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Lions avoiding flags under tougher roughing-the-passer rules

Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by Detroit's Eli Harold in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Many NFL fans across the country believe the league has gone soft in its latest quest to protect the quarterback. But Lions fans have yet to be flustered on game day by the league’s new point of emphasis.

The Lions, who are tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 sacks, have avoided any penalties for hitting the opposing quarterback. Teams are averaging 1.03 roughing-the-passer penalties this season, according to the NFL Penalty Tracker database.

Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews has been the poster boy for the calls, including his hit Sunday on Washington’s Alex Smith which drew a penalty.

“They’re trying to protect the quarterback, which is certainly a good thing,” Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “It’s a difficult call right now, but I’m sure as we work our way through, that it will become clear as to what the technique is that we have to use when we do sack the quarterback.”

According to ESPN, there have been 34 roughing-the-passer penalties this season, up from 16 through three weeks in 2017 and 20 in 2016.

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The rule has been on the books since 1995 that “the rusher must be making an attempt to avoid contact and must not continue to ‘drive through’ or otherwise forcibly contact the passer” while making a tackle.

The league's competition committee made the rule a point of emphasis this offseason that the defender is responsible for avoiding landing on the quarterback when taking him to the ground.

Pasqualoni wouldn’t take credit for the Lions being able to avoid the penalties.

“We’re not doing anything different than anybody else,” he said. “We try with great effort to stay within the rules and not land on top of them and not bodyslam them to the ground.

“I think defensive football is trying to make an adjustment now in the spirit of the rule and we’re working hard at it.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.