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Protect the QBs, sure, but this is ridiculous

September 19, 2018

Once again, the NFL has demonstrated its uncanny inability to find the sweet spot between extremes. On some of the most pressing issues the league faces, its judgment either caroms off the left pole or ricochets off the right one, as if splitting uprights is equivalent to splitting atoms.

Roger Goodell Co. continue to struggle and fail mightily to find the proper balance on so many things. Player benefits. Player protests. Player conduct. Player safety.

Bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk.

Eric Dickerson and several other Hall of Famers are leading a push for improved benefits for retired players. Owners tried to jam a national anthem policy down the union’s throat. The league muddles through suspensions for players who are accused of misconduct but not arrested.

None of those issues despite what you hear from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue threatens the NFL’s future like the matter of player safety. As growing numbers of people express concern or reservations about the game’s nature and physical toll, there’s a growing number of former fans and an increase in parents who won’t let their children play.

Broken bodies and scrambled brains aren’t good for business. So, naturally, the NFL is leaning too far in the other direction, particularly regarding its quarterbacks.

Maybe the league doesn’t realize, but some of the roughing-the-passer penalties through Week 2 aren’t good for business, either.

Did you see the hit from Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews on Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins? Or how about the hit earlier in the same game Sunday, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks on the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers?

They’re two of the tamest takedowns you’ll ever see. Each defender clearly tries to be as gentle and humane as possible, while still exerting the necessary force to bring a 200-pound man to the ground.

But each linebacker was flagged for roughing. Matthews’ penalty wiping out a game-sealing interception. Kendricks’ penalty helped Green Bay score a field goal. Such calls are infuriating.

I’m all in favor of a safer game, but it’s ridiculous to suggest anything was wrong with either of those hits.

Count on the NFL to double-down on dumb.

According to reports, the league stands behind the calls and intends to use the video as a teaching tool that’s distributed to clubs this week. It will emphasize the “scoop-and-pull” portion of the 1,000-word, eight-section rule on roughing the passer. The league’s senior vice president of officiating, Al Riveron, told ESPN he will “reiterate that this tactic is a foul.”

What’s really foul is the way such flimsy calls mess up the game.

What exactly did Matthews do wrong? “He picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground,” referee Tony Corrente told a pool reporter after Sunday’s game.

What could he have done differently? “Not picked him up and drove him into the ground,” Corrente said.

That’s a pretty loose interpretation of “picked up” and “drove into the ground.”

Matthews and Kendricks simply wrapped their arms around their opponent’s waist and dragged him down. Tackling someone requires a measure of physical force and contact, but these plays were totally nonviolent, acts of pacifism. The defenders made sure they avoided helmet-to-helmet contact and they demonstrated a deliberate effort to heed the “full body weight” rule, a point of emphasis this season.

Defensive players are forbidden from landing too heavily on quarterbacks, a focal point since Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in Week 6 last season. That hit, courtesy of Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr, was deemed legal then, but it would draw a penalty this year.

There were five “body weight” penalties in Week 1 this season. Overall, ESPN reports there have been 21 roughing penalties compared to eight at this point in 2017.

“We’re setting a dangerous precedent,” former NFL officiating chief Mike Pereira said on his Fox Sports show. “You can have (the Matthews hit) as a foul. There’s got to be a line drawn closer to a more violent hit.”

Pereira’s partner and former successor, Dean Blandino, agreed: “What do you want a defender to do? There is going to be some impetus that takes both players to the ground.”

I understand the desire to keep quarterbacks healthy and available. The Packers without Rodgers or the Patriots without Tom Brady aren’t the same, and it’s reflected in the won-loss column and the TV ratings. But the NFL shouldn’t go overboard in its zeal.

That will create a turnoff as big as watching quarterbacks get carted off the field. There must be a middle ground.

Just don’t count on the league to find it.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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