By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Based on one particular play in the New England Patriots’ preseason win over the Washington Redskins, “roughing the passer” may now mean “touching the passer.”
To be fair, defensive end Derek Rivers did more than simply graze Redskins quarterback Kevin Hogan when he got flagged for 15 yards. But to see what he did called for roughing the passer is ostensibly new territory for NFL officials. Roughing the passer will be a point of emphasis for officials in 2018, along with more controversial rule changes regarding helmet hits and simplified catch rules.
But the most eyebrow-raising call in the Patriots’ 26-17 win had nothing to do with helmets or catches. Rivers got called for roughing the passer on a play that, even nowadays, happens pretty often between QBs and defenders, if rushers are expected to make any contact whatsoever.
According to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 of the 2018 rule book, pass rushers are no longer allowed to “land on top of [the passer] with all or most of the defender’s weight” (you can find the full rule on pg. 50). That’s what Rivers did here, according to Thursday’s crew:
The most eyebrow-raising call in last night's Patriots game had nothing to do with helmets or catches. Officials have also tightened up roughing the passer penalties. Can't land on the QB with even "most" of your weight, which Derek Rivers did here, according to them. pic.twitter.com/1BpfKMddXZ— Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff) August 10, 2018
Watch No. 95 in the top-left of the screen. There’s no denying that Rivers makes some forcible contact with Hogan and at least somewhat drives him into the ground. The problem lies in the language of the rule.
How are officials supposed to define “all or most of the defender’s weight”? Did Rivers really use most of his weight? A reasonable observer may argue that he only used “some” of his weight, or a “small portion” of his weight, and even did enough to avoid slamming Hogan too hard. Furthermore, how is Rivers supposed to avoid this kind of contact without treating the passer like he’s wearing a red non-contact jersey?
Perhaps that’s what the league wants now, anyway. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect players – especially quarterbacks, the driving force behind what makes scoring in the NFL so entertaining. But calls like this one almost rise to the level of removing defense from the game altogether. Essentially, players are expected to do a barrel roll and tumble to the turf without hitting the passer, and make that decision in mid-air within a split second.
There are bound to be a lot more flags early on as the players – and even officials – adjust to the rule changes. But it was a head-turner that there were no helmet fouls in Foxborough on Thursday. Perhaps more attention needs to be paid to how absurdly over-legislated roughing the passer is going to be.
1. Tom Brady’s adjusted contract with the Patriots could suggest a lot of different things. Takes on the deal can go in a number of directions. What it certainly appears to indicate is that the Patriots are content to go year-to-year with Brady at this point in his career, especially in light of Tom E. Curran’s tweet that Brady still wants an extension. This is just speculation at this point, but the Patriots sure seem OK with taking it one year at a time with the 41-year-old and revisiting things in 2019. Perhaps they’re wary of the “cliff” that’s been prophesized for years now, which Brady has been able to fend off. Either way, Brady has a little extra motivation to get that sixth ring and the Patriots were able to maintain financial flexibility in the process. There has yet to be a strong indication that Brady is worth moving on from in any capacity.
2. Danny Shelton could turn out to be the sneaky-most valuable acquisition for the Patriots defense in 2018. The Pats essentially got him for nothing, swapping late-round draft picks with the Browns to bring the former first-round pick aboard. He was one of the lone bright spots on the starting defense on Thursday, as the Redskins had trouble running between the tackles when he was out there. New defensive play-caller Brian Flores is likely to employ more 3-4 this season, and Shelton looks like the leader in the clubhouse to play the nose and clog up the middle of the line. They should be much improved against the run, as well as in short-yardage and goal line situations, with Shelton manning the middle of the defensive front.
3. It surprised pretty much no one who’s been watching the Patriots practice so far that they weren’t quite ready for real game action on Thursday. It’s not that big of a deal right now, considering it’s just the preseason and there are three more of these things to figure it out. Bill Belichick said recently that the team’s unusually heavy workload in the past two seasons has factored into their slower, lighter start to 2018 camp. It’ll be interesting to see if Belichick ramps it up in Sunday’s practice, the first since the preseason opener. He most certainly wasn’t happy with the defense on Thursday, either.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.