*Disclaimer: Scott Green does not speak for the NFL, the referees, or the players in this article and is only sharing his own personal opinions*

It’s only been 3 weeks, but the NFL clearly has a problem. The new language defining a rougher the passer penalty has changed the game, and most people agree that this change is not for the better. In the 2017 season there were only 16 roughing the passer fouls through the first 3 weeks, but this year that number has more than doubled already. 34 of these fouls have been called so far, that’s a lot of laundry on the field to say the least. These rules were brought about for a good reason, as nobody likes to see quarterbacks getting hurt, but the league has clearly gone a bit overboard. Prominent NFL figures such as Jerry Jones, Ben Roethlisberger and Clay Matthews have publicly voiced their disdain for the new rules, and even the ESPN broadcast team made it a point to express their concerns during their coverage of Monday Night Football last week. Clay Matthews especially has come to the forefront of this issue and he has made it very clear that he is not a fan of the changes. Throughout his 9 year career Matthews has only been penalized for roughing the passer 4 times but with these new rules he’s already racked up 3 of these fouls this season. With so many people taking so much issue with this there is only one thing going through everybody’s heads: something has to change. Luckily for the players and fans alike it looks like this rule will in fact change, and the Executive Director of the NFLRA Scott Green was able to shed some light on what these changes might look like:

“I think that has certainly been a national focus, the Clay Matthews plays. But I think the direction seems to be, if you hear from the former officials that are now on TV, [Mike] Pereira, [Gene] Steratore, [Terry] McAulay, and Jeff Tripplette, they are all saying that they think the committee has gone too far and it will require some changes. I think they’re going to try to redefine this body weight issue, but that becomes a difficult issue to officiate. When is too much body weight?”

            Clearly the most important part of these new rules is and always has been player safety, but now it seems as though the opposite is happening. Miami Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes tore his ACL last week while sacking Derrick Carr. Hayes later said that the injury actually occurred while he was specifically trying to avoid landing with his body weight on the quarterback. Now that players are getting injured because of this it certainly begs the question of whether or not the league will do anything to prevent other players getting injured this way. Will defensive stars getting hurt play a role in changing these rules? Or are the quarterbacks that much more important than the rest of the players? When asked about this, Scott had the following to say:

“Player safety is player safety. Obviously the quarterbacks are very important, and I think this all goes back to last year with Aaron Rodgers losing over half the season which puts some focus on the issue. I’m sure the incident with that defensive end is certainly something they’re saying ‘We have got to look at this a little closer.’”

Based on his views, Scott definitely seems to believe that changes are indeed coming and that should make a lot of people happy including the fans. Roethlisberger seems to agree with this sentiment, and when talking about the frequency of these calls was quoted saying “There are sure a lot of them. I can’t imagine the fans at home are enjoying it too much.” He is definitely right about that, and fans league-wide are fired up about all these penalties, especially when they appear to be affecting these games in such large ways. Many of these calls, including some of those called on Clay Matthews, have come in important late game situations and have drastically changed their respective outcomes. While fans everywhere are upset about all of this, it seems like their complaints often fall on deaf ears. The league has developed a reputation for doing what it wants, seemingly without any concern for fan reaction. This however, is fortunately not the case according to Scott:

“Fan reaction is a central part of the game. The folks that come to watch the game and the folks that watch the game from home, their reaction certainly has got to be considered. Anything that’s detrimental to improving the game, and if there’s a fan reaction to that it certainly has to be something they consider. I think obviously at the end of a game, and at the end of a close game sure, calls can be perceived as influencing the game more. But if you’re doing your job, what you call in the 1st quarter should be what you call in the 4th quarter, because that’s how you create consistency.”

The consistency he referenced is clearly key to handling this. While people may not like the way these fouls are being called, the officials have at least been consistent with how they call it. If a player lands with all or most of their body weight on the quarterback it will result in a foul, plain and simple. Fortunately for Bears fans though, our defense seems to have found a way around this. The Bears currently lead the NFL in sacks with 14, and they’ve built this lead without incurring a single roughing the passer foul. Khalil Mack has said he manages to keep these flags in the referee’s pockets by going for the ball instead of just going for the quarterback. His approach certainly seems to be paying off, as he currently leads the league in forced fumbles. Scott definitely seems to agree that Mack is going about it the right way and said “Unless the rule changes, it definitely is requiring adjustments by the defensive players, and apparently he’s found an approach that seems to be working!”

The start of this season has certainly been surprising to say the least. The Bears and the Dolphins currently lead their divisions. The catch rule issues have virtually been forgotten about. Players have been getting flagged for seemingly routine tackles. Aside from the Bears controlling the NFC North it fortunately looks like some of these things are likely to change though, and we’ll just have to wait and see on how exactly this all works out.



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