it won’t be a penalty. But if he uses a “violent, swinging, or thrusting motion with his arms,” it’s still a penalty.
On the surface, this is great news. It felt like there was a lack of common sense in officiating and any slight touch was a penalty. In fact, CBS Sports made note that there were a record 149 roughing the passer penalties last season. On the other hand, this only works if the officials have common sense to be able to immediately tell the difference between what is and what isn’t “roughing the passer.” Before, it was essentially out of the referee’s hands to make a judgment call and they just called everything. Now, it’s up to each referee’s interpretation of what is or isn’t “forcible contact,” which might lead to confusion.
Also, while officials have been told to lay off on calling roughing the passer penalties, will they follow through on that and not throw a flag when top stars like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady get hit with the slightest of touches? Even if they may complain about that? That will be something to look for in Week 1.