Roughing the Passer

By: Jesse Cook (Sports Editor)

Aaron Rodgers calls out a play to his offense from the shotgun formation. He takes the snap and rolls out right. Anthony Barr pursues him. Rodgers snaps a bullet pass to Martellus Bennett who drops it, immediately cursing his apparent butterfingers. Barr stands up and walks away. Rodgers is down on his back. The Green Bay Packers’ quarterback has a broken clavicle and is out for the rest of the 2017-18 season.

Some people say that the new “roughing the passer” rules in the NFL go overboard, but situations like Barr’s hit on Rodgers indicate otherwise. Rodgers had already thrown the football by the time Barr smashed his purple helmet into the quarterback’s collarbone.

On the other hand, Rodgers’ teammate, outside linebacker, Clay Matthews  has voiced his disdain for the roughing the passer calls including a tweet stating that, “The calls just keep coming—no matter what game.”

He also said in a postgame press conference (after a roughing the passer call on himself cost the Packers a win) that the new safety precautions the league is trying to use hurt the game. He said, “Unfortunately, this league is going in a direction that a lot of people don’t like. The only thing hard about this league is the fines they levy down on guys like me that play the game hard.”

(The penalty occurred on the pivotal drive of a Week 2 2018 game between the Packers and, incidentally, the Vikings where Kirk Cousins threw a game-losing interception to Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander, winning the game for his Green Bay. Fortunately for Minnesota, the play was called back due to a roughing the passer call on Matthews. He tackled Cousins around the waist, but the ball had just left Cousins’ hand, so the referees threw a flag.)

Jeremy Ruskin stands ready on the left hash marks. He takes the snap and drops back about five yards. The Canton Bulldogs’ Ben Seaman tactfully side-steps Sharon lineman Coleman Loftus. Coming from the right side, he sprints towards Ruskin, now running laterally across the four yard line. The Sharon quarterback has no idea Seaman has broken through the offensive line and is diving towards his blind side. The Canton linebacker lunges and grapples Ruskin to the ground wrangling his arms around the QB’s waist. The LB swiftly rolls off and walks back to the defensive huddle. Ruskin lies on his back for an additional second, recollecting after a hard hit.

This interaction from Sharon’s October 12 game in Canton is a perfect example of a legal hit, and senior defensive lineman Ethan Stafford says that at the high school level, these plays are not quite so serious. “I think the new roughing the passer rule in the NFL is a bit extreme as sometimes you see routine tackles that are called roughing the passer because they put their body weight on the QB,” he said.

Sharon football’s head coach Dave Morse says that he does not want to see the rule implemented in high school football. He said, “I do not want the rule to be implemented at the high school level. There shouldn’t be different rules for tackling some positions compared to others. The NFL implemented this rule to protect quarterbacks, who drive offensive stats, which drives ratings.” High school ball has an emphasis on skill and safety, rather than the National Football League, who looks for more money.

He says that he teaches his players mainly to tackle trying to force a fumble. Morse said, “I teach them the rugby style of tackling. They are taught to aim for the inside hip of the ball carrier. Their hands should wrap around the waist of the ball carrier. Their head should be inside the hip, never crossing the body,” he said.

He says that the roughing the passer rule is beneficial as far as keeping the players safe, but the rule’s implementation is too opinionated. He said, “I think the rule in general is fine because it is about safety, but it is too subjective for officials and it blurs the lines between a completely clean hit and a penalty.”

Sharon quarterback senior Ruskin says that the rule makes little sense. He said, “The rule is overboard. Quarterbacks are football players, so we should be able to take hits. I do not find it illegal when I get knocked to the ground. A change in the rule will cause a soft game and will hurt the quality of the game.”

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