D-Gaps: QBs more protected than ever?

After a number of questionable roughing the passer penalties in big spots in Week 11, the chorus of those claiming that the league's overbearing attempts to protect the quarterback are ruining the game has been louder than usual. The argument is familiar: given officials' hypersensitivity to any contact of the quarterback, defenders are being penalized far too often for hits that wouldn't have drawn a flag just a few seasons ago. Whether or not officials are correctly applying the NFL's rules to protect QBs is a matter of opinion, but whether or not the number of roughing the passer penalties has increased is a fact, albeit one that is open to interpretation.

Roughing The Passer
Penalties Called
Through 11 Weeks

Nine players were flagged for treating the opposing team's QB a bit too forcefully in Week 11, tied with Week 2 for the most roughing the passer calls in a week this season. Entering this week's games, there have been a total of 57 roughing the passer penalties, up slightly from the total though 11 weeks in 2009 (54) and more sharply from 2008 (39).

But those who fondly remember a time just a few years ago when referees kept their flags in their pockets for all but the most egregious infractions are mistaken. Entering Week 12 of the 2006 season, there had been 66 roughing the passer penalties called. The year before, there had been 72. From Week 1 to Week 11 of the 2004 season, players were flagged for roughing the passer 97 times, 70% more often than this year!

Harrison fills up stat sheet

James Harrison

HarrisonThe flag James Harrison drew for his hit on Jason Campbell in the Pittsburgh Steelers' win Sunday (negating Ike Taylor's pick-six) might have been the only mistake he made all day. The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year finished the game with five tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.

He is the first player with a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in the same game since Kawika Mitchell in Week 16 of 2007. In fact, it's Harrison's second such game over the last four seasons. All other players have three such games combined.

Browns defense not to blame

The Cleveland Browns' 24-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars dropped the Browns to 3-7 and likely extinguished Cleveland's postseason hopes (no 3-7 team has ever reached the playoffs). But it would be tough to hang the loss on a Browns defense that forced six turnovers, its most in a game since 2002. Cleveland's offense turned it over just once, making the Browns the first team to lose despite a turnover margin of plus-five or higher since the Buffalo Bills in Week 5 of the 2007 season.

Cleveland has actually lost two of its last three games with that great a turnover differential, dropping a 24-10 decision to the Tennessee Titans in Week 12 of 2000. Prior to that game, the Browns were a perfect 25-0 when finishing plus-five or better in turnover margin in the post-World War II era. Paul Brown would not be pleased.