It is a problem that seems to be growing daily and acts as an irritant to the poobahs at National Football League headquarters.
How in the world is the league going to bring under control the nonsense surrounding the new application of the roughing-the-passer rule that seems to rankle just about everyone who plays defense?
It used to be that a sack was a sack no matter how the quarterback was brought down. In so many ways, that is no longer the case.
Initially, hitting a quarterback below the knees was outlawed. Too many leg injuries.
Striking a quarterback in the helmet or head was next on the hit list. Those no-nos were subject to a 15-yard penalty.
Even that wasn’t enough for members of the league’s powerful competition committee. Had to do something about players using their full body weight when taking down a quarterback.
Technically, Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 of the NFL Rules Book is rambling and massively worded. Paraphrasing the next two paragraphs here to cover the essential part with regard to all the current problems.
A roughing the passer penalty shall be called and enforced if a player unnecessarily or violently throws the quarterback down or lands on top of him with all or most of his weight. The defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with his arms and not land . . . with all or most of his body weight.
Note: When in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the quarterback, the referee should always call roughing the passer.
How to apply the new guidelines has become a problem spinning out of control, causing coaches to shake their heads in wonderment trying to figure out how to coach their men.
Officials on the field, it seems, have no idea what is and isn’t a weighty sack. Players are confused, coaches are confused. So, it seems, are the officials.
The league, it would appear, finally came up with legislation that has cut down on the number of helmet-to-helmet hits that causes numerous concussions. That one seems to be under control now as coaches have adapted and changed their coaching technique.
This one is more difficult, though, because of the interpretation of the rule. What constitutes most of a player’s body weight? Is it 90%, 75%, 60%? 50%? How does one make that determination? Therein lies the problem.
Officials, most notably referees because they are the ones closest to the quarterback and throw a majority of the roughing flags, are really only guessing how to interpret this rule. And it is not fair to them or the players by any stretch.
Tony Corrente and Craig Wrolstad are just two NFL referees whose judgment on these matters has drawn criticism this season. Don’t blame them. They are only carrying out what the rules book says. That’s where the problem lies.
Several years ago, Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News hit the nail on the head with regard to where the blame really lies.
“The real problem here isn’t with Tony Corrente or any other NFL zebra,” he wrote. “The bigger problem is, either out of concern over concussions or just wanting to codify every little nuance of the sport, the NFL has passed so many rules, the game has become impossible to officiate.”
Chimed in Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III, who has been flagged three times for legitimate sacks, “Unfortunately, this league is going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like. I think they’re getting soft.”
Tweeted Minnesota Vikings safety George Iloka: They should just change the name of the penalty to ‘tackling the passer’ instead of ‘roughing’ the passer #smh
The more teams are burned – Myles Garrett of the Browns was incorrectly flagged in the season opener against Pittsburgh – the greater the outcry among owners. And that is probably when fans will see the application of this rule either changed or be called less frequently.
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Now that Baker Mayfield is the starting quarterback for the Browns, look for the rookie to spread the ball around a lot as offensive coordinator Todd Haley opens up the playbook.
Based strictly on his first 32 minutes in his new role, Mayfield seems to be a quick study with a learning curve that has no limits. The fact he reportedly studies voraciously can’t help but prepare him to achieve more than a modicum of success.
Haley can now reopen the playbook, which appeared to be dumbed down by game three for Tyrod Taylor, with Mayfield in charge. Based on his showing in the come-from-behind Jets victory last Thursday, the kid appears to have a firm grasp of some of Haley’s complexities.
He can make throws Taylor only dreams of. All of which means receivers like Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, David Njoku and, yes, even Duke Johnson Jr. will be that much more involved in the game plan.
Johnson, in particular, needs to handle the ball more than he has this season. You don’t maximize his value with only 15 touches in three games. His best position is “just get me the ball.” He is more than capable, as he has shown in the past, of doing the rest and doing it well.
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Finally . . . Mayfield, after the Jets victory: “It’s not the only win we’re going to celebrate.” Haven’t heard confidence like that from a Cleveland quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar. . . . More Mayfield, on the victory: “I didn’t come here to win just one game and I didn’t come here to start the next. We’re building a franchise here and we’re turning it around. . . . Never listen to the outside noise.” . . . One last Mayfield, on becoming the 30th starter at quarterback since 1999: “It’s 2018. I don’t really care.” . . . Hue Jackson has ruled out the possibility of Taylor being moved. The San Francisco 49ers are looking for a quarterback after losing Jimmy Garoppolo for the season with a torn ACL. Makes sense to hold on to Taylor since Drew Stanton would be the only quality backup if General Manager John Dorsey overrules his coach and deals the veteran.