For plenty of NFL penalties, it’s obvious if a violation did or didn’t occur. Offside, illegal procedure, illegal formation, and delay of game are some of the examples of black-and-white NFL rules.
Roughing the passer, in many cases, resides in the gray. And as the NFL tries to find a way to better balance protecting passers while also letting football players play football, one possibility entails instructing referees to flag only blatant instances of roughing the passer, allowing the league office to parse out close cases and, when necessary, to impose discipline via the fine process.
This would promote greater consistency among the 17 referees who have exclusive jurisdiction over roughing the passer, with the textbook calls (like the Clay Matthews hit on Alex Smith from Week Three) being made and the borderline-at-best calls (like the Clay Matthews hit on Kirk Cousins from Week Two) not being made.
It still won’t be easy to ensure consistency, but it will be the league’s obligation to do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the 17 referees apply the same or similar standard. And there are more than enough examples of violations that can be used to drill into the referees what is and isn’t a blatant case of roughing.