Is it just me, or does it feel like over the last 5 or so years, the NFL has had a major conflict surrounding the league and generating negative press for the NFL. Weather its arguing over a catch or not a catch, how they have handled the issues of domestic abuse, or throwing too many flags and being called a soft league by their own players, the NFL just cant seem to figure things out. This year, the big issue through the first month of the season has been the excessive use of the flag for roughing the passer. While the NFL is still extremely popular, I wonder if fans will start to get fed up with all the flags being thrown during games.
Flags have by flying out of the pockets of NFL officials a lot this season. It seems like anytime a defensive player even touches a quarterback, they get a flag. If you just look at the roughing the passer calls in the last 10 years, the most times that call has been made in a season was 2015 when 90 calls were made. So far through 3 weeks we have already had 25 calls of roughing the passer. At this rate, we are on track to pass last years mark of 70 calls by week 9 and pass the 2015 record of 90 by week 11. So why are the calls increasing at such an exponential rate? The reason for the uptick in the penalties is the NFL is trying to protect the Quarterback and keep its biggest stars healthy and on the field. In the last 2 seasons, we have seen some of the biggest names go out due to injury because of the way they were hit. Most notable is Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers who had his 2017 season ended after he took a big shot from Minnesota’s Anthony Barr resulting in a broken collar bone.
The NFL realized that they could not afford to go through a season without a name like Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers went from NFC favorites to an ordinary team without their star QB. Others included Deshawn Watson, who was having an incredible start to his young career before tearing his ACL in practice, Carson Wentz, who was on his way to his 1st NFL MVP award tore his trying to score against the Rams, and most recently Jimmy Garoppolo, who tore his ACL while running for a 1st down this past week.
Quarterback are getting hurt at a higher rate than they were in the past, and the league wanted to try to keep their most valuable assets safe. While the rule has defiantly made a difference to say the least, it has caused controversy with the defensive players in the league, as they are not sure how to do their jobs without getting penalized. Funny enough, we have already had 2 controversial calls surrounding this rule. The first example came in week 2 at the end of the Vikings vs Packers game. As QB Kirk Cousins went to unload a deep pass down field, he was hit by LB Clay Matthews who tackled him to the ground as the Packers intercepted the pass and appeared to have won the game.
As you can see, Matthews made what he believed to be a clean football hit by not using the crown of the helmet to hit Cousins, and even bracing himself on the way down to make sure his full body weight was not on the Quarterback. Non-the-less he was flagged and the Vikings ended up tying the game later in the quarter, and the game would eventually end in a tie. After the game, Matthews was quoted as saying “I have been playing this game for 20 years and now I am not sure how I am supposed to do my job”.
The 2nd instance involved Matthews again just 1 week later against Washington. Matthews was going in for a sack on Redskins QB Alex Smith, and he tackled him with his full force, driving Smith into the ground. Again Matthews was flagged for the play and again he was extremely un-happy with the call, however I think the officials did get this call right, as Matthews did not brace himself, and landed with his full weight on top of the Quarterback.
So what exactly is a 260+ pound man running at full speed supposed to do in this situation? Is he supposed to slow down and not hit as hard? Is he supposed to not hit the Quarterback? If he does, then how do you stop the Quarterback if you can hit him? All these questions have been brought up by defensive players across the league who feel like the league is getting “soft”. Others question how they are supposed to change the way they have been taught their whole life. But the real problem is the inconsistency with the calls that are being made. The 2 Clay Matthews plays were completely different and yet they were penalized the same?!? This is where I think the problem is for the NFL. If you cant tell the difference between a legal football play and an illegal hit, how are the players supposed to train for it? The league needs to do what it has done with the catch rule, and that is sit down and lay out exactly what makes a hit considered roughing the passer, and what makes it a clean football hit.
Personally I am getting tired of seeing flags fly all over the field constantly for just accidentally hitting someone the wrong way or being pushed into a quarterback. The NFL has the power to make things better and I believe they will. However if they let this go on for much longer, this will just be another problem added to the NFL’s list of issues they have and need to fix. If they don’t address this issue, I fear fans will start to get bored from seeing penalty after penalty slow they game down and make it less exciting. One of the biggest problems with sports in todays world is the length of games. People don’t want to watch a 4 hour game with 20+ penalties being called, they want to see football be played. At the end of the day it comes down to this, the NFL just has to be better. They have to be better with the way they make calls, better on clarifying their own rules, and better on the way they protect their players without taking away what people love most about the game. I cant imagine it being an easy task to accomplish, but with all the money, people, and resources that the NFL has, I think they can figure something out.