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Bucs’ Mike Smith on the best defense against roughing the passer

 
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked in the second quarter by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 in Tampa. JIM DAMASKE  |   Times
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked in the second quarter by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 in Tampa. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published Sept. 29, 2018

CHICAGO  — Somewhere Al Davis is rolling over in his jumpsuit.

The late Raiders owner is known for his defensive doctrine: the other team's quarterback must go down and he must go down hard.

But when it comes to hitting the passer, the NFL has gone soft.

It's all Aaron Rodgers' fault. In a game last October, he was driven into the ground by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, breaking his collarbone.

In an effort to protect their biggest stars, the league reacted — or perhaps overreacted — by implementing Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 of the NFL rulebook saying a defensive player may not unnecessarily or violently throw the QB down or land on top of him with some of most of the defender's weight.

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Ironically, nobody has been hurt more by the rule than Rodgers' Packers teammate Clay Matthews.

In Week 1 against Minnesota, Matthews was called for roughing the passer after he drove Kirk Cousins to the ground on a play that would've resulted in a game-sealing interception.

The penalty extended the drive, which ended with a tying touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in a game that ended tied, 29-29.

Last week, Matthews was flagged again he tackled Washington's Alex Smith in a Packers loss.

That prompted ESPN's Monday Night Football analyst Booger McFarland to tweet, "If I'm Clay Matthews, I would just pick the QB and carry him off the field and sit him on the bench.''

Already, the strike zone on quarterbacks has shrunk from above the knees to just below the neck. Now this.

Of course, one of the fears among defensive linemen is that they're going to pull up on their pass rush in an effort not to get a penalty. In fact, Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes tore his ACL trying to avoid landing on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Four days later, the NFL released a instructional videos trying to clarify the new rules.

"Now we've put in this physics thing that when you make contact, you're supposed stop and I don't know how a 280-pound guy is going to stop when it's a split-second," said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, whose unit twice was called for roughing against Pittsburgh.

"We're talking about the ball getting out in 2.6 seconds in some passing situations and if you're not there in 2.58, the ball is off. If you're there in 2.55, you've got a sack. …

"There's a lot of people who are frustrated, including me," Smith said. "It's tough because you want to be able to tell guys as a coach, this is how it's going to be called.''

Smith says falling on the quarterback is unavoidable given the speed of the game. So the Bucs, who play Sunday at Chicago, are focused mostly on hitting the strike zone on the quarterback and not too concerned with the newest rule.

"Again, we've got to teach the guys how we've been teaching it,'' Smith said. "There's a target, you run through that target. If you take more than one step and make contact, so be it. I can't tell a pass rusher in terms of you're going full speed and when you make contact, let up. It's physically impossible. We say in coaching, 'that's board talk. That's not the real thing.' There's a lot of people working on it and hopefully we will be able to get it cleared up because it's been an issue in the first three games of the season.''

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud