Roughing the Passer: The Most Unjust Punishment in Sports
My frustration with the enforcement of this rule has been eating at my soul for the past three or four years, and it finally boiled over into a three hour temper tantrum during last night’s Chargers/Saints game. The cause of my pain? The way roughing the passer is enforced. Instead of being a dead ball foul like other late hits, roughing the passer is considered a live ball infraction; which can affect which team has possession of the ball. Roughing the Passer’s ability to take away turnovers makes it the most unjust punishment in all of sports.
This would not be as big of an issue if it did not occur so often. The roughing the passer interception wipe off happens a lot because it is part of a logical sequence of events. Interceptions come from bad passes, bad passes come from pressure, pressure leads to hits on the quarterback, hits on the quarterback lead to penalties.
I have no problem with a fifteen yard penalty for whaling into a quarterback, that’s not the issue. The issue is that roughing the passer is enforced as a penalty that occurs during the play. While it does occur in between the whistles a provision needs to be made to make it a dead ball foul.
The reason? Roughing the passer should never give the offense the ball back after an interception. But because the penalty is enforced as a during the play violation, the play becomes a wash. Last night Drew Brees threw an interception which was returned for a touchdown by the Chargers giving San Diego a three possession lead in the third quarter. Or did he? Melvin Ingram took a shot at Brees leading with his helmet (debatable) giving the Saints the ball back to what would eventually turn into a touchdown scoring drive. That personal foul had no impact on the play that should have given the Chargers a comfortable lead. Instead it became a fourteen-point swing and eventually a “victory” for the Saints.
Unlike pass interference, offsides, or numerous other during-the-play defensive violations, roughing the passer gives the defense no advantage. The ball has already been released by the quarterback, putting the play’s fate in the hands of the other 21 players on the field before the penalty is committed. So while the play is technically still going on the quarterback’s job is done.
But what about roughing the punter or kicker? Yes, this also results in a 15 yard penalty and a first down. But there is also the more mild “running into the…” infraction. This does not exist with the quarterback. It’s fifteen yards or nothing. A five yard running into the quarterback penalty for mild violations would be a step in the right direction.
The penalty for roughing the passer should be the same for the penalty for a late hit. There will never be a situation where a late hit affects which team has possession of the ball or take points off the board because the punishment is enforced after the play. It should be the same for late hits on the quarterback.
Quarterbacks are delicate and the league wants to protect them. Fifteen yards and a fine the next week are enough of a punishment to keep defenses from taking cheep shots. There is not a rule in any sport that can change a game for such a trivial reason like accidentally bumping the quarterback can. The punishment for roughing the passer needs to be fixed because fourteen points should not be affected by something that has nothing to do with the outcome of a play.