The NFL’s roughing the passer problem is getting worse

FILE PHOTO – Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin on the sidelines in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sept. 24, 2018 in Tampa. (AP Photo / Jason Behnken)

One of the NFL’s longest-tenured coaches, and one of two coaches who sit on the league’s competition committee, let loose Sunday with a blunt assessment of officiating in 2018. Speaking after his team’s 41-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said some of what he has seen is “a joke” and that he’s “pissed about it.”

Don’t write off Tomlin’s words as emotional postgame rantings. I also wouldn’t classify them as the kind of reflexive frustration that the NFL, and really every pro sports league, has heard about its officiating throughout its history. Tomlin is known in NFL circles as a level-headed defender of football, and his judgment Sunday reflects league-wide concern that the biggest problem of 2018 — an overcorrection in protecting quarterbacks by the league’s least-experienced group of referees in memory — will be more difficult to fix than anticipated.

There have been 11 flags thrown for roughing the passer in Week 5, despite a clarification issued Sept. 27 that was designed to address a spike in those penalties. Of those 11, none could be attributed to the league’s point of emphasis against falling on quarterbacks with all or most of a defender’s body weight. The rest were an amalgamation of incidental contact, non-forcible blows and a handful of avoidable late hits.

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