NFL clarifies roughing the passer rule to 'ensure consistency'

Defensive players shouldn't change despite roughing penalties (1:36)

Darren Woodson, Adam Schefter and Tedy Bruschi all agree a lot of the roughing-the-passer penalties can't be avoided by defensive players. (1:36)

The NFL has issued a clarification on its much-debated roughing the passer rule after three weeks of outrage from players, coaches and fans. The anticipated result, according to executive vice president Troy Vincent, is to "ensure consistency in officiating the rule."

Referees have thrown 34 flags for roughing the passer this season, more than twice the total over the same period in 2017, in part due to a point of emphasis against defenders landing on quarterbacks with all or most of their body weight. Officials have interpreted that point of emphasis in noticeably different ways, at times resulting in penalties for hits that appeared all but impossible for defenders to avoid.

In a statement, Vincent announced that the NFL competition committee had sent a video to teams that would clarify legal and illegal hits against the quarterback. The video, also released publicly, showed four examples of hits that will still draw a foul -- including one that broke the collarbone of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last season.

In each instance, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said that flags would continue to be thrown when there is "no attempt" by defenders "to break their fall" when they land with all or most of their body weight on a quarterback.

The examples of legal hits showed players rolling off to the side of quarterbacks, or employing the "gator tackle" technique in which the quarterback is pulled over the defender. The video did not cover the most controversial calls this season, including two against Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

Vincent's statement did not explicitly say the league hopes to reduce the total number of roughing the passer penalties. But he issued a similar clarification Aug. 22 of the league's use of helmet rule after officials threw 51 flags for it in the first 33 preseason games. Penalty totals dropped dramatically thereafter, and there have been only four flags for the helmet rule during the regular season.

Matthews said Thursday that he read the statement and watched the video.

"I don't know if that statement really expresses how they're going to call it moving forward," Matthews said. "I'm sure what many, if not all of NFL fans and players, are hoping is that they're not changing the rule but much like the helmet rule we saw in the preseason, it'll change. But I said that after the Minnesota hit on Cousins, and nothing changed last week. If that's the case, that's truly unfortunate because I think I speak on behalf of everybody that doesn't like the rule and the way it's being called and the way it's being officiated."

Matthews said he was not fined for Sunday's hit on Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, meaning he was not fined for any of his three roughing penalties this season.

He also said he spoke with Packers president Mark Murphy, a former NFL player who is a member of the NFL's competition committee, and coach Mike McCarthy about whether he needed to change the way he plays.

"That's the biggest thing is, from speaking with Mark, Coach Mike, my position coach, everything, it's not to change a thing," Matthews said. "I just think somehow you need to program something in your head that when you're coming with those straight-on hits with the quarterback, to pick a side, maybe go after the ball. Those are going to be the tough ones. As a pass rusher, most of your sacks -- that's not true."

ESPN's Rob Demovsky contributed to this report.