Last year, Anthony Barr delivered a slightly late hit on Aaron Rodgers and ended up breaking the quarterback's collarbone.
Barr was not suspended or fined for the hit, and though he received his fair share of Internet hate from upset Packers fans, he didn't really suffer any consequences. If that hit happened this year, it would be a completely different story. Largely in response to Barr's tackle, the NFL has concocted a brilliant new rule that ignores the fundamental principles of gravity. Dubbed the 'body weight' rule, it asserts that the tackling player can't land on quarterback with the full weight of his (the tackler's) body. What it doesn't specify, however, is exactly how a defensive player is supposed to tackle someone without using his body weight.
Last year's NFL would have considered this tackle to be completely clean. This year, the league not only expects Grady Jarrett to completely stop his momentum the instant Nick Foles releases the ball, but also expects him to change the way he's falling to the ground after he's committed to the tackle. If you're confused, that's good. It means you're paying attention. Essentially, as outlined by the official rule, Jarrett is allowed to tackle Nick Foles in this scenario and everything about the play is legal until Jarrett lands on top of him. From the NFL's point of view, it's Jarrett's responsibility to, in the split second that he's hurdling towards the ground, completely change his trajectory and land softly on the turf next to Foles.
In the abstract world of rules sans context, i.e. an NFL owners' meeting, it's easy to see the appeal of the new body weight stipulation. If you have a star quarterback, the last thing you want is a 300-pound defensive tackle landing on him and cracking his rib cage. That said, this clip proves that roughing the passer is an umbrella term, one designed to separate quarterbacks from regular football players and widen the divide between the players the owners care about (skill position players) and the ones they don't (defensive players). As cornerback Richard Sherman puts it, the NFL is a "bottom-line business." Clearly the message the league is trying to send is "you can't hit the quarterback."
The closer you pay attention to the NFL's reactionary policies, the more Sherman's assessment seems to ring true. In this play, Myles Garrett clearly tried to pull off of Ben Roethlisberger, and his contact with him as they went towards the ground was incidental, not malicious. Still the penalty flag was thrown, and instead of having to kick a field goal, the Steelers were given a first down. They scored a touchdown on the next play. Garrett was penalized for tackling, which is apparently a 15-yard penalty now.
Is this new rule stupid? Yes. Did it fundamentally shift the outcome of multiple games this week? Also yes. Remember ladies and gentleman, the NFL has no legal nor spiritual obligation to make sense, and they certainly don't have to justify their rule changes (or these rules' conflicts with Newton's Laws of Motion) to me or you. As game-defining moments are increasingly decided by technicalities and minutiae, players will adjust to the new flow of play, and we'll slowly begin forgetting what the league was like when defensive players were allowed to tackle. Wholesome fans like you and me can pray that the NFL will reverse its decision, but it feels as though we're staring down the barrel of a future populated by inflated quarterback numbers and tepid defensive tackles whose muscles are just for show. Hopefully that doesn't happen, but it feels like the league is one stupid decision away from outlawing sacks altogether.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
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