The NFL has done a lot to protect quarterbacks from taking big hits, but those rules have also led to some brutal penalties for hits that seem perfectly within the laws of the game. Green Bay Packers LB Za’Darius Smith appears to be the latest to draw a roughing the passer penalty for having the audacity to hit a quarterback as he’s getting ready to throw the ball.
This is roughing the passer...because he didn't just grab his flag. pic.twitter.com/ECCJW46TF7— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 12, 2021
To make matters worse, the Packers intercepted New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston in the endzone on this play. Green Bay was down 24-3 at this point and could’ve used the big return off the turnover to potentially make it a two-score contest.
Smith comes in a few tenths of a second after Winston releases the ball, doesn’t lead with his helmet and doesn’t hit Winston in the head or neck area with excessive force. Keep in mind this is a linebacker going at full speed and still managed to follow the rules for a textbook clean hit. Unfortunately, the quarterbacks are too heavily protected these days for Smith’s hit to be considered legal.
The Packers had similar bad luck years earlier when Clay Matthews got Vikings QB Kirk Cousins late on an interception. That game ultimately ended in a tie. The Packers were already getting dominated by the Saints and likely weren’t going to come back even with the interception, but this penalty encapsulates just how tough it is for defenses to stop quarterbacks in the league today.