The NFL last week sent out a memo and accompanying video to all 32 clubs by NFL Vice President of Officiating Carl Johnson, clarifying the rules regarding what is legal and not legal regarding defenseless hits on quarterbacks and receivers.
Listed below are the rules in written form. The video link is here.
1. When a quarterback runs an option and keeps the ball, he is a runner. He has none of the special protections given to a passer. Normal unnecessary roughness rules apply. It does not matter whether he is in or outside the pocket area.
If the quarterback on an option pitches the ball to a back, his only protection before or after the pitch is that provided under normal unnecessary roughness rules. He does not receive any of the special protections granted to a player who throws a forward pass while on the run. The back who receives the pitch does not have any special defenseless player protection.
2. When the passer goes outside the pocket area and either continues moving with the ball (without attempting to advance the ball as a runner) or throws while on the run, he loses the protection of the one-step rule and the protection against a low hit, but retains the other special protections afforded to a passer in the pocket. If a quarterback attempts to advance the ball as a runner, he loses all of the special protections of the roughing-the-passer rule. However, if he throws while on the run, he re-gains all the special protections except the one-step rule and low hit rule. If he clearly establishes a passing posture, he is covered by all of the special protections for passers.
3. When a quarterback retreats to pass, but brings the ball down and begins to advance as a runner, he no longer has roughing the passer protection, even when his path of advance is within the pocket.
4. When a quarterback retreats to pass, and moves in an attempt to avoid the pass rush, even if he is moving forward in the pocket he has roughing-the-passer protection until he clearly becomes a runner.
5. When a quarterback hands off to a runner and carries out his fake, his only protection is normal unnecessary roughness rules. Helmet-to-helmet contact is not necessarily illegal.
6. If a defensive player is blocked or fouled into the quarterback and violates any of the roughing-the-passer rules, it is not a foul unless the contact is avoidable. This is the same standard that applies for low hits.
7. A receiver who is attempting to catch a swing pass is a defenseless player, whether the pass is forward or backward. This also applies to screen passes.
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Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com