There is an increasing amount of mobile quarterbacks that are coming into the NFL. As a result, teams are using more read option plays to get their quarterbacks on the move and make plays outside of the pocket. The defense is being taught to hit the quarterback at the mesh point regardless of if he keeps the ball or hands it off to the running back. As a result, quarterbacks are taking more and more hits. For that reason, the question has to be asked:
Does the NFL need to protect running quarterbacks more?
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino showed several read-option plays and spelled out when a quarterback who is in the act of running the read-option can be hit. “The quarterback can be hit like a runner until he’s clearly out of the play,” Blandino said in the video. Blandino also said that the standard unnecessary roughness rules apply if a quarterback is carrying out an option fake. He said that the quarterback is protected once he hands the ball off on an option play. “He is protected and cannot be unnecessarily contacted if he is backing up, fading backward or standing still.”
Obviously Colin Kaepernick is one of the more explosive quarterbacks when it comes to the read option. Jim Harbaugh spoke about how he feels excessive hits on the quarterback should be policed. He said:
“I believe that when a quarterback is handing a ball off or faking a ball, in the read-option case he’s reading on an option play, he’s as defenseless as a quarterback who’s in the act of throwing,” Harbaugh said. “And I’m not advocating that they don’t hit the quarterback if he has the ball, but when he’s in the pocket I believe there should be a strike zone. The same strike zone that is given to the quarterback when he’s in the pocket and throwing the ball.”
The NFL has done a lot to protect it’s marquee players. They have gone to extensive levels to protect quarterbacks within the pocket. Every game we see a call that is questionable when it comes to hits on the quarterback. I am sure 49ers fans can recall the penalty that was called on Ahmad Brooks when he hit Drew Brees and caused a fumble as an example. This something that we need to avoid and that is why it can get a bit difficult suggesting that more rules get implemented.
The most important thing is that quarterbacks protect themselves when running with the ball. Kaepernick has done an excellent job of avoiding big hits. He will slide or step out of bounds and prevent defenders from blasting him. Unfortunately, when he isn’t afforded that opportunity when he is in the pocket and executing the read option. I think that the roughing the passer penalties should be enforced when the quarterback is in the pocket. It is hard for the defender to tell who has the ball at the mesh point but if the NFL is going to make calls about hitting quarterbacks above the head or below the knees while in the act of throwing the ball, they need to protect the same quarterback when executing a hand off in the read option.