49ers cornerback Richard Sherman has an idea to solve the controversy surrounding the slew of penalties for roughing the passer.
“My suggestion was to put flags on the quarterbacks,” Sherman said Thursday. “If you don’t want them touched, don’t want them knocked down, these D-ends and D-tackles and linebackers have long arms so they’ll be able to snatch these flags off without touching these guys half the time, so whenever they’re ready to move to that, I’m sure defenses will appreciate it.”
The league is emphasizing keeping quarterbacks healthy this season, which has become the hot-button issue during the first month of the 2018 campaign. Through four weeks, referees have flagged 38 roughing-the-passer penalties compared to 21 over the same span in 2017.
The emphasis has been to penalize defenders for landing with their body weight on quarterbacks, which played a role in Packers star Aaron Rodgers busting his collarbone last season, causing him to miss the final 12 games. Ironically, the Packers have been hit with a league-leading five roughing penalties, with star pass rusher Clay Matthews earning three in three different games.
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The league has also made it a point to flag defenders for leading with their heads when tackling, which hasn’t been called at nearly the rate it was during the preseason.
It has come with some unintended consequences. Teams throughout the league, including the 49ers, have struggled with tackling, perhaps because players have the new rules in the back of their minds while trying to bring ballcarriers to the ground.
“It all plays into it,” Sherman said. “This is what the league wanted, though. They want record passing numbers. You’ve got an average quarterback, the average quarterback’s passer rating is like 92 and that used to be Hall of Fame numbers. And now it’s not Hall of Fame numbers, that’s the average quarterback. You can’t touch him. You can’t tackle him. You can’t hit him high, can’t hit him low. You can’t knock him down to the ground hard … all that.”
To Sherman’s point, the 228 passing touchdowns through the first four weeks of the regular season are easily the most in the Super Bowl era, according to NFL Research. Second most: 205 in 2013.
And there have been a league-record 12 instances of quarterbacks throwing for 400 yards in a game over the first four weeks, including five in Week 4, the most in any week in NFL history.
“It’s making it really difficult on teams to combat it because every rule in the book is designed to make sure you don’t get them stopped,” Sherman said. “Whether it’s the roughing, illegal contact, the roughing is the biggest one right now. Most of the tackling rules have changed. They’re just trying to make it impossible for guys to play defense. And, you know, it is what it is. You can block a corner at the line of scrimmage, but you can’t put your hands on the receiver past 5 yards. It’s an interesting league we play in.”
Much like the 3-point shot has played a role in the offensive evolution of the NBA, the rules governing the physicality in the NFL are leading to increased scoring. The 3,030 points through the first month are also the most ever.
“The amount of points and yards that are being put up are unbelievable,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “I don’t know if I want to attribute it to (rule changes) or if it’s offenses being more creative. I know the quarterback play is getting a lot better, but the skillset is a lot better and there’s a lot of creativity in the league right now. It’s a challenge, for sure, especially with some of the stuff that’s showing up.”
The 49ers enter Sunday’s game against the Cardinals allowing 29.5 points per game, the sixth most in the league. They’ve done so while playing some of the league’s most potent offenses: the Vikings (390 yards per game, 12th), Lions (391, 11th), Chiefs (410, eighth) and Chargers (404, ninth).
Arizona (0-4) on Sunday will be giving rookie quarterback Josh Rosen his first career road start. The Cardinals enter the game scoring a league-low 9.3 points per game. They benched their season-opening starter Sam Bradford following their loss to the Bears Week 3. They averaged 190 yards during their first three weeks.