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Football Roughing The Passer Penalty

football roughing the passer penalty

A roughing the passer penalty occurs when a defending player makes unnecessarily rough contact with a player in passing position. The penalty is in place to protect the quarterback from harm. Roughing the passer usually results in a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down.


A roughing the passer penalty occurs when a defensive player makes unnecessarily rough contact with a passer, usually the quarterback, who is in the position of passing the ball. A defensive player cannot make overly forceful moves against the passer, such as lifting the quarterback in the air or driving him into the ground. If the quarterback has clearly passed the ball, a defensive player must refrain from rough contact.

For a roughing the passer penalty to be called, the referee has to judge the contact as unnecessarily rough in the context of the play. It's the job of the pass rusher to recognize that the ball has been passed and to refrain from unnecessary roughness with the passer.

During a sack, the pass rusher must attempt to break their fall rather than landing on the passer with full body weight. To make legal contact, a pass rusher must attempt to wrap the passer in their arms and break their fall rather than landing directly on them.

In 2018, roughing the passer came under scrutiny when it made sacking the quarterback more difficult for defensive players, who faced mounting obstacles for how they could make legal contact with a passer. Pass rushers now had to not only grab the passer by their midsection, but break their own fall as well, which could put them at risk for injury. That year saw a sharp rise in roughing the passer penalties, most infamously against Green Bay Packers lineman Clay Matthews. Ultimately, the rule was kept in place to protect the quarterback.

The roughing the passer penalty is important for protecting a player in passing position from harm. When passing the ball, the body and limbs are open and especially vulnerable to injury. If a quarterback decides to run with the ball, he no longer has special protection that applies to passing position.


Roughing The Passer15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 to 25 Yards, Automatic 1st Down15 Yards, Automatic 1st Down

Penalty Signal

Football Penalty Signal Roughing The Passer

To signal a roughing the passer penalty, the referee begins with a right hand raised above their head and swings it down diagonally across their body.


  • Driving the quarterback into the ground or wrestling in a needlessly rough manner.
  • Tackling the quarterback after the ball has clearly been released.
  • Using the helmet or facemask to hit the passer.
  • Striking the passer on or below the knees.
  • Striking the passer's head or neck area.