Fans of NFL teams with tenacious pass rushers have been holding their breaths on Sundays in the wake of the NFL’s new roughing-the-passer rules.
The NFL rulebook defines roughing the passer as “any physical acts against a player who is in a passing posture which, in the referee’s judgment, are unwarranted by the circumstances of the play.” However, this is nothing new, as this has always been the case. Violations such as hitting the quarterback after he has clearly already thrown the ball or hitting the quarterback below the knees will automatically result in a 15-yard penalty and a first down.
However, as the NFL has introduced many new rules to help increase player safety, an amendment was made to expand the scope of what kind of hits qualify as roughing the passer. This amendment forbids defensive players from “committing such intimidating and punishing acts as ‘stuffing’ a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down.” Instead, a defender must “strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight.” Essentially, this means that when sacking the quarterback, the defensive player is not allowed to land on top of the quarterback after tackling him.
These changes were put in place in large part due to the injury Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered at the hands of Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr during the 2017 season. During the play in question, Barr sacked Rodgers in the same fashion that the NFL rulebook currently forbids and landed on top of Rodgers as he brought him to the ground. As a result of the impact, Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone and would go on to miss much of the season. Although not explicitly stated by the NFL, it is clear that this play directly led to the rule change, as Aaron Rodgers is debatably the league’s most marketable star. Some NFL fans have even gone onto refer to the amendment as “Rodgers’ Rule”.
Player safety is very important, and there is no question that the NFL should always be looking for ways to ensure that the risk of severe injury is as minimal as possible. However, this must be done with nuance in order to keep the integrity of intact. “Rodgers’ Rule” fails miserably in that regard.
Competitive balance is crucial in any conventional sports league and the rules and regulations must be structured in a way to not prioritize one aspect of the sport over another. The “Rodgers’ Rule” does not adhere to this philosophy, as it puts defensive players in an incredibly unfair spot.
Malicious intent or not, if a defensive player lands on top of a quarterback while sacking him, a penalty will be called. Sacks can be game-changing plays; the benefits of making such a great play will be stripped away in an instant simply based on the angle in which the defensive player falls.
To be clear, a defensive player is not allowed to hit the quarterback above the shoulders. Also, a defensive player cannot hit the quarterback with force below the knees as that too would be considered roughing the passer and result in a first down. Now, even if a defensive player properly tackles a quarterback as per NFL rules, they must now also find a way to move their bodies as they fall to the ground in order to not fall on top of the quarterback.
This rule is not applied universally at all levels of American football. The NCAA does not enforce such a rule, nor do many high school athletic associations. Defensive players are being forced to make adjustments to their game that they never had to in the past, and the new players coming into the league will not be prepared for the new rule.
Simply put, “Rodgers’ Rule” is a disaster and it is up to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to do something about it before it is too late.