Is… is… is the NFL relaxing on the roughing the passer calls? If Sunday is any indication, the answer is mostly yes.
Through the first three weeks of the season, the referees threw 34 flags for roughing the passer, which was more than twice the total over the same period last year, according to ESPN. On Sunday, there were just two roughing calls.
Last week the NFL released a video showing legal and illegal hits on quarterbacks, with head official Al Riveron repeatedly emphasizing the phrase “most, if not all, of his body weight.” As astutely noted by Packers LB Clay Matthews, who has been called for roughing the passer twice this season, the video conveniently left out his controversial roughing calls for which he wasn’t even fined.
After a conference call with the competition committee on Wednesday, the league opted to keep the rule as is but offered one caveat. “To ensure consistency in officiating the rule, the committee clarified techniques that constitute a foul,” Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, wrote in a statement.
This week, we took a look at all the roughing calls and close no-calls and interpreted them for you below.
Bills at Packers: 10:20 left in the second quarter, second-and-six from the Buffalo 19-yard line
This was a half sack by Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Matthews charges at QB Josh Allen in front, and as Allen attempts to evade the sack, Perry hits him from behind and Matthews slides to the side of Allen’s left hip.
Result: No flag.
Correct Call? Indeed. Clay Matthews can, in fact, sack the quarterback without getting a flag.
Bills at Packers: 11:20 left in the third quarter, third-and-eight from the Buffalo 18-yard line
Tremaine Edmunds appeared to land on Rodgers with his body weight. But Rodgers sort of crumbled down rather than going from upright to flat in less than a half-second.
Result: No flag
Correct call? This one’s close. If we are going by percentages, you could argue convincingly that Edmunds landed on Rodgers with more than 50% of his body weight. If that means it’s a flag then so be it, but I think most football observers will appreciate no laundry on the field for this play.
Bengals at Falcons: 1:22 left in the third quarter, first-and-20 from the Atlanta 36-yard line
A sack fumble by Carl Lawson is erased. Matt Ryan was getting tackled on his right side and falling left. That’s where Lawson was coming from, and Lawson wrapped up a crumbling Ryan around his shoulders and head. The Falcons would recover the fumble.
Correct Call? There was nothing especially dangerous about Lawson’s play. He couldn’t have done anything to avoid Ryan’s head, and he didn’t make forcible contact with his helmet. As mentioned above, Ryan seemed to fall into Lawson on the play. There should not have been a flag on the play, and Lawson seemed to agree afterward when he told reporters that “the league is ridiculous right now.”
Bills at Packers: 11:51 left in the fourth quarter, third-and-six from the Buffalo 46-yard line
Cornerback Taron Johnson came off the edge on a corner blitz to sack Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers never saw Johnson coming from his blindside, and Johnson lowered his head and hit Rodgers in the chest, jarring the ball loose and the fumble was recovered by the Bills.
Result: No flag.
Correct call? Absolutely. Johnson took Rodgers to the ground at an angle, and only the corner’s arm was on top of Rodgers as they went to the ground. It was as clean a sack-fumble as you’ll see.
Browns at Raiders: 9:09 left in the first quarter, second-and-12 from the Cleveland 23-yard line
Baker Mayfield connects with Duke Johnson for a 19-yard pass. As Mayfield releases the ball, Arden Key lowers his helmet and appears to hit the rookie quarterback in the shoulder. Key only briefly wraps Mayfield before spreading his arms wide in an attempt to prove he did not commit a foul.
Correct call? This isn’t the body weight rule. Key did not wrestle Mayfield to the ground or hit him well after the release of the ball. If anything, it appears the official threw the flag because Key lowered his helmet and made contact with the quarterback with his facemask. The contact did not appear to be egregious, though. I can’t see how this was flagged for a penalty.