The hit that broke Aaron Rodgers‘ collarbone on Sunday wasn’t illegal. Maybe it should be.
Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr hit Rodgers just after Rodgers released a pass, and the two of them tumbled to the turf with Barr on top of Rodgers. That rather ordinary hit broke Rodgers’ collarbone and dramatically affected the entire NFL season, possibly knocking Rodgers out until 2018 and in the process ending realistic Super Bowl hopes for the Packers.
I think it may be time for a radical rule change, one that makes hits like Barr’s illegal. It may be time for the NFL to consider dramatically expand the roughing the passer rules, and treat quarterbacks like kickers and punters: Basically, you can’t hit them at all once they’ve thrown a pass.
I know, I know, you’re going to tell me I’m soft and weak and ruining the game of football, and that we might as well just play flag football if we’re going to do that. And I’m here to tell you I’ve heard it all before.
I heard the same thing when the NFL changed the roughing the passer rules to prohibit low hits on quarterbacks after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008: “How can defensive players possibly be expected to avoid those hits?” But defensive players adjusted, and it’s now unremarkable that those hits are penalized.
And I heard the same thing when the NFL implemented the horse-collar tackle rule: “How can any defensive player ever catch a runner from behind?” But defensive players adjusted, and now the horse-collar tackle rule has been adopted at every level of football and is completely noncontroversial.
I believe the same thing would happen if the NFL dramatically changed the roughing the passer rule. Yes, at first it would seem wrong to see defensive players penalized for putting a shoulder in a quarterback’s chest after he throws a pass. But defensive players would get used to it, coaches would get used to it, and fans would get used to it.
And it would make the game safer for the quarterbacks, the most important players on the field. Is it really a good thing for the NFL that Aaron Rodgers might miss the entire season? Are hits like Barr’s really so fundamental to football that we can’t outlaw them for the health of quarterbacks and the good of the sport? I don’t think so.
The NFL already protects quarterbacks far more than it did when I was growing up as a football fan in the 1980s. But the league can do more. Roughing the passer needs to be expanded.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
Stop with the “system quarterback” stuff. As soon as Rodgers went down, the debate began about what the Packers should do: Should they just stick with backup Brett Hundley? Or should they sign a free agent? And of course the name of Colin Kaepernick came up, as it always does, followed by the debate about whether Kaepernick fits the Packers’ system.
Here’s the thing: The “system quarterback” stuff is B.S. Quarterbacks don’t need to fit a system. They need to be good football players. No quarterback on earth is capable of doing all the things Aaron Rodgers does in the Packers’ system, but there are talented quarterbacks who can come in and contribute, and their physical talents don’t have to match Rodgers’ talents perfectly. The Packers don’t need a quarterback who fits the system, they need a quarterback who’s a good football player.
Take a look at what Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson has done. The system he ran at Clemson was nothing at all like the system Houston coach Bill O’Brien runs. But Watson came in at halftime of Week One and has played so well since then that he’s a legitimate MVP candidate. It’s not that Watson fits O’Brien’s system, it’s that Watson is a terrific talent and can succeed in any system. The idea of a system fit is the most overrated part of evaluating how a quarterback will do on a given team.
Lions seeing the problem with overpaying Matthew Stafford. In Sunday’s loss to the Saints, Stafford had a 48 percent completion rate and five turnovers. When I wrote after the game that I saw that performance as evidence that Stafford shouldn’t be the highest-paid player in the NFL, I heard back from a lot of people that the problem isn’t Stafford but the players around him. I don’t disagree with that, but it’s part of the point: When you’re devoting a huge amount of salary cap space to one player, as the Lions are with Stafford, you have less money to devote to bolstering the rest of your roster. I believe the Lions would be better in the long run if they had a deeper roster — even if that had meant not extending Stafford this year, and risking losing him in free agency next year.
I am astonished by Adrian Peterson. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more wrong about a player on a new team than I was about Peterson yesterday. I thought he was totally washed up, done, not going to contribute a thing in Arizona after the Cardinals got him in a trade with the Saints. Instead, Peterson had his first 100-yard rushing game since 2015 and the Cardinals blew out the Buccaneers. I don’t expect Peterson to play that way every week, but he certainly looked like a good addition to the Cards’ offense yesterday.
The Falcons choked, again. The stakes were obviously nowhere near as big, but I thought the Falcons’ meltdown yesterday against the Dolphins was an even more improbable loss than their Super Bowl fiasco. Atlanta had a 17-0 halftime lead over a Miami team that had looked like the worst offense in the NFL this season — 17 points should have been more than enough to win. And then the Falcons proceeded to allow that lousy Dolphins offense to march down the field on four long scoring drives in the second half, with Jay Cutler throwing two touchdown passes and Cody Parkey kicking two field goals, and the Falcons didn’t score another point. Miami won 20-17. That second-half performance by the Falcons was as ugly as it gets.
Alberto Riveron needs to explain himself. Riveron, the NFL’s new head of officiating, overturned a Jets touchdown late in their loss to the Patriots. I think it was a terrible decision, and I want to hear Riveron answer for it. I’ve already heard the referee’s explanation — he said the Jets’ Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumbled and didn’t regain control until he was out of bounds — but the referee doesn’t make the final decision. Riveron does. And I believe that decision was in error because the ruling on the field was a touchdown, and there’s no replay angle that indisputably shows Seferian-Jenkins didn’t have control of the ball before he went out of bounds. Riveron talked to Peter King about the ruling, but his explanation was less than convincing. And if you don’t take my word for it, believe Riveron’s two predecessors, Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira, both of whom said on FOX that they thought Riveron got it wrong. When a game as big as Jets-Patriots turns on a call like that, Riveron needs to speak up.