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‘What is he supposed to do?’ Two Browns defenders on the NFL’s roughing the passer rule

BEREA, Ohio — Browns defensive lineman Chris Smith is in agreement with his former Bengals teammate, safety George Iloka, about the league’s new rules regarding roughing the passer.

Iloka, now with the Vikings, tweeted on Sunday night, “They should just change the name of the penalty to ‘tackling the passer’ instead of ‘roughing the passer’ #smh”

The tweet came on the heels of a roughing the passer call against Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. He has been on the receiving end of a number of flags related to the rule changes, in this instance the rule that states “a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight.”

“The hit Clay Matthews had on Alex Smith, it was a clean hit,” Smith said. “What is he supposed to do? I don’t understand.”

Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi isn’t a fan, either.

“For Clay Matthews to be called three weeks in a row for roughing the passer when he’s just trying to put his team in position to win is unfair to me,” he said, “because defensive players, we play football, too. We get paid to help our team win.”

Matthews has been the center of attention for the rule because of the hit Sunday against Smith and a hit on Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins the week prior. The hit on Cousins wasn’t due to the body weight rule, but instead a rule stating a player can’t lift the quarterback up and throw him to the ground.

That, too, caused ripples as replays made their way around social media.

Ogunjobi pointed to a play by Packers lineman Mike Daniels in the Vikings game when he pulled up thinking Cousins had released the ball, only to have Cousins get away and scramble for a yard.

“He knew if he grabbed him and fell down, they probably would have flagged him,” Ogunjobi said, “so you’ve got guys playing a little more timid because it’s like, Do I hit him? Do I fall on him? How do I got to fall on him? How do I adjust my body? Because if you do adjust your body, you may end up missing a tackle entirely.”

One player who tried to avoid a flag, Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes, tore his ACL while sacking Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

“I always ask my coach, (defensive line) coach Clyde (Simmons) and (defensive coordinator) Coach (Gregg) Williams, how are we supposed to do this?” Smith said. “They have no answer, just go out there and play and see what happens, but it’s very frustrating.”

Linebacker Joe Schobert, who spoke out about the rule a few weeks ago, took to Twitter in response to Hayes’ injury.

“Can they make a rule change now for this? Should be a penalty on QB and a fine because defender is trying to avoid putting weight on him and tears his AClL!! This just proves how dumb the rule is and how little NFL cares for position players…”

Schobert made it clear in a later tweet he was being sarcastic about flagging the quarterback, of course, but his point still stands.

“You’ve been taught to tackle a certain way and now you’ve got this one protected player on the field,” Ogunjobi said. “When you’re rushing the passer, you fall into sacks, you get pushed into sacks, you clean up, sacks happen in all sorts of ways so it’s hard sometimes to adjust your body to make sure that you don’t get that kind of penalty, so you’ve got to be careful.”

Both Smith and Ogunjobi acknowledged they can’t think much about flags when they’re going full speed in a game. Smith said he hopes this is just a case where the league is going heavy on enforcement now and will back off later, but, if not, that an agreement can be reached to fix the issue.

“I feel like there needs to be a change,” he said. “I might be a little biased because I’m a (defensive) end, but I feel like there needs to be a change in what roughing the passer is.”

Ogunjobi agrees.

“It’s a rule that they’ll probably have to make some adjustments to to get better clarification on and flag it better that way,” he said, “so you’re not taking away from the sport entirely.”


“We might as well just treat it like practice,” Smith said, “where the quarterback, he’s off limits and take the sacks out of the game.”

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