In October, after Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis passionately complained about the league’s protection of quarterback Tom Brady on a weekend during which other apparently illegal hits on other quarterbacks didn’t trigger roughing-the-passer penalties, NFL V.P. of officiating Mike Pereia conceded that all quarterbacks should be receiving the kind of protection that Brady now enjoys.
The recently-hatched supersensitivity to concussions presumably has served only to raise the hemline on the proverbial skirt that quarterbacks are now wearing. Indeed, even the most glancing contact with the head of a passer routinely has been triggering a flag.
So when Eagles defensive end Juqua Parker threw Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell to the ground at the tail end of a game-deciding fourth-down play on Sunday, a penalty should have been called, right?
“They are lucky,” FOX’s Darryl Johnston said on the air at the
time. “They got away with one. . . . Juqua Parker could have gotten a
15-yarder because he spun [Campbell] to the ground. Watch this. . . . They
got lucky. . . . They just dodged a big bullet right there, because
that could have very easily been a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty.”
According to the NFL, the non-call was the right call.
On Tuesday, coach Jim Zorn explained (via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post) that the league said no rule was broken on a play that could have broken Campbell’s spine.
“No, nope, legal play,” Zorn said. “Because [Parker] got [Campbell] around the shoulders and not the helmet.”
One specific portion of the applicable rule arguably supports the league’s position. Here’s the relevant language, from Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13(2) of the 2009 Official Playing Rules: “When tackling a passer who is in a virtually defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most
of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up or cradle the passer with the defensive player’s arms.” (Emphasis supplied.)
In our view, Parker “violently” threw Campbell down. But the rule doesn’t say “violently throw him down OR land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.” It says “and.” Under the letter of the law, then, a defender apparently is permitted to violenty throw the quarterback down, as long as the defender doesn’t land on the quarterback with all or most of the defender’s weight.
This seems to be the basis for the interpretation that the league supplied to Zorn.
“I didn’t see the TV copy, I just saw what I saw, and it was
questionable, but [the NFL] saw it from all angles and they were
emphatic that was a clean play,” Zorn said.
“You can hit a guy hard, now. You can hit a QB hard. You just can’t land
all your full body weight [on him], and [Parker] did not. I mean, this
is a violent game, and we’ve got to be ready to take some punishment,
and unfortunately it looked violent because he got whipped down pretty
quick. But [Parker] didn’t land on him, and I think that’s fair.”
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the next sentence of the rule: “Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up or cradle the passer with the defensive player’s arms.” This implies that the defender may not violenty throw the quarterback to the ground, even if the defender doesn’t land on the quarterback.
Moreover, the notion that a defensive end can slam a quarterback to the ground as long as the defensive end doesn’t land on the quarterback seems to run counter to the notion of protecting a passer, who is as the league acknowledges in the rule book “particularly vulnerable to injury.”
Thus, in this age of heightened awareness to player safety generally, the “and” in Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13(2) needs to be changed to an “or.”
Especially since the very next sentence in the rule book strongly suggests that the “and” should have been an “or” in the first place.