The NFL’s Roughing the Passer Rule Is Alienating Way More Fans Than the Kneeling Thing

It’s nice to talk about an NFL story that involves people being angry over something that people justifiably should be mad about. I am talking, of course, about the way NFL officials have been calling roughing the passer in situations that clearly aren’t, specifically against Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Mathews was flagged with a personal foul for the third week in a row on what no one in their right mind would call a foul. Take a look.

The NFL explained why that was a good call despite Matthews not going helmet to helmet, grabbing the face mask, hitting him in the head or hitting him late. What Matthews did there was make a clean sack. The league said that it’s a penalty because “the defender lands ‘with all or most of the defender’s weight’ on the passer.” In other words, being on top of a quarterback when you tackle him is a potential penalty.

Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy was very unhappy with this turn of events.

It’s not particularly PC to repeat this anymore, but Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert once said that quarterbacks should wear skirts because of the lengths the league went to keep them from taking hits in the 1970s, and it clearly hasn’t gotten any better for defenses since then. The rule is ostensibly because quarterbacks are defenseless when throwing the ball, and there are rules about roughing place kickers and punters as well. But quarterbacks are also the most popular players in the league, which means they sell the most jerseys. The NFL absolutely doesn’t want those guys getting hurt at all ever. Pretty much any time a guy with one of the top ten selling jerseys gets injured, whatever kind of hit he took that resulted in the injury is illegal the next season.

Here’s what I think happened. When the referees met during the off-season, they decided they needed a way to penalize absolutely anyone who sacked Tom Brady in order to throw games for the Patriots they way they’ve been doing for the past 20 years but without looking like quite as big of an ass-pull as the “Tuck Rule.” So you throw some super questionable roughing the passer flags during the first weeks of the season, and all of a sudden the Patriots are marching into the playoffs despite starting the season with a worse record than the Cleveland Browns.

If you take a quick look on Google, you’ll see that people have been arguing about this literally forever. There are Neanderthal cave drawings in Spain of Ook and Og arguing about bad roughing the passer calls. The first message on ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, was probably about a penalty called against a guy who sacked Joe Namath. There are World War 2 carrier pigeon messages that read “Did you see that the quarterbacks are wearing leather helmets and are allowed to throw the ball down the field now? What is the world coming to?” But the league is unlikely to let anything happen to a star quarterback that would prevent him from hosting a terrible episode of Saturday Night Live.

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