NFL Weighs Altering League’s Roughing-the-Passer Rules

There have only been 28 such penalties so far this season, but many have been controversial

Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Chris Jones got flagged for hitting Derek Carr on what looked to be a legit play.
Peter Aiken/Getty

Following a rough Week 5 that saw a number of high-profile games marred by controversial roughing-the-passer penalties that culminated with boneheaded broadcaster Troy Aikman imploring the league’s competition committee to “take the dresses off” on Monday Night Football, the NFL is planning to evaluate the way roughing is called, according to the Associated Press. However, changes to the rule are not expected during this season.

Aikman’s poorly worded call for the competition committee — which is comprised of six team owners/executives and four head coaches — came after a third-and-eight play with 1:13 left in the first half on MNF where Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was sacked by Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones for a loss of six yards. While Jones was taking Carr to the ground, he stripped away the football and his momentum carried him to land on top of Carr.

Though it is unclear what else the three-time Pro Bowler could have done, Jones was called for roughing the passer on the play by referee Carl Cheffers. “The quarterback is in the pocket and he’s in a passing posture. He gets full protection of all the aspects of what we give the quarterback in a passing posture,” Cheffers told a pool reporter after the game. “My ruling was the defender landed on him with full body weight. The quarterback is protected from being tackled with full body weight.”

The call on Jones comes on the heels of another terrible roughing-the-passer penalty that was assessed to Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett by referee Jerome Boger for a sack on Tom Brady on Sunday. The penalty gave the Buccaneers a first down and allowed Tampa to run out the clock on a 21-15 victory over Atlanta.

While some have theorized the NFL has instructed officials to be more judicious about flagging hits on the quarterback in the wake of the fallout of allowing Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to suffer multiple concussions, the AP’s source said that directive has not been handed down by the league. Even as is, the NFL rulebook is fairly strict on roughing the passer. It reads: “When in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the quarterback, the referee should always call roughing the passer.”

Speaking after Monday’s game, Jones, who has been flagged for roughing the passer nine times in his career, suggested that officials should be allowed to review roughing calls via instant replay.

“The ref, I get it,” Jones said. “It happened so fast, and it kind of looked like that initially but when you actually look through the video and slow it down, you see I kind of braced. The ref might have just seen a big 300-pound [man] land on him, and I get it. I get it. I’m not saying the ref is wrong, but I’m just saying that those situations can affect the game tremendously. We’ve got to be able to review it in the booth. I think that’s the next step for the NFL as a whole. If we’re going to call it a penalty at that high (of rate), then we’ve got to be able to review it and make sure, because sometimes looks can be deceiving.”

Interestingly, Tom Pelissero (who works for the NFL Network) notes that roughing-the-passer calls were an officiating point of clarification this season after 153 were called in 2021. (Five-year average was 136.) That being the case, roughing-the-passer penalties are actually notably down compared to a year ago. There were 51 at this point in 2021. So far in 2022, there have only been 28.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!