NFL players struggling to adapt to more stringent roughing the passer calls

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) is sacked by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Olsen Pierre. Pierre was called for a roughing the passer on the play. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

At the start of the 2018 season, the NFL announced that the “roughing the passer” penalty will be more enforced this year.  Through the season’s first five weeks, the roughing the passer penalty has been called 51 times so far versus only 29 at this point last year. The new enforcement of the penalty has been frustrating for NFL players and fans to adjust to.

Roughing the passer is to protect vulnerable players, mostly quarterbacks, from taking the full weight and force of a rushing defender to the ground. According to the NFL’s official rules, “the act of passing often puts the quarterback in a position where he is vulnerable to injury,” and when the roughing penalty is called, “a rushing defender is prohibited from ‘stuffing’ a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down.”

One of the more controversial calls so far this season was in Week 2 against Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews. The NFL said Matthew’s hit was a “technique of grabbing the passer from behind the legs or legs, scooping and pulling in an upward motion, [which] is a foul.”

The new enforcement of the penalty has been a struggle for some teams to adapt to, leading to the penalty being called so much more at this point in the season. Matthews stated after game that it was “a terrible call,” and that “I don’t know what else to do.” Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said “If you’re trying to throw the ball and you’re totally exposed I think where a little bit of the gray area is in the judgement of the defender hitting he quarterback because I get what the goal is.”

Green Bay has the most roughing the passer penalties called on them (5) going into Week 7 of the NFL while nine teams have zero roughing calls. One of the teams without a roughing penalty is the New England Patriots. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t acknowledge that changes needed to be made in New England, according to a Yahoo article.

“They’re not new rules. I mean, you’re not allowed to lead with your head, you’re not allowed to body slam the quarterback, you’re not allowed to hit him below the knees, you’re not allowed to hit him above the shoulders,” Belichick said. To the Patriots, that rule hasn’t affected them. Since 2012, the Patriots defense has been a top 10 defense in the league and averaged 106.5 penalties per season since. Around 107 penalties may seem like a lot, but according to, only 12 of those penalties have been called for roughing the passer.

The Patriots are not the only one’s unfazed by the leagues statement to better protect its players. Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller stated in USA Today that “I’m good with all the rule changes. They’ve put in rules to take care of all the players, as well.” Miller stated he likes going for the football in order to make a play. Going against the traditional instinct to tackle a player, Miller focuses more on the football than going for the quarterback. Miller’s style means he is more apt to force a turnover rather than get a roughing penalty. “None of the rule changes affect my game. I don’t really tackle quarterbacks with all my weight anyway,” Miller said.

Tyler Dare is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University