Chase Young’s roughing the passer penalty reveals flaws in NFL’s rule book

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Before the 2018 NFL season began, the league made a change to its roughing the passer penalty that has made life even more difficult for quarterback disruptors than it was before. Since then, a part of the overall rules regarding unnecessary roughness states that a defensive player may not put most or all of his weight on a quarterback as both players go to the ground, and the quarterback would be in the defensive player’s grasp. From Rule 12 (Player Conduct), Section 2 (Personal Fouls), Article 11 (Roughing the Passer):

(a.) Roughing will be called if, in the Referee’s judgment, a pass rusher clearly should have known that the ball had already left the passer’s hand before contact was made; pass rushers are responsible for being aware of the position of the ball in passing situations; the Referee will use the release of the ball from the passer’s hand as his guideline that the passer is now fully protected; once a pass has been released by a passer, a rushing defender may make direct contact with the passer only up through the rusher’s first step after such release (prior to second step hitting the ground); thereafter the rusher must be making an attempt to avoid contact and must not continue to “drive through” or otherwise forcibly contact the passer; incidental or inadvertent contact by a player who is easing up or being blocked into the passer will not be considered significant.

(b.) A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as “stuffing” a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball, even if the rusher makes his initial contact with the passer within the one-step limitation provided for in (a) above. 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. Instead, the defensive player must strive to fall to the side of the quarterback’s body, or to brace his fall with his arms to avoid landing on the quarterback with all or most of his body weight.

In the context of the roughing the passer penalty enforced against Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young with 8:21 left in the first quarter against the New York GIants on Thursday Night Football, pay special attention to the part of the rule which states that “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. Instead, the defensive player must strive to fall to the side of the quarterback’s body, or to brace his fall with his arms to avoid landing on the quarterback with all or most of his body weight.”

Because when you watch Young get to Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, you tend to wonder just how much the human body can do to avoid this kind of contact.

By the letter of the law, we suppose the answer is “Borderline yes.” Young has Jones in his grasp, he releases that grasp before he hits the ground, and he even makes an effort to land at an angle as opposed to straight on with his full body weight. How Young is supposed to move off Jones after having him in the grasp in the split-millisecond he’d have time to do so after releasing that grasp appears to be a physical mystery, unless you’re one of the people responsible for modifying the league’s rule book.

“I think it’s exactly what they want called,” former NFL referee and current FOX Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira said of the penalty during the telecast.. “He had the opportunity to twist and get to the side, and not drive his right shoulder into the ground. I know he released his left hand, but to me, that was not an effort to try and break the fall. I think that’s the right call.”

Is it the right call based on the rule? We suppose. Is it a practical rule? It wasn’t when it was enacted, and it isn’t now. But Chase Young was just caught in the crossfire of that particular reality.