Houston’s J.J. Watt is one of the most prolific pass rushers of the modern era, with 79 career sacks (including three last weekend) and three Defensive Player-of-the-Year awards. So when he has something to say about what’s wrong with pro football he deserves to be heard.
And he was … loud and clear … this week when he charged that roughing-the-passer penalties this season “are out of control.”
He’s right, of course, and it’s an opinion shared by not only by Watt, but by Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, Washington’s Josh Norman and many, many others within and without the NFL — including the league’s former head of officiating, Mike Pereira, now a rules analyst for FOX.
“I do not think that this is what the competition committee intended it to be when they put it on as a point of emphasis,” Pereira said of a penalty that’s been called 34 times in the first three weeks. “To me, the needle has moved too far. I think you’ve got to go back to common sense.”
Which is … what?
The competition committee — a group Pereira called “the most important committee when it comes to the game of football” — held a conference call Wednesday night to review what has become the single biggest topic of conversation these days outside of Patrick Mahomes. And decided there would be, gulp, no changes.
“I would hope,” Pereira said on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “the league talks about A) what Clay Matthews did in his hit against (Kirk) Cousins was not a foul, even though it publicly defended (referee) Tony Corrente, and even though it sent the play to the team showing that this was a way not to tackle a quarterback. I think they have to admit they were wrong in doing so.
“And when it comes to driving the quarterback into the ground I think they need to realize … and I would say … that it’s only going to be a foul if you wrap, take two or three steps and then drive him into the ground. But if it’s all part of one hit — like several Clay Matthews’ hits and many, many of those that have been called this year — that it’s really not a foul. Because it’s not unnecessary.
“And if it’s not unnecessary , to me, it shouldn’t be a foul. So it’s got to seek a level where it becomes acceptable to players, coaches and everybody else for that matter … and even, to me, to the competition committee.”
That remains to be seen. But what we do know is that Pereira and plenty of others didn’t believe the Packers’ Matthews was guilty of wrongdoing when he hit Cousins in the Sept. 16 game with Minnesota — a play that led to a Vikings’ last-ditch tying touchdown and spared them a loss — or that he committed a foul when flagged last weekend for his hit on Washington’s Alex Smith.
And Pereira suggested that if he were coaching the Packers, he would tell Matthews not to change what he’s doing.
“You’re just changing the game too much … and we’ve said this before,” said Pereira. “When it came with hits on defenseless receivers, defenders were saying, ‘Hey, there was nothing else I could do. It was a last-minute thing. And if a receiver changed his body posture, how could I be held responsible?’ And the league basically said, ‘Hey, that’s tough. You’re held responsible.’
“But in this case here where, to me, it’s so clearly an overreaction to the Anthony Barr hit on Aaron Rodgers last year that broke (Rodgers’) collarbone that … I hate to say it because I’m one of them, too … but non-football people in the office in New York are making decisions that really aren’t practical on the field.”
Some persons have said that it’s too late for the league to change this season and reinterpret roughing-the-passer penalties as they’re called today … but Pereira isn’t one of them. In fact, he thinks it could be done easily, and hopes it happens with next week’s call.
“I don’t feel it is too late,” he said. “I mean, the helmet rule when it came in … 51 called in the first two weeks of the preseason; 20 called in the second two weeks of the preseason; one called in Week One; one called in Week Two and, I’m not sure, there may have been one called in Week Three. Things can be dialed down.
“You know, you’re not going to change the rule. Heck, the rule didn’t really change in the first place. It’s just dialing it down, and I think it’s easy … but then I’m very naive at times.
“To me, if they said, ‘Dial it down,’ I’m dialing it down by saying, ‘Look, if a defender … a rushing defender … if he wraps the quarterback and takes steps, and then drives him into the ground, then you’ve got a foul if he lands on him with most of his body weight … or all of his body weight.’
“But if it’s all one act, and he wraps and takes him immediately to the ground, let it go. That’s the game of football. There’s no second act. There’s nothing that can be done. Hey, everybody has a risk of injury. And, to me, that’s how I dial it back.”