The NFL’s competition committee will discuss possible changes to roughing the passer penalties after the season amid outrage over two disputed calls in Week 5.
The topic will also be discussed next week when NFL owners meet in New York, but the league is not planning an in-season rule change, according to the Associated Press.
The competition committee comprises six team owners/executives and four head coaches and makes most of the recommendations for rule changes in the NFL. Teams can also propose rule changes, which require 24 votes from team owners to pass.
The first of the two disputed calls possibly changed the outcome of Sunday’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Atlanta Falcons game.
Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was flagged by referee Jerome Boger for an apparently straightforward sack on Tom Brady in the fourth quarter that would have made it fourth down for the Buccaneers. Instead, the penalty gave Tampa Bay the first down and allowed them to run out the remainder of the clock in a 21-15 victory.
Boger said that Jarrett was flagged for “unnecessarily throwing” Brady to the ground during the play.
The next day on the nationally broadcast Monday Night Football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders, the rule again caused controversy.
The Chiefs had just scored to trim their deficit to 17-7 when defensive tackle Chris Jones seemingly strip-sacked Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, setting Kansas City up with great field possession to potentially narrow their deficit just before the half.
Instead, referee Carl Cheffers threw a flag for roughing the passer, even as it appeared Jones tried to avoid landing with his body weight on Carr while trying to make sure he still came up with the football.
The questionable call nearly cost Kansas City in its 30-29 comeback victory over Las Vegas.
“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 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 penalty against Jones was panned on social media by many fans and NFL figures alike, including Dallas Cowboys defensive star Micah Parsons.
“The [NFL] is terrible!!! Change the rules or just make the league 7 on 7!!” tweeted Parsons.
Roughing the passer is the only penalty in the rulebook with which referees are instructed to err on the side of caution.
The NFL rulebook reads: “When in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the quarterback, the referee should always call roughing the passer.”
Protecting quarterbacks is a priority for owners, who pay big money to the faces of their franchises. Twenty-five quarterbacks are making at least $25 million this season.
One idea to potentially improve how the penalty is called was floated by Jones after he was flagged Monday night. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle, who has been flagged nine times for roughing the passer in his career, suggested allowing video reviews of roughing calls.
“We’ve got to be able to review it in the booth, you know what I mean?” Jones said. “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 a rate], then we’ve got to be able to review it and make sure, because sometimes looks can be deceiving.”
While it’s unclear exactly how the league can address roughing the passer penalties, calls of the penalty are actually down 45% from the same point last season.
The NFL also affirmed that it had not given referees a directive to emphasize roughing the passer penalties following Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion in Week 4, according to the AP.