Same game, different rules

Looking into rule changes that have shaped this NFL season

Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews yells in disbelief after receiving a “roughing the passer” penalty


Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews yells in disbelief after receiving a “roughing the passer” penalty

Sam Romutis, Staff Writer

For many years, the National Football League (NFL) has been attempting to cut down on the number of concussions and lasting injuries. More and more players are having permanent injuries due to helmet-to-helmet hits, and so on. The league wanted to do more to combat injuries against quarterbacks, especially. This season, the referees have been really cracking down on the “roughing the passer” rule, which was changed prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.

“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… the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive players arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight,” the official NFL rulebook states.

The rule has been in football since 1938; its intention is to protect the quarterback when he is in a vulnerable position. The pass rushers are expected to, or at least attempt to, break their fall when they land on the quarterback. The calls on this particular penalty are up to the referee’s judgement, and have been highly controversial so far this season. Why has something as simple as a penalty become such a problem this season?


“When in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the quarterback, the Referee should always call roughing the passer,” the NFL rulebook states.

It is very difficult to avoid a penalty during a sack, because players are rushing the quarterback as fast as they can. They want to give the passer as little time to throw the ball as possible. Obviously, it can be difficult for a 300-pound lineman to prevent himself from pulling away from a hit on a quarterback while in mid-air. Despite the displeasure of the players, coaches and fans, the NFL has yet to alter the state of the calls being made, but had ensured consistency in future matchups.


There have been 34 roughing the passer calls this season; over twice as many at this point last season. Every NFL team has received a video from the NFL competition committee that would clarify what passes as a legal and illegal hit. Many players and fans alike hope to see a change in the rules concerning roughing the passer calls, but the future state of the officiating remains uncertain.