While most of the league was raising concern over the NFL’s new helmet rule in the early weeks of training camp, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton remembers focusing on another element of the league’s revised guidelines and points of emphasis:
The protection of quarterbacks.
“The (NFL Competition C)ommittee reviewed hits on quarterbacks inside and outside the pocket,” the NFL’s 2018 rules changes and points of emphasis reads. “In some instances, the defender used all or part of his body weight to land on the quarterback immediately after the ball was thrown. These actions put the quarterback at risk for injury. The Officiating Department will emphasize that the defender is responsible for avoiding landing on the quarterback when taking him to the ground.”
As concerning as the new helmet rule was, that provision gave Sutton pause.
“I think when we were talking about the helmet thing in St. Joe’s, I said this other rule hasn’t got much notice is the one that’s really hard,” Sutton said Monday morning.
Sure enough, that was the rule that drew a flag on linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon in Saturday’s 27-20 loss to Chicago for a hit that would’ve been a sack most other years.
In less than three seconds, Kpassagnon made his way around right tackle Rashaad Coward, adjusting his 6-foot-7 frame to hit the 6-foot Chase Daniel in his shoulder as Daniel was preparing to throw. Kpassagnon finished the tackle with textbook form, wrapping up Daniel as the pair fell. Kpassagnon fell nearly on top of the quarterback, but he didn’t lead with his helmet or grab his facemask.
It looked like a perfectly legal hit.
And yet, a yellow flag soon came out, and Kpassagnon was penalized for roughing the passer under the new points of emphasis.
“I think this is a hard play to officiate,” Sutton said. “Very difficult to tell TK to do something different in that situation. This wasn’t like the rule when you pick the quarterback up and you slammed him in the ground. You had a choice on that. You could just take him to the ground or pick him up and slam him. They said, ‘OK, don’t slam him, that’s a penalty.’”
After rewatching the tape over the weekend, Sutton didn’t see an obvious fix to prevent the penalty from being called.
“This one is really hard because I don’t know exactly how to tell them to take his weight off the guy from the position he came in that situation,” he said. “Really hard. You can try to twist a little bit and try to gator tackle him where you’re twisting and pulling at the same time. It’s just really hard. And again, I don’t want to be the official on that play.”
The new emphasis could discourage guys from hitting a quarterback full speed or full on, which could then render the pass rush much less effective.
“Has anybody ever thought about trying to tackle Big Ben (Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback)?” Sutton said. “It’s hard enough with all your weight on him to get him down. To say I’m going to slide off to the side and not do it is really hard. I just think it’s a hard rule and again, I think it’s hard on the officials. I really do.
“I think we all know what the intent is. We’re not looking to slam this guy in the dirt but there’s sometimes, I don’t know what you can do from a physical standpoint to change that without just stopping completely.”