League reminds clubs of rules for mobile quarterbacks


With more quarterbacks opting to run with the ball, either horizontally or vertically or both, the NFL has given its teams a reminder as to the rules that apply when quarterbacks aren’t in the pocket.

The biggest misconception for most fans (and some players) comes when the quarterback leaves the pocket but stays behind the line of scrimmage.  He loses the protection of the “one-step” rule and the Brady rule regarding hits at or below the knee.  The quarterback otherwise remains protected against forcible hits to the head and neck area and hits with the helmet to any part of the quarterback’s body.  (This makes the failure to flag Texans defensive end J.J. Watt for removing the helmet of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers even more confusing.)

Once the quarterback clearly becomes a runner, all protections evaporate — except the ordinary (and inherently subjective) rule against unnecessary roughness, including the protection that applies when any runner slides feet first.

Of course, it’s often hard to know when a quarterback clearly becomes a runner.  Last year, Steelers linebacker James Harrison thought Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was a runner, and then McCoy threw the ball just before Harrison delivered a wicked helmet-to-helmet hit to McCoy.  Harrison was suspended for one game.

Thus, the practical rule seems to be that, if the quarterback actually throws the ball, he’s not clearly a runner, even if he seemed to be one.

When it comes to running the option or handing the ball off in a read-option look and then pretending to run without the ball as a fake, there are no special protections.  Likewise, no special protections apply if the quarterback running an option play pitches the ball to another runner.

Somewhere, the replacement officials are glad they don’t have to keep all this stuff straight anymore.

15 responses to “League reminds clubs of rules for mobile quarterbacks

  1. So a runner is a runner unless he throws? So what Vick needs to do is duck his head and shovel pass every time he tries to run and gets trapped behind the line. Then the Eagles will be able to move the ball much more effectively given they’ll collect 15 yards at a time.

  2. Whatever the rule is let’s just see it called with some consistency. If this was the replacement refs who didn’t make the watt call everybody would be talking about it.

  3. It’s all coming to light now (as if people didn’t already know) about Harrison and his hitting. Their team doctor between 2005-2009 was just arrested for giving out steroids.

  4. Daysend,

    “While the steroids portion of the case doesn’t overlap with Rydze’s time with the Steelers, he’s accused of obtaining more than 21,000 Vicodin tablets from February 2005 through October 2011.”

  5. (scratches head)

    This goes back to my question a few days ago. What about the wildcat formation? Say a Tim Tebow or a Colin Kaepernick are put in to run it. Are they runners or QBs?

  6. If a rule is so confusing that you have to issue reminders/clarifications to teams then it’s time to simplify the rule.

  7. wildcat qbs just gotta do what griff has been doing… when he runs the option and hands it off to al morris he throws his hands up and waves them. it’s been working great since week 2

  8. Except against Michael Vick. He has been hit helmet-to-helmet when throwing the ball at least once every game this year and there hasn’t been a single flag for it. Nor has there been a single flag for all the times he’s been speared in the chest and ribs this season. I’ve never seen so many hits on a QB while leading with the crown of the helmet. All with no flags. Apparently QB protection rules apply for only 31 teams. It’s a disgrace.

  9. Seems pretty simple to me. The QB becomes a runner when he is no longer permitted to throw the ball- when he crosses the line of scrimmage.

    That being said, I think the rule that you can’t him ANYWHERE on his body with your helmet is going too far. I have no problem penalizing helmet to helmet, but assuming the defender doesn’t spear with the crown of the helmet, other contact should be permissible.

  10. @realitypolice – Except when they are behind the line of scrimmage but outside of the pocket, when they lose some but not all QB protections.

  11. Due to rules becoming excessively complex in these situations, the league is considering a suggestion to “let God sort it out”. Quarterbacks strongly oppose that move.

  12. Confusing and designed to favor the offense. Obviously, point on the board = butts in the seats.

  13. Michael Vick gets pummeled inside the pocket, without penalties. Someone breathes on Brady, and its a 15 yard penalty and a flag. Maybe instead of issuing memos to teams, the NFL should issue memos to the refs about being consistent and not turning the NFL to the NBA (with “star calls”).

  14. To simplify all of this–

    If you’re one of the league’s “meal ticket” QB’s, any hit is an illegal hit. For some of the elite, breathing heavily while in the vicinity is illegal.

    If you’re a comparative nobody, or if you play for one of the teams that isn’t prominent, you’re fair game. Late in the season, if your team is playing “above its station”, the odds of getting a flag when you get hit are about the same as the odds of Jerry Jones ever keeping his mouth shut or the Cubs winning the World Series.

  15. Oh, please. Spare me. Here’s how it works:

    If you make a legal hit to a guy’s shoulder pads, you will be fined. Ask the Packers. However, it’s perfectly okay to spear anyone in the knee with your helmet. Ask any running back.

    If you are Michael Vick, it doesn’t matter that you are still in the pocket, it is open season on the QB. Ask the Eagles. And if you are James Harrison, it doesn’t matter that the QB has left the pocket and is sprinting down the field. You will be fined or suspended for making the tackle. Ask the Steelers.

    Simple, isn’t it?

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