You might as well put skirts on quarterbacks. That’s Jack Lambert’s famous line about the protection passers receive in the modern NFL. So it’s fair to say Lambert probably wouldn’t love Art Rooney II’s recent comments about the position. In an interview earlier in the week with Sirius Radio’s Movin’ The Chains, Rooney II acknowledged that while some of the calls against quarterbacks are questionable, it’s a worthwhile trade-off in order to protect the position.
“I agree with you, it’s a tough penalty,” Rooney told the show’s Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller, responding to the frustration over some of the calls. “To be honest with you, that’s one area that I am willing to kinda live with having them call it close. Protecting the quarterback is a key part of it. If they overdo it, sometimes you hate to see it, but I think that’s one I’m willing to live with just in terms of protecting the guys at that position as much as we can.”
The NFL has given defenders little leeway when it comes to hitting the quarterback. Arm graze the guy’s helmet? Penalty. Hit him a step too late? Penalty. Put your body weight on him going to the ground? Penalty. Of all the questionable calls, it’s arguably the most infuriating, a 15-yard penalty, automatic first down, and potential game-changing play.
According to NFL Penalties, there were 154 roughing the passer calls last season. Pittsburgh was flagged for it five times, slightly above league average. Arizona, Buffalo, and the Los Angeles Chargers were all called a league-high eight times while the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans were flagged the least, just twice each.
Overall, the league has seen a serious increase of roughing the passer calls. How many of them were “ticky-tack” is much harder to determine but the league-wide trend is obvious.
Roughing The Passer Calls (2017-2021)
2017 – 107
2018 – 118
2019 – 136
2020 – 127
2021 – 154
It’s a trend that’ll likely continue as the league cracks down on quarterback hits over the years.
But it’s an offensive-first league and the quarterback is the star of the show. Passing yards equals points, points equals excitement, and excitement equals ratings which all equals money. So quarterbacks will be protected more than any other group. Unless, of course, you’re Ben Roethlisberger, who didn’t get many of those calls throughout his career.