The league’s new point of emphasis on quarterback hits makes no sense, and that’s not just me talking. It’s one of the league’s best pass rushers.
That would be former Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco star Elvis Dumervil, who retired last month after a career that included 105-1/2 sacks and 23 forced fumbles … and who’s happy he’s not playing this season. One reason: That rule that penalizes tacklers for hitting quarterbacks with the full weight of their bodies.
“Maybe it’s a good reason I’m retiring,” he said, “because it’s crazy.”
I witnessed numerous hits last weekend where onrushing linemen were flagged for roughing-the-passer fouls when, in fact, they’d done little more than what they’d been taught to do all of their careers — namely, hit the quarterback and take him down.
In one instance, the Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap struck Andrew Luck as he was beginning to pass and forced a fumble that the Bengals recovered and returned to the Indianapolis 4. Nice, huh? Not so fast. Dunlap fell on Luck as he tumbled backward and was charged with roughing the passer.
In another game, the Browns’ Myles Garrett was flagged for hitting Ben Roethlisberger with the full weight of his body when, in fact, he didn’t. Nevertheless, the penalty stood until the league two days later admitted it made a mistake.
It made a mistake, all right. It went too far this season trying to protect quarterbacks.
Look, I understand safety precautions to protect defenseless players, but this is ridiculous. When you’re pushing through a blocker or running around him to get to the quarterback … then hit your target … chances are you’re going to fall on him when he goes down.
OK, no problem. Except … except the irresistible force often overcomes the immovable object, with the two falling to the ground — often with the pass rusher on top of the quarterback. And in today’s NFL, that’s a no can-do … unless, of course, you can somehow contort your body to avoid landing on him, and, yeah, I think that’s too much tinkering with the game.
But so does Dumervil, who set a single-season Baltimore Ravens’ record with 17 sacks in 2014 and landed atop plenty of quarterbacks.
“I saw a play where (the Rams’) Aaron Donald took a swim move inside and a snatch move and, with his momentum, he’s falling,” he said. “It is what it is. You can’t control that part of it. It’s not intentional. I think they’ve got to start looking at intent, like if the guy’s off balance and fumbling, and (the defender) hits the quarterback, why does he get a flag for it? It makes no sense. Now, if it’s intentional, well, OK, sure.”
And that’s how I’d change the officiating for this rule. If the tackler intentionally drives the full weight of his body into the quarterback, flag him. If not … if it’s inadvertent … let it ride. Pretty simple.
The NFL made a similar change with the lowering-of-the helmet rule that was causing so much trouble in preseason, and look what happened: One penalty was called last weekend.
But too many roughing-the-passer fouls were walked off, and that has to change. It’s apparent nobody understands it — from the officials in Cleveland to Carlos Dunlap to coaches who aren’t teaching it. You want to make the game better? Make officials less a part of it … not more.
“I still don’t understand that rule or whatever they call it,” said Dumervil. “I don’t think it’s going to last. I understand the quarterback is the marquee position of all sports, and you want to keep these guys playing.
“The thing with Tom Brady playing so long, everybody’s trying to (figure out) how can we keep these guys playing 20 years to help the game? I get it, but at some point it’s going to be seven-on-seven (football). I get the business side of it, but at the same time … with the NFL … there’s a reason it got to that point. It’s a physical game. It is what it is.
“I don’t know how long that (rule is) going to last. I mean, you can’t hit them in the facemask. You can’t hit them in the helmet area. Going low is a foul. I mean especially up front at the D-line position, you run around the corner, and there’s not a lot of space there. That’s not a position where things happen.”