The NFL needs to be less strict with roughing the passer calls

By: Jordan Kendall, Senior Staff Writer

In week five there were two very questionable roughing the passer calls. One was against Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in a game against the Seattle Seahawks. The other was against Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark in a game versus the Buffalo Bills. 

The Clark play in particular had many fans upset on social media, including myself. For this week’s column, I’ll discuss both plays and the changes I think need to be made regarding the rule.

Donald was called for roughing the passer with 21 seconds before halftime. As Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson released the ball, Donald shoved him at his shoulders and Wilson fell to the ground. 

Clark was called for roughing the passer with 11:50 left in the fourth quarter. Bills quarterback Josh Allen released the ball and Clark turned to his side as he made contact with Allen. 

Before I give my thoughts on each play, I’ve included a section from the roughing the passer rule.  

“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,” says Article 11, Section B of the NFL rulebook. “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.” 

After watching the Clark play several times, I agree that Allen was in a defenseless posture. However, I disagree with the idea that Clark threw him down with most of his weight. Clark turned to his side as he made contact with Allen. 

I also believe Clark tried to wrap up Allen with his arms. He wrapped one arm around Allen, the only reason it wasn’t both arms was because a Buffalo offensive lineman was holding his other one. 

“The rusher must be making an attempt to avoid contact and must not continue to ‘drive through’ or otherwise forcibly contact the passer,” Article 11, Section A of the rulebook reads.

I believe it would have been impossible for Clark to try to avoid contact in that situation. Based on the direction he was coming at Allen from, there is no way he could have avoided Allen. The rulebook isn’t clear on what “drive through” means. 

My definition of a “drive through” is a clear attempt to continue to make contact when the defender could have avoided it. I don’t think that’s the case, I find it very unlikely Clark could have changed direction or ducked out Allen’s way in time. 

I strongly disagree with penalizing Clark for roughing the passer. To me, there is nothing he could have done to prevent making contact with Allen. He also didn’t use his entire body weight and turned to his side like he’s supposed to. I believe that was a horrible call and I hope the official who made it comes to realize it as well.

When it comes to the Donald play, I also disagree with calling it roughing the passer. There is more time between when Wilson releases the ball and when Donald hits him. Donald hits Wilson about a second after the ball is released. 

I don’t believe Donald had time to either slow down or to turn his body and try to avoid Wilson. Right before the ball was released, Donald was trying to shed a block. I don’t think Donald had enough space or time to try and put his arms down. 

“A pass rusher clearly should have known that the ball had already left the passer’s hand before contact was made,” section A continues. 

I have a serious problem with this part of the rule. When a play is this close, I disagree with the idea that the pass rusher should clearly know when the ball is released. When Donald made contact, I doubt he was fully aware Wilson had released the ball. When Donald first makes contact, he is still trying to fight off a block. 

Even if Donald knew the ball was released, what was he supposed to do? He had no more than a few inches of space between him and Wilson. There is no way he could have avoided Wilson, or even tried to limit how much contact he generated. 

I believe officials need to give defensive linemen a bit more time to try and either avoid contact with the quarterback or try and limit the contact. If it’s impossible for them to do so, I think you have to let them be able to hit. 

Football is a contact sport, and while I understand the necessity of protecting quarterbacks, there has to be a limit. I understand calling roughing the passer if it happens long after the ball is released, or if the defender clearly did not need to make contact. 

What I don’t understand is calling it when it seems impossible for the defender to do anything to prevent or limit the contact. There needs to be more leniency in how this is called. There has to be a clearer way to determine when contact is unnecessary.

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