NEW YORK — The NFL has all the data about scoring — it wants 43 to 47 points per game. It has metric on injuries and, very importantly, television ratings.
And all those have made it clear to the league that quarterbacks are the thing.
And protecting quarterbacks is the most important thing it can do to protect the popularity of the game.
So those roughing-the-passer penalties that set the internet ablaze, fed sports talk radio and got analysts to chime in during games are not going anywhere.
“We know the numbers: 91 out of the top 100 rated television shows last year were NFL games,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said Monday during the league’s winter meetings.
“Why? Because of the quality of play of the quarterback position from top to bottom.They keep the league healthy and strong. Everyone knows if your quarterback’s not healthy, then you don’t have a chance to win. And I experienced that for 15 years. Walking out of that tunnel you know if you have a chance to win by knowing who’s walking out of that tunnel with you, who’s going to be underneath the center.
“So we’re not changing the philosophy around [any controversial roughing the passer] call.”
Don’t make the mistake the NFL is comfortable with wildly varied interpretations of the rule that has seen one quarterback slung to the ground and it draws a flag while another may get similarly slung to the ground and it gets a yawn from officials.
But that comes with limits.
“We will constantly stay in the white hats’ ears about looking for that consistency from the 17 different crews,” Vincent said of referees. “But we’re not going to back off from protecting the quarterback.”
Roughing the passer was a portion of the morning briefing NFL owners got from staff and league officers.
“Had some healthy conversation on that,” Vincent said. “I would just say spirited to some degree.”
The reason it was spirited is perhaps because owners see what fans see and understand it doesn’t always look the same for everyone. And sometimes it looks borderline soft.
Two calls in particular that dominated the conversation: Tom Brady’s sack by Grady Jarrett in the Tampa-Atlanta game and Derek Carr’s sack as he fumbled by Chris Jones in the Kansas City-Las Vegas game.
“In those particular cases they asked the question do you want those calls?” Vincent said. “Philosophically in the Tampa game, we’ve raised that. You’re not looking to see that philosophically. Not liking to see that particularly but you can support it. And the rule says that. I stand on it. I’ve raised that.”
It should be noted here that Rule 12, Article 11 of the NFL rulebook says when in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the passer, the referee should always call roughing the passer.
It’s subjective. The NFL understands this.
But that’s a rule to protect the quarterback.
There was also what Vincent called “healthy conversation” on whether there should be video replay review of such calls.
“That’s another conversation,” Vincent said.
Another conversation for another time because rules changes were not part of this meeting. They will be part of the spring annual meeting and so individual teams, such can propose rules changes installing video review as the Los Angeles Rams did last year.
NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay makes the point roughing call are down. So the idea this is a budding controversy is not correct.
“I think the calls are down 40 percent, 45 percent year over year less,” McKay said. “We knew there was going to be a spike two or three years ago when we saw a bunch of tape and bunch of calls on the foul of body weight, which is when a defender takes his body and goes right down the middle of the quarterback with his entire body weight, causing injuries to the quarterbacks.
“We know that would spike the fouls somewhat and it did. It moved the foul number up on roughing the passer for a couple of years. That number has come down pretty significantly this year.”
Through six games in 2018 there were 53 roughing calls.
Through six games in 2019 there were 59.
There were 43 in 2020; there were 52 in 2021.
This year there have been 38 roughing penalties called through six games.
“Colleges have begun to enforce body weight, players are adjusting, they are rolling to the side, they are getting themselves out of the way, they are bracing,” McKay said. “So I think that’s a good trend.
“Listen, we’re never going to bat a thousand on all officiating. We’re never going to have every call we agree with. I’ve been around long enough to have them go against me and have them go for me. The biggest thing is can we learn from them and get them right the next time.”
And, remember, if there’s a doubt, the referee is ordered to take the quarterback’s side.
Because the NFL wants to protect the quarterback and isn’t embarrassed to say so.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero