The NFL Competition Committee released a statement this week upholding its belief that the new emphasis on roughing the passer is working as planned and no changes are planned for that rule, but league sources said some new directives are being given to officials following the committee's meeting.
The league is being careful not to do anything that would make the quarterback more vulnerable to devastating hits and will continue a staunch public face in that regard.
"The health of the quarterback is paramount, and that's not going to change" as one source put it, with the league and its teams acutely aware of the precipitous drop in quality of play last season when star passers like Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Palmer and others suffered long-term or season-ending injuries.
And while in-game officials are still instructed to protect quarterbacks, they were informed this week to focus on specific elements to determine whether or not a defender is seeking to drive his body weight into a quarterback, sources said. Whereas previously, if they had questions about the intent to use body weight to impact a quarterback, officials would often throw a flag, it has been re-affirmed to them that they have to see the entire play and the necessary keys before throwing the flag.
Those keys include a defensive player making a move to potentially "pile drive" a quarterback into the ground, or making what is being termed a "Superman" move when sacking a quarterback, moving his arms and legs upward like taking flight to attempt to make it seem as if he is not using his body weight to impact a quarterback. And in the event of a "scoop and pull," quarterback impact, the official must be certain to detect the scooping, lifting and pulling to the ground, as well as the body weight component of the play, in order to throw the flag.
Thus far there have been 34 roughing the passer calls in the NFL (in 3,430 passing plays), and 13 of them, according to a league source, have involved the body weight point of emphasis. Of those, the league believed the majority were officiated properly, though an exact number was not available. That is up from 16 total roughing the passer calls at this time a year ago.
The body weight provision of the roughing the passer penalty has been in place since 1995 and, at the urging of NFL clubs, was brought before the Competition Committee as an element of the rule that was worthy of additional emphasis. The expectation within the league office is that, as like with other points of emphasis in the past, as the sample size grows players and teams will adapt to the crackdown, and the number of infractions will subside.