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NFL hopes it has found the proper balance on roughing-the-passer calls

Early-season furor surrounded a pair of roughing-the-passer calls made on the Packers' Clay Matthews. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — The furor over roughing-the-passer penalties on NFL defensive players has calmed in recent weeks, and league leaders said Tuesday they’re hopeful they’ve found the proper balance in how the rule is officiated.

“Every time we’ve ever emphasized a rule, you’re going to see in the preseason and you’re going to see in the first five or six weeks [of the regular season], you’re going to see more calls,” said Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s rule-making competition committee. “And you’re going to see adjustment of play accordingly. And then you’re going to see a leveling out of calls. And I think that’s what should happen.”

The competition committee addressed the owners Tuesday on the opening day of a two-day owners’ meeting. The roughing-the-passer penalties were among the topics covered.

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“The league hasn’t batted one thousand and it said they didn’t bat one thousand getting them all right,” McKay said during a break in the meetings. “But I don’t think as a committee we’ve ever apologized for trying to protect players that we think are in the most vulnerable state. The quarterback, the way the quarterback’s feet are set in the ground and the hits they take and the fact that they have no momentum at the time they take them, has always been something we’ve emphasized and will continue to emphasize.”

The competition committee, at the behest of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, met via conference call and intervened after there were 34 roughing-the-passer penalties called in the first three weeks of the season. There was strong sentiment among committee members at the time that the roughing-the-passer rule was not being officiated as the committee intended. The committee issued a clarification of the rule without making any formal change to it.

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Since then, the number of calls made under the rule has declined. Some defensive players around the league have remained dissatisfied. But the public outcry has quieted.

“After the [competition committee’s conference] call, after watching the video, the committee and our coaches [said] if you don’t see the complete play, we ask that you leave the penalty [flag] in your pocket,” said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.

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