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Pass interference and roughing the passer: sucking the enjoyment out of the NFL

I'm pumped for football season.  But during yesterday's game, there were a couple calls that reminded me of the things I'm not looking forward to.  In fact, I'm dreading them.


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There are two rules (or points of emphasis or whatever you want to call it) that seriously strain my enjoyment of watching NFL games.  The way pass interference is called, and roughing the passer calls.  If yesterday was a regular season game, I would have been really pissed off at two plays.  I wouldn't necessarily be pissed at the players or even the officials.  I would blame the NFL and would probably boycott watching games the rest of the weekend.


Pass Interference

I get it, we want to allow receivers to have every opportunity to catch the ball.  It has made playing DB almost impossible.  That's fine.  But when terribly minor contact starts getting called, or when the defender is going for the ball, or when the ball is uncatchable and there is a call anyway, I have a big problem. This was the case yesterday when Eric Wright was called for PI on a ball that was way overthrown.  Even if on target, the contact was minimal and Wright was looking for the ball. 

In this case, the issue seems to be the enforcement of the rules, not the rules themselves.  The rule reads: (emphasis mine)

"Actions that do not constitute pass interference include but are not limited to:

(a) Incidental contact by a defender’s hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.

(b) Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playing the ball or neither player is playing the ball.

(c) Contact that would normally be considered pass interference, but the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players.

(d) Laying a hand on a receiver that does not restrict the receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

(e) Contact by a defender who has gained position on a receiver in an attempt to catch the ball.

Two issues here- one is the incidental contact/contact that doesn't affect the receivers attempt to make the catch.  If you have your hand on a WR's back and knock the ball away, the contact didn't make any difference.  If you put an arm out to feel where the WR as you go for the ball, and just touch his shoulder pad,  you did nothing wrong.

The second, and bigger pet peeve of mine is calls when the ball is clearly uncatchable.  I simply hate calls when the ball ends up sailing 8 feet over the players and landing 5 yards out of bounds.  The Eric Wright play has both issues.

Roughing the passer

There are multiple issues with the roughing the passer rule as well.  Over the last couple years, it has become illegal to touch a QB's head or tackle them too low.  That's right, if you accidentally tap them on the side of the helmet as you reach for the ball: 15 yards.  If you dive at the QBs legs and make a basic and great tackle, 15 yards. 

Let's start with the rules again (emphasis mine):

 No defensive player may run into a passer of a legal forward pass after the ball has left his hand (15 yards). The Referee must determine whether opponent had a reasonable chance to stop his momentum during an attempt to block the pass or tackle the passer while he still had the ball.

No defensive player who has an unrestricted path to the quarterback may hit him flagrantly in the area of the knee(s) or below when approaching in any direction.

Officials are to blow the play dead as soon as the quarterback is clearly in the grasp and control of any tackler, and his safety is in jeopardy.

So the default is if you "run into" a quarterback the second after he makes the throw, it is a 15 yard penalty!  In my mind, the rule was screwed up when a section called "protection of the passer" was inserted.  If there is unnecessary roughness or a late hit, call it.  These special rules have really gone down a slippery slope.  The officials can determine that the defender had no reasonable chance to stop his momentum.  yikes. At least the ref has some discretion.  Discretion that, for the most part, refs use quite well... except that discretion is taken away from them in two instances:

The "blow to the head" call that we saw work in the Browns favor isn't spelled out, so that must be a point of emphasis or it is in the rule book, just not the digest the NFL has on their website. Clearly, the ref thought he had to throw the flag the second it was clear someone touched Delhomme's head.  This is simply absurd. 

Now the low hit rule is even more absurd.  According to the rule above, no player can tackle a QB at the knees or lower.  Regardless if the guy has the ball or not. I suppose their is an exception for defenders that are "restricted"- but this is really bizarre.  I didn't see the replay of the hit on the Lions QB yesterday that set them up deep in Browns territory, but Bernie immediately pointed out that it was the "Tom Brady rule" that lead to the flag. (I believe Bengals fans call it the Carson Palmer rule).  You have 300+ pound lineman trained to get to the QB going as hard as they can to do so, and you are going to prohibit them to hitting the QB above the knee and below the helmet?  I don't get it.  That sort of precision isn't going to happen.

Here are some terrible examples:  (Ray Lewis and Rodney Harrison speak the truth)

I've heard that you can call holding on every play, and I get a little frustrated with the inconsistency of that call on kick returns.  But it is just a matter of the officials doing their best.  And I think they do.  What is about these two rules that really get to me?  Maybe because it flies in the face of the physical game that makes football so popular.  Maybe because it penalizes players that do precisely what they are trained and coached to do.

Most of all, nobody likes when penalties and officials become the critical part of the game.  I'm generally very deferential to refs, because they do a pretty decent job.  But these rules and emphases make it really hard for them to stay out of the way of game.  And they are huge penalties- 15 yards for roughing the passer and a spot foul and auto first down on pass interference.  These calls are sometimes the most critical plays in the game and the central figure is a guy wearing zebra stripes.  I can only hope a sense of reasonableness from the officials will lead to them keeping the flags in their pockets (on their belts?) in these situations more often.

Some open questions:

So what are your least favorite rules? 

Am I just being cranky or are these legitimate gripes?

Is player safety really an issue here?

Should the league be making/enforcing rules to make offense easier?