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 that is throwing a pass. The primary reason this penalty is in place is to protect the quarterback from harm, as they are vulnerable to injury when vulnerable after a throw. Roughing the passer usually results in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the offense.


A roughing the passer penalty occurs when a defensive player makes unnecessarily rough or late 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 released 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 quarterback after the pass. The one-step rule states that a pass rusher may only legally contact a passer up until they have taken one step after releasing the ball. If the passer has taken more than one step, the rusher must attempt to avoid contact.

During a sack, the pass rusher must attempt to break their fall rather than landing on the passer with their 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, the roughing the passer penalty 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 a 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 the passing position.


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

In most leagues and situations, roughing the passer results in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. In the CFL, if roughing the passer is committed by a direct blow to the quarterback’s head or neck with the offender’s helmet, the penalty is upgraded to 25 yards.

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 towards their opposite arm. They will then point towards the defensive team’s end zone, indicating that it was the defense which committed the penalty, and will name the offending player by their jersey number.


  • Driving the quarterback into the ground 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.


What is roughing the passer in football?

Roughing the passer is a penalty in football that occurs when a rushing defensive player makes illegally rough or late contact with an offensive player that is passing the ball (typically the quarterback). Quarterbacks are put in a vulnerable position when they get sacked and roughing the passer rules are in place to help prevent injury during sacks. The penalty for committing roughing the passer is a loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.

Can you rough the passer after they have left the pocket?

According to NFL rules, if a quarterback or passing player leaves the passing pocket and becomes a runner, they lose the special privileges afforded to them as a passer, including the ability to be subject to a roughing the passer penalty. Once a quarterback leaves the pocket, any legal tackling method is now within the realm of possibility for the defense, aside from those that would constitute unnecessary roughness regardless of the player involved.

Can you challenge roughing the passer in football?

You cannot challenge roughing the passer in football. This penalty is a personal foul, and no fouls are allowed to be challenged in the NFL. However, a coach may challenge the spot of the foul and the manner in which the penalty is enforced.

Which quarterback has drawn the most roughing the passer penalties?

Matt Ryan, currently with the Indianapolis Colts, is the NFL quarterback who has drawn the most roughing the passer penalties. Since the 2009 season, Ryan has benefited from 56 roughing the passer calls. In close second is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is now retired. Between 2009 and his retirement, Fitzpatrick got 52 roughing the passer calls. Although some fans call out Tom Brady for getting overly favorable penalty calls, he has only received 33 roughing the passer penalties during the same time period.