what is roughing the passer in football

What Is Roughing The Passer In Football?

The act of passing in football is important and plays a key role in the passing plays. The passer in a game of football is usually the quarterback who throws a forward pass. So it makes sense to protect the passer in football.

So, what is roughing the passer in football? Roughing the passer in football is a foul where a pass rusher makes unnecessary contact with a quarterback in a passing position.

It’s a personal foul where a pass rusher illegally hits a quarterback after he has just completed a forward pass. It is a rule designed to protect the quarterback from pass rusher hits that can cause injuries.

Looking to learn more about roughing the passer in football? Keep reading below.

What is the Roughing the Passer Rule in NFL?

Roughing the passer rule in the NFL is an illegal contact made on a quarterback after the ball is thrown or passed forward. The rule is very clear on the protection of a quarterback.

It specifies that any contact with a passer can cause serious injury. Due to this, the roughing rule applies, protecting the passer benign roughed up.

There should be no physical contact against a passing player before, during, and after passing. Consequently, even when they are tackled, players should avoid landing on the passer with their entire body weight.

Additionally, defensive linemen should not hit the passers on the neck and head. But referees will always check and ensure the passer’s legs, ankles, and knees are not hit. Most of these hits, when they happen, cause soft tissue injuries.

Overall, the rules prevent rushers from making unnecessary tackles that ground the passer. The defender should not plunge or initiate a roll that hits a passer below or above the knee. 

defense vs offense american football

After passing the ball and standing or fading backward, the passer should not be contacted as he is out of play. He can only be tackled after he becomes a runner or blocker.

The passer can lose his protection when he moves out of the pocket area and advances forward or attempts a throw while on the run.

When roughing the passer in football, the referee will call it an award or a penalty. Let’s dig deep and see what happens when you rough the passer.

What Happens When You Rough the Passer?

If you happen to rough the passer, a penalty of 10 or 15 yards is awarded, depending on the league. There is also the first automatic down.

In the National Football League, a 15-yard loss penalty is a punishment for a rough on the passer, with an automatic first down. It is a rule enforced to help protect passers who are vulnerable to injuries while in the air.

Heading into the 2022 season, the NFL tweaked some of its rules on roughing the passer. The aim was to reduce the amount of roughing the passer penalties.

New rules take into consideration incidental contact with arms on the neck, head, and knees. Going forward, incidental contacts will not lead to a passer roughing penalty.

What Is The Penalty for Roughing The Passer

The penalty for roughing the passer is a 15-yard loss and a first automatic down. It is a crucial penalty that protects the quarterback from harm.

If the foul on the quarterback is serious, then the referee can also disqualify the player.

What Is The Penalty Signal for Roughing The Passer

The penalty signal for roughing the passer sees the referee raise the right hand above the head. The referee will then swing the hand down diagonally across the body.

football player passing the ball

It’s a simple signal that most players understand with a 15-yard loss taking place.

What is the History of Roughing the Passer?

The history of roughing the passer dates as far back as the 1930s. Changes in the football games to allow more passing was to make the game more entertaining.

By the year 1940, passing from any point of scrimmage was allowed. Among the rules introduced was roughing the passer. A 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer was put in place.

Examples of Roughing the Passer

Roughing the passer incidents in football can cause serious injuries to quarterbacks. In the 2009 season, the NFL added a provision on low hits. I can illustrate this with an example of a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots.

In the game, Benard Pollard rushed at Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, hitting him in the knees. It was a dangerous tackle that tore his ACL. Brady would spend the rest of the season burning the injury.

A second example took place in 2017 when Anthony Barr hit Rodger, landing on him with his full weight. Rodgers landed on his right shoulder, breaking his collarbone.

Rodgers missed the rest of the season, and his injury led to what we now call the Aaron Rodgers rule.

american football player with ball tackled

Which Quarterback Has the Most Roughing the Passer Calls

Matt Ryan is the quarterback with the most roughing the passer calls at the age of 44. He ranked 10th overall in the year 2010.

Is Roughing the Passer a Dead Ball Foul?

Roughing the passer is not a dead-ball foul but a first automatic down pass. The penalty is a 15-yard loss with an automatic first down.

When Did Roughing the Passer Become a Rule?

Roughing the passer became a rule in 1940 when the league legalized passing from the line of scrimmage. It occurred after all penalties from incomplete passes was removed and more rules were added to football.


Roughing the passer in football is illegal and can result in a 15-yard penalty with a first automatic down. The passer who is the quarterback in a team needs protection when throwing or making a forward pass. Serious injuries can occur when a passer is tackled while in the air.

The NFL rules on roughing the passer have evolved over the years to ensure safety while making the game entertaining. Some of the latest rules allow for incidental contact without necessarily giving a penalty.

If you are a player ready to try this skill, you have all the information in this write-up. As rules keep changing, we will help you understand the concept better to guide your football career.

Related Article: What is roughing the kicker in football? Continue reading to learn more about what it is and the answers to frequently asked questions.

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