The NFL is yet again cracking down on roughing the passer calls this 2022 season. Except, this time, it should result in fewer roughing calls.
The league’s officiating department, in consultation with the competition committee, will ease off some of the roughing calls that have caused many of us watching to say, “What was the defender supposed to do?!”
While “forcible” contact to the head or legs of the quarterback will still be properly ruled as roughing the passer, the incidental contact to the passer should not draw a flag, according to documents provided by the NFL. Walt Anderson, the NFL’s SVP and head of officiating training and development, has instructed his officials of these new rules throughout the offseason, and officials are explaining the rule clarifications to coaches and teams during training camp this preseason.
Since 2011, any movement of the quarterback’s head caused by contact by a defender would be ruled a foul. Upon review this offseason, the NFL didn’t feel there was a safety issue with just any contact to a quarterback’s head. When a pass rusher tries to “match” the quarterback’s hand when attempting to block or bat a pass, the potential incidental contact to the QB’s head or neck won’t be flagged for roughing. But if the defender uses a “violent, swinging or thrusting” motion with his arms, that will still be flagged.
As far as the low hits go, the competition committee found that defenders who are either blocked into the quarterback’s legs or who swipe or grab at the quarterback’s lower body while on the ground should not be flagged because that’s not “forcible” contact.
The NFL has reasoned that defenders who are on the ground must have some means to be able to non-forcibly reach out and attempt to make a play on the quarterback who’s still in the pocket.
Last year, the NFL saw a record 149 roughing the passer calls. Of course, last season was the first year of 17 regular season games, but the average of roughing calls per regular season week in 2021 was still the highest it’s ever been in NFL history. The league saw 8.76 roughing penalties per week in 2021. That’s compared to 7.63/week in 2020 and 8.38/week in 2019, which had previously been the record.
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It hasn’t always been like this. In 2016, the league threw just 5.31 roughing flags per week, but it began climbing steadily from there. Roughing the passer got its day (and weeks) in the headlines at the start of the 2018 season.
Recall the “bodyweight” portion of the roughing call that dominated the news cycle in the first month of the 2018 season. Through the first 4 games of that season, the number of roughing calls nearly doubled (38) from the previous season (21) in the same four-game timespan.
Defenders adjusted. Officials relaxed a bit. The story went away. But the 2021 season — very quietly — saw the most roughing calls ever.
Yes, it’s a quarterback-driven league. And this year promises to deliver as many offensive fireworks as ever before, especially with a QB-loaded AFC.
And while the league braces to throw more flags this year for illegal contact that will surely result in many more first downs for offenses, there’s another rule adjustment that quarterbacks won’t love. The ole tightrope-the-sideline for a couple more yards will become more of a business decision for QBs this season.
The league’s officiating department has sent out training videos to teams warning (mostly) quarterbacks that when they try to eke out a few extra yards along the sideline and get hit just as their foot begins to hover out of bounds, that won’t be flagged for unnecessary roughness. The competition committee has recommended that officials focus more on “second acts” by defenders that take place immediately after the ball carrier steps out of bounds.