News, Culture & Society

NFL faces backlash from defensive players over new roughing penalty described as ‘soft’

Ostensibly aimed at protecting quarterbacks, the NFL’s new roughing-the-passer rule has been thrust into the spotlight after Week 3, when several questionable flags were thrown and one player suffered a season-ending knee injury trying to avoid the penalty that’s been described as ‘left wing’ and ‘soft.’

Miami Dolphins defensive end William Hayes is out for the season, coach Adam Gase confirmed Monday, after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee while sacking Oakland quarterback Derek Carr in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Raiders.

According to Gase, Hayes got his foot ‘caught in the ground’ while ‘trying not to put body weight on the quarterback,’ which is a response to the NFL’s emphasis on roughing-the-passer penalties this season. 

That penalty has existed for years because, as the rule book states, ‘the act of passing often puts the quarterback (or any other player attempting a pass) in a position where he is particularly vulnerable to injury.’

However, a new wrinkle was added before the 2018 season: ‘… a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw [the quarterback] down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.’ 

Miami Dolphins defensive end William Hayes is out for the season, coach Adam Gase confirmed Monday, after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee while sacking Oakland quarterback Derek Carr in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Raiders. According to Gase, Hayes got his foot ‘caught in the ground’ while ‘trying not to put body weight on the quarterback,’ which is a response to the NFL’s new ‘roughing’ rule 

Miami's William Hayes appeared to attempt to pivot his lower body to the right while taking down Carr, with his right leg extended away from Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr

Miami’s William Hayes appeared to attempt to pivot his lower body to the right while taking down Carr, with his right leg extended away from Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr

Hayes appeared to attempt to pivot his lower body to the right while taking down Carr, with his right leg extended away from the QB.  

The new rule is obviously confusing for pass rushers, who are paid to sack the quarterback but must now do so without the full weight of their own body.  

RULE 12, SECTION 2 ARTICLE 9: ROUGHING THE PASSER

(Source: NFL rule book) 

SUBSECTION 2: A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as ‘stuffing’ a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball, even if the rusher makes his initial contact with the passer within the one-step limitation provided for in (a) above. When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player 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.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been flagged for roughing in each of his first three games this season, called the new rule ‘soft’ while ESPN announcer and former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten called it ‘left wing’ during Monday’s Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game.

NBC’s Rodney Harrison, who played safety for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, begged the NFL to ‘change the rule, please.’ 

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted in response to Hayes’s injury, writing, ‘They don’t care about the rest of us getting hurt. Long as the QB is safe.’

Miami defensive lineman Akeem Spence voiced frustration Monday over his teammate’s injury, saying players don’t know how to properly sack the quarterback given the wealth of flags being thrown around the league.

‘It sucks because he was trying to protect the quarterback while still trying to make the play, and it’s a double-edged sword,’ Spence said. ‘What do you expect us to do? We know the rule, but we don’t know the ins and outs. 

‘And then I saw Clay Matthews, he had another [roughing-the-passer penalty] yesterday,’ he continued. ‘What do you want the guy to do? You gotta put the guy down. How much is too much weight? What technique do you use? How do you go about it? We are still asking questions just like y’all [the media] are.

‘Let’s be honest, that’s a difficult rule to gauge.’

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been flagged for roughing the passer in each of his first three games this season, called the new rule 'soft'

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been flagged for roughing the passer in each of his first three games this season, called the new rule ‘soft’

ESPN announcer and former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten called the NFL's new roughing-the-passer penalty 'left wing' during Monday's Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game

ESPN announcer and former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten called the NFL’s new roughing-the-passer penalty ‘left wing’ during Monday’s Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game

And it’s not only coaches and defensive players who have complained about the rule. 

Even quarterbacks are confused. 

‘There’s a lot of them,’ Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the Buccaneers were flagged for roughing him twice on Monday night. ‘I don’t want to criticize the officiating, especially when you’re talking about a penalty that helps the quarterback out.   

‘I was surprised at the first one. The second one I thought was legit. He hit me in the helmet. It was kind of like hearing that loud ring when your helmet gets hit.’

The Steelers, meanwhile, were flagged three times for hits on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.  

‘There are sure a lot of them,’ he said of the penalties. ‘I can’t imagine the fans at home are enjoying it too much.’

Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward was called for unnecessary roughness after taking down Fitzpatrick. 

‘I want guys to be violent and fast,’ Heyward told reporters ‘It’s so hard to do that. You can’t hit them, you can’t go down with them, then you put yourself in jeopardy for either reversing or getting shrugged off. That’s not football to me. I’m just being honest. What are we really teaching here?’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk