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Zulgad: Brutal or brilliant? Roughing the passer calls could serve a purpose

Clay Matthews’ game-changing, roughing-the-passer penalty on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday looks like a terrible call every time you watch it.

The NFL has said that hit will be used on a teaching video to show what not to do, and yet there are many longtime football people who feel that was a textbook example of exactly what a defender is supposed to do when he reaches the quarterback.

The issue is that the call on Matthews — which kept alive what turned into a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter for the Vikings at Lambeau Field — was not an isolated incident.

With a crackdown on how much weight a defender can apply on a quarterback during a hit, and more emphasis being placed on protecting quarterbacks, the NFL has had 21 roughing the passer penalties called through two weeks. According to ESPN, there were 21 such penalties through the firstĀ fourĀ weeks of the 2017 season.

This has caused outrage among some and discussion among many. What are defensive players supposed to do when they hit a quarterback? How can a defender like Matthews be expected to just halt his momentum at the last second? What exactly is a clean hit? Does it differ from officiating crew to officiating crew? There are many questions and few answers.

But there is a flip side to this discussion that hasn’t been broached enough. That is exactly how difficult of position the NFL is in right now in trying to protect the guys who play what might be the most important position in sports.

There is an emphasis on penalizing players who land on a quarterback with their full body weight because Aaron Rodgers’ season essentially came to an end in Week 6 of last year when Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr brought him to the turf and broke his collarbone.

This left the Packers with Brett Hundley as their starting quarterback. Green Bay was 4-1 entering the game in which Rodgers was injured. The Packers went 3-8 the rest of the way. That included a start by Rodgers in a December loss at Carolina but it was mostly Hundley after Barr’s hit and it was unwatchable.

The Vikings were fortunate last season that after Sam Bradford was lost in Week 1 that Case Keenum stepped in and had a fantastic year. The reality is that most of the time when a quality starting quarterback gets hurt, his backup is going to be an inferior talent.

If you’re the NFL, this is bad for business. The networks don’t pay huge money to show games so they can get Hundley instead of Rodgers or Sean Mannion instead of Jared Goff. As a football fan, how brutal was it watching DeShone Kizer try to operate in the first half of the opening Sunday night game of the season after Rodgers injured his knee against the Chicago Bears? And how much better was it seeing Rodgers’ brilliantly lead the Packers comeback in the second half?

This likely didn’t make you happy if you’re a Vikings fan, but even you have to realize that it’s far better for the game to have its superstars on the field. The NFL is going overboard in calling roughing the passer because it has as little interest in seeing Kizer play as we do.

The Packers are unhappy this week because the Matthews penalty cost them an important NFC North victory. This coming week it will be another team that’s upset and at some point this crackdown could cost cost the Vikings a game. That will leave coach Mike Zimmer and the team’s fan base livid and spark an even louder cry for the NFL to stop babying quarterbacks.

Only, there is a chance that all of these flags being thrown could prevent a potentially dangerous hit on Cousins and mean that we won’t have to watch Trevor Siemian take over at some point.

We all can agree that’s a good thing.





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