How far is too far when it comes to roughing the passer penalties? Following a record 21 roughing penalties in the first two weeks, there were plenty more in Week 3 — including four alone on Monday Night Football (the most in a game since 2001). There was also another roughing the QB penalty called Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been flagged each of the three games to open the season.
Matthews’ penalty in Week 2 against Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has been reviewed thousands of times by football fans. And the consensus is that the officials’ call was a terrible one, wiping out Green Bay’s interception on the play with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. That INT would have secured the Packers victory in regulation. Instead, Cousins rallied Minnesota to a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game to overtime, where two missed field goals cost the Vikings a victory and its placekicker his job in a 29-29 tie.
The Matthews roughing the passer call in that contest also cost Green Bay backers on the moneyline, as the Packers closed a 2.5-point underdog after opening as a 1.5-point favorite at the sportsbooks a week before the game. It also saved Vikings bettors both on the money line and teasers. Most importantly, it cost Green Bay a victory in a key division contest.
Protecting the quarterbacks
The NFL is trying to protect the quarterbacks, its highest-paid and most recognized and important players. The quarterbacks are more vulnerable to injuries, and the new rules to protect them are being enforced by the head referees, who are guided by the new rules and principles.
Matthews’ hit and roughing the passer penalty on Redskins QB Alex Smith in Week 3 is considered a ‘textbook’ case of roughing.
Roughing the Passer – Rule 12-2-9 (B):
“When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture, (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defenders weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive players arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight.”
The league has decided to protect its quarterbacks because the league knows that the quality of the product suffers greatly when the best quarterbacks aren’t on the field.
The impact on the games results without its best quarterbacks also affects the betting lines, as we’re about to see again with the Week 3 injury to 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who likely suffered a torn ACL and will be replaced by second-year quarterback CJ Beathard.
The new helmet rule was also designed to make the game safer for players, but the increased calls have also impacted the sports betting market as more penalties and 15-yard infractions helped increase scoring to 47.03 points per game through the first two weeks. After the games averaged 44.63 points in Week 3, the average is at more than 46 points per game through the first three weeks of the season. Last year, NFL games averaged 43.3 points per game, and consistently averaged near 45 points per game since 2010 with a high of 46.8 points per game in 2013.
More penalties = more points
The combination of roughing the passer rules and preventing leading with the helmet is making it tougher for defenders. There is no doubt that more offense and scoring makes for good TV, and the league needs its best quarterbacks on the field making plays so it can sell its product and keep revenue flowing for the league as well.
But scoring and name brand QBs, its featured stars, also keep fans engaged, fantasy players more involved and sports bettors holding out hope that their team can rally to win and cover point spreads when trailing. That point was driven home again Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns won for the first time in their last 21 games, led by rookie Baker Mayfield coming off the bench to bring the Browns back and rally to win.
Mayfield is a future star and another money man for the league and a quarterback it needs to protect. The NFL couldn’t protect sports betting from becoming legal in the U.S. this year and don’t be surprised when more roughing the passer penalties impact the outcome of games and points spreads as scoring increases.