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NFL faces a new round of criticism of roughing-the-passer calls
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NFL faces a new round of criticism of roughing-the-passer calls

Complaints about the NFL faces enforcement of roughing-the-passer penalties have been rampant in recent days. After two controversial calls over a two-day span, there were renewed public exhortations for the league to make such rulings reviewable by instant replay.

But it does not appear the NFL and the rulemaking competition committee feel the same sense of urgency, at least for now. There is no inclination for the league and committee to intervene during the season by issuing a clarification to the on-field officials, as they did on the roughing-the-passer issue in 2018, according to people familiar with the matter.

NFL faces And though the league and competition

Committee expect teams to make another round of rule-change proposals in the offseason related to potential replay tweaks, they seemingly remain wary of making a judgment call such as roughing the passer subject to replay. They are mindful of how poorly things went with the failed one-year experiment when the NFL and team owners made pass interference calls and non-calls reviewable by instant replay in the 2019 season.

“I’m sure there will be a proposal or two, and there will be a discussion about replay and how this might fit into it,” one person familiar with the NFL rulemaking process said Tuesday. “But I’m not sure it will lead to anything.”

NFL faces Roughing-the-passer penalties

Actually are down 45 percent this season. Officials have assessed 28 such penalties through the Week 5 games, down from 51 roughing-the-passer calls through five weeks last season.

But many people vented their outrage after Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett was called for a not-so-rough roughing penalty on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady at a key moment in Sunday’s game, preventing the Falcons from having an opportunity to get the ball back late in a six-point loss.

The criticism continued when Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones’ sack of Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and fumble recovery were nullified during Monday night’s game when Jones was penalized for roughing, even as he took the football from Carr. That call ultimately did not affect the outcome; the Chiefs won, 30-29.

NFL faces If we’re going to continue to call roughing

The passer at that high of a velocity, then we’ve got to be able to view it in the booth to make sure, because sometimes that look can be deceiving,” Jones told reporters in the Chiefs’ locker room after the game. “ … From the ref’s point of view, [it] probably looked like that initially. And when you look at the replay, it’s a whole different thing.”

Jones said that “of course” he had seen the call made Sunday on Jarrett. It was “all over Twitter,” he noted.

“If we’re able to view it in the booth, and the referee can get a second look because it’s happening so fast,” Jones said, “maybe we can change that, because now it’s getting absurd … Now it’s costing teams games.”

Many took to social media to express similar views.

“This is not football anymore,” former NFL coach Tony Dungy wrote on Twitter. “I know we have to protect the [quarterback,] but Chris Jones was recovering a fumble. We have gotten ridiculous with this.”

In September 2018, the competition committee took the unusual step of intervening during a season following a series of controversial roughing-the-passer calls. Generally, the league’s and committee’s rulemaking deliberations take place during the offseason. But in 2018, roughing-the-passer penalties were up sharply early in the season, and committee members met via conference call and released a video in an attempt to modify officials’ on-field enforcement of the rule.

“The committee clarified techniques that constitute a foul,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said then in a written statement.

There is no current consideration of a similar in-season clarification

People familiar with the situation said Tuesday, citing the decrease in roughing-the-passer penalties.

The competition committee did make roughing the passer a point of clarification (formerly known as a point of emphasis) to the on-field officials for this season. The committee’s report dealt with several categories of roughing calls, including low hits on quarterbacks and forcible hits to quarterbacks’ heads.

The committee also wrote that it “believes game officials are properly officiating ‘body weight’ plays and that defenders are doing a better job of getting their bodies to the side of the quarterback.”

In a pool report following Monday’s game, referee Carl Cheffers explained the call on Jones by saying he’d ruled “the defender landed on [Carr] with full body weight.” That is illegal, and Cheffers said the fact that the football came free on the play “is not relevant” under the rules.

Jones did appear to put his hand on the ground

As the rules require, to prevent him from landing on Carr with his full body weight. After Sunday’s call against Jarrett, referee Jerome Boger told a pool reporter he’d penalized Jarrett for “unnecessarily throwing [Brady] to the ground.”

The only immediate solution, it seems, is for the league to hope on-field officials get the calls right. The NFL is not likely to instruct the officials to be generally more permissive about the hits they allow on quarterbacks. The latest roughing-the-passer furor comes within the context of the NFL and the NFL Players Association adjusting their concussion protocols Saturday as they completed their joint review of the Tua Tagovailoa case.

There have a series of rule-change proposals made by teams over the years to make roughing the passer (or illegal hits, or all personal fouls, or even all plays) reviewable by replay. But those proposals have failed to gain the necessary votes to enacted.

The league and the owners made pass

Interference reviewable by replay after an erroneous call on a far bigger stage. The missed call in the NFC championship game in the 2018 season that sent. The Los Angeles Rams rather than the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl.

But things went poorly with that one-year experiment in place in 2019. Coaches and fans expressed displeasure with how the revised replay system functioned. Teams were overwhelmingly against keeping it, according to the results of a survey the competition committee conducted following that season. The NFL and the owners allowed the rule to expire after only one season.

“Everyone needs to remember that experience with pass interference,” the person with knowledge of the rulemaking process said, “when we look at the next set of [replay] proposals.”

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