The Ten Worst Roughing the Passer Plays of the 2014 NFL Season

By Jason Lisk
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The NFL is trying to protect its quarterbacks, often above all else. This point of emphasis leads to a fair amount of false positives when it comes to roughing the passer calls, as was evident last week. Referees are going to err on the side of calling Roughing the Passer if it looks close, and on bang-bang plays, lots of things can look close.

Err they do. There have been 86 Roughing the Passer penalties. Of those, we narrowed it down to 22 different ones for possible inclusion on this list–over a quarter of them. Some that didn’t make the list but easily could have include Josh Mauga on Jake Locker as he turned his shoulder and Mauga hit him on the shoulder pad (“I don’t know about all that” uttered by Rich Gannon), Thomas DeCoud on Cam Newton (“really you don’t see a lot there, to me, that’s interesting”), and Steve McClendon on Joe Flacco (“I know there’s a lot of guys in high school going ‘what are you talking about'”).

Still, a top 22 list would have violated some sort of unwritten list rule, so here is your Top 10 Bad Roughing the Passer Calls in 2014.



10. WALLACE GILBERRY ON CAM NEWTON, WEEK 6, CAROLINA AT CINCINNATI

This was called because of hitting the quarterback late. The announcer said “I don’t know how you tell Wallace Gilberry to stop there”. By my count, there was about a half step from the release of the ball to the hit.

I’ll say this though–the Panthers’ offensive line made many hits on Cam Newton look like roughing by so consistently allowing free rushers. Earlier in this same game, Vontaze Burfict also got called for brushing Cam Newton while they were running toward the sideline.



9. JASON HATCHER ON ELI MANNING, WEEK 4, NEW YORK GIANTS AT WASHINGTON

Okay, this one is probably the only one that could have been called by the strict reading of the rules, included here. There may have been a slight brush of the face mask by Jason Hatcher as he tried to block the pass and came down on Eli’s shoulder.

Officials generally called hits to the head area accurately, and most of them were a little more forceful than this.

Still, when a Roughing the Passer doesn’t even lead to a Manning Face, you know it was pretty weak



8. COREY LIUGET ON E.J. MANUEL, WEEK 3, SAN DIEGO AT BUFFALO

E.J. Manuel didn’t play for long this year, but he did do a pretty good job of drawing Roughing the Passer calls at a high rate. Against Houston, J.J. Watt twice was called for hitting low (one looked absolutely correct, the other was borderline).

This was called for leading with the helmet. Liuget was more likely the victim of being a big guy. This is going to be a common theme among the bad calls, but football players have heads. What they can’t do is turn their eyes down and hit with the crown of the helmet, or alternatively hit with any part of the helmet into the quarterback’s helmet. But, hits into the chest should be okay.

Liuget seems to be called because his head goes down after he moves it off to the side as they are going to the ground, which could have looked like he hit with the helmet.



7. PATRICK WILLIS ON DREW STANTON, WEEK 3, SAN FRANCISCO AT ARIZONA

This play came right after another questionable personal foul call on a hit on Drew Stanton, when he appeared to have slid too late for protection but the hit was called.

Patrick Willis made a textbook hit on a sack, face up, wrapped up Stanton. Pretty sure this was called because Stanton got smothered. Or alternatively, I have no idea.



6. EUGENE SIMS ON TONY ROMO, WEEK 3, DALLAS AT ST. LOUIS

The referee must have thought that there was a helmet blow here. Looks like Sims hits Romo on the shoulder.

5. JASON WORILDS ON MATT RYAN, WEEK 15, PITTSBURGH AT ATLANTA

This just happened last week. We had a post on it. Lo and behold, it’s not even the worst ranked call from Sunday, even though it was clearly an incorrect call.

4. JO-LONN DUNBAR ON JOSH MCCOWN, WEEK 2, ST. LOUIS AT TAMPA BAY

After this flag was called on Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a coach or player can be heard clearly yelling from the sideline: “how was that a flag, he hit his shoulder?!” Whoever it was wasn’t wrong.

3. SIO MOORE ON CARSON PALMER, WEEK 7, ARIZONA AT OAKLAND

Brady Quinn rather uncritically let us know that this was for lowering the helmet into the quarterback’s body. It was more likely because these two kids got their shoelaces tangled up.

2. D.J. SWEARINGER ON ROBERT GRIFFIN III, WEEK 1, WASHINGTON AT HOUSTON

This was one of five that I had marked as bad calls in week 1, but we’ll go with this since it came at a more critical time–on a third down incompletion near the goal line that gave Washington a first down. It’s pretty clear that the officials were geeked up to call Roughing the Passer.

No truth to the rumor that Jay Gruden refused to call a play because Griffin took too long getting up from this one.



1. NICK MOODY ON RUSSELL WILSON, WEEK 15, SAN FRANCISCO AT SEATTLE

This one takes the cake, given the call and the situation. Seattle was up 10-6, in the fourth quarter, near the goal line on third down. Without this call, Seattle would have been attempting a field goal and San Francisco would have stayed within a score.

First, Ed Hochuli’s explanation:

“I felt he hit the quarterback [Russell Wilson] in the chest with the hairline [of his helmet]. It’s a foul unless his head is completely up and would hit him face on with his face mask, so that’s why I called it. After you hit, the face mask comes up. That’s the mechanics of the body, but that wasn’t the initial contact. The hairline [of the helmet] is still a foul when you hit the quarterback with that part of your head.”

Of course, the NFL came out and actually said it was a bad call, so you know, at a time where they want everything called, this one gets the title. Of course, the same pattern (not actually leading with helmet) has occurred numerous times this year, without other statements acknowledging how often it is wrong.



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