ITP Glossary: Roughing the Passer

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Roughing the Passer

Roughing the passer is a personal foul penalty called against the defense for unnecessarily hitting the quarterback after he has thrown the ball, and can be called for a late hit, a hit to the head, or a hit below the knees, among other things. A roughing the passer penalty costs the defense 15 yards, and a first down is automatically awarded to the offense. If the referee deems the action to be flagrant the defensive player can be ejected.

The most common situation that roughing the passer is called is for is the late hit. According to the NFL Rulebook, a pass rusher should be called for roughing the passer if they hit the quarterback when they “clearly should have known that the ball had already left the passer’s hand before contact was made.” A pass rusher may make contact with the quarterback after the ball has left his hand “only up through the rusher’s first step after such release (prior to second step hitting the ground).” After this first step the rusher must be trying to avoid contact with the quarterback to avoid a penalty being called.

It is also a penalty if the pass rusher unnecessarily wrestles, throws or drives the quarterback into the ground, regardless of the one step rule. One example of this can be seen from San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, who throws Denver Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez to the ground after the hit.

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Roughing the passer can also be called for a high or low hit on the quarterback. A flag will be thrown when a pass rusher uses their helmet / facemask to hit anywhere on the passer’s body. In addition, any contact with the head and neck area of the passer is considered a penalty, regardless of whether or not initial contact began below the head / neck area.

Finally, a pass rusher is prohibited from “forcibly hitting in the knee area or below [on] a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him.”

Roughing the passer is a penalty that has received considerably more attention in recent years as the league’s emphasis on player safety has increased. The low hit rule was added in response to Bernard Pollard’s hit on Tom Brady in 2008 that caused Brady to miss the entire season with a torn ACL.

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Ryan Dukarm wrote this entry. Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm.

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