The NFL is ruining pass-rushing

Referee throws a penalty flag on Clay Matthews (Week 3)

AP photo/Alex Brandon

Referee throws a penalty flag on Clay Matthews (Week 3)

A terrible issue has emerged in the NFL this year and it has angered many. Fans, players, coaches, former players, and even former referees have come out against this problem. The issue: roughing the passer penalties.

This penalty has been ruining games because it is called on unnecessary hits. While protecting the QB has become a priority in the NFL’s front office, this is clearly NOT the correct solution.

As of the end of week four in the NFL, there have been 38 roughing the passer calls. The team with the most is the Green Bay Packers, who have had the dreaded penalty called five times against them.

One of the most controversial moments so far this season has been between the call and a Packer star Clay Matthews. Clay is a 32 year old linebacker, and has been on the Packers since he was drafted in 2009.

Clay had an unfortunate streak going throughout the first three weeks of the year, with a roughing the passer penalty being called on him each game.

The first of the calls came against the Chicago Bears in week one. It happened late in the game and Matthews almost expected the flag after Mitch Trubisky was leveled. According to, Clay seemed very disappointed but understood the week one flag.

In week two things got outrageous. A hit on Kirk Cousins drew the 15 yard penalty, but to nearly everyone it looks like a clean hit. The reason it was called a penalty was Clay “scooped and pulled” Kirk’s legs and drove him downward. The hit is shown here in slow motion:

Lots of controversy surrounded this hit, and not only because it did not seem fair. That flag also cost the Packers the win.

The Pack tied the Minnesota Vikings at 29. If that Matthews’ hit was not called roughing the passer, the interception would have counted. That interception would have ended the game for the Vikings, and secure the win for Green Bay.

The very next week, Clay was penalized for another questionable roughing the passer play. In week three, the Pack faced off against the Washington Redskins.

While this call does land under the “bodyweight on QB” rule, I believe it is still a clean hit: not a 15 yard foul and free first down.  Here is that hit on the Washington field general:

The reason the quarterback’s safety is a major concern this season has us taking a look back one year, when the Green Bay Packers lost star QB Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone. Aaron was taken out for most of the season because of an arguably dirty hit by a Minnesota Viking. And even Aaron does not agree with the calls on his teammate.

According to, Aaron Rodgers explained how it is to be a QB in this situation.

“We enjoy the protection below the knee and above the shoulders, but I don’t know many quarterbacks who want those calls,” said Rodgers. “I didn’t get up off the ground thinking, ‘Where’s the penalty?’ I saw a late flag and couldn’t believe there was a penalty on the play.”

So if even a quarterback, who is supposed to gain from these hits, is against the many penalties, then why are they still being called? And now, other quarterbacks are taking advantage of the excessive calls.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was inside his own five yard-line preparing for a pass when he took advantage of one of the weirdest calls this season. Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive linemen for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rushed Big Ben by pushing back the left tackle. He reaches for Ben as he releases the ball and knocks him with his forearm across the helmet.

Ben fell to the ground gracefully and drew a flag. Even though hitting a QB in the head is a penalty, it looks like JPP did not hit Ben with enough force to knock him over. I truly believe that Ben flopped on the play.

Big Ben hesitates for a split second before falling to the ground, which is shown the clearest in the first angle. However, it was called roughing, and the Steelers went on to win that game.

But at least that call had the linemen supposedly knocking over the QB. In this next clip, Arden Key of the Oakland Raiders is called for wrapping Baker Mayfield and immediately letting go.

Arden Key barely touched Baker, and even went out of his way to stop his forward momentum.

At least the Clay Matthews’ sacks and the Big Ben flop had the QB ending the play on the ground. Baker even fist bumps Arden after the play! And yet there’s a foul?

These plays show how the NFL is focusing too hard on player safety. Yes, keeping people safe is a priority in the league. However, injuries are also a part of the game. Without Drew Bledsoe getting injured, who knows when Tom Brady would have become a starting quarterback.

I truly think the NFL has gone overboard with the roughing the passer calls. They need to tone it down, or else fans will stop watching and players will want to stop playing.