Why the new Roughing the Passer Rule May save the NFL

Many players and fans (myself included) have become frustrated this year when a defensive player seems to barely touch the quarterback and a roughing the passer is called. It seems as if the game that has been lauded for its toughness is becoming soft, which one would think would harm the league. The NFL is one of the most successful businesses of all time; the people who run the league aren’t stupid. So why haven’t they told the refs to lay off with the penalties?

It’s no secret to anyone that the past few years have been rough for the NFL. Viewership has been in decline at an alarming rate. However, the NFL ratings have actually been on the rise this year (around 2% up from last year), including last Sunday night’s game between the Patriots and the Chiefs tying the highest viewership rating every for Sunday night Football on NBC (despite the Red Sox playing at the same time). How can this be? Well one of the main draws to watch a football game is if it’s expected to be a shootout. This Patriots-Chiefs game is much more appealing to most people than a Bears-Ravens match-up would be. While old-heads still largely appreciate defensive showdowns, the younger fans want constant action, and this comes in the form of points. The NFL, by creating rules to protect the quarterback, generate more points. Through Week 5 this has been the highest scoring season in NFL history.

The new rule also serves to protect players. Recent years have been marred by injuries to star QBs such as Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and others. These names draw viewership. Monday’s game (despite ultimately being a great game) was far less desirable to watch than it would have been with Jimmy G. Diehards will watch no matter what, so it’s a matter of attracting the consumer who is not overly interested in the sport. Big names will do just that, and if the NFL can keep these players healthy and get them into prime time spots, they should be able to convert some non-fans who just happen to tune in.

So while many fans are upset with the new rules, it’s unlikely people will stop watching because of them. However, new fans may arise due to the new high-scoring style of play and the big name quarterbacks staying healthy. These last two years it’s seemed like the league was dying, so while fans may be upset with the penalties, they should be grateful that viewership is back on the rise and the sport we all love is here to stay.