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Breaking Down J.J. Watt's Roughing The Passer Penalties, And Why He Does Not Deserve A Fine

J.J. Watt had an absurdly high nine quarterback hits on E.J. Manuel, but two of those hits might end up lightening his wallet. Here is why the JuggerWatt does NOT deserve to be fined for either one of his drive-extending personal fouls against the Bills.

Scott Halleran

The Texans' defense beat up on the Bills' offense for much of the first quarter on Sunday, allowing zero points in the game’s first fifteen minutes. Fortunately for Buffalo, however, two of their first quarter drives were allowed to be converted on second or third and long due to multiple uncharacteristic roughing the passer penalties against J.J. Watt – both of which came because of alleged low hits on the quarterback. I went back and looked at both of these penalties to see just what the hell happened, and why the Bills were given two free first downs just when the Texans had seized momentum.

1st Quarter – 10:30 – 3rd and 13

The Bills were backed up to their own 17 yard line after a Jared Crick sack (which was caused by a Watt pressure), and decided to call a middle screen to C.J. Spiller from an empty formation. Center Eric Wood and right guard Erik Pears were tasked with releasing to the second level (and thus releasing J.J. Watt) to get out in front of Spiller after the catch.


From the low angle, we can see Watt coming into frame on the right side as he attempts to bull rush his way through Pears on his way to E.J. Manuel.


Watt gets low and reloads again to get another hard push on Pears just as Pears starts his release.


Watt, already leaning forward in preparation for the bull rush, starts to stumble as Pears lets him go untouched.


Watt does his best to keep himself balanced, but his momentum is carrying him too far forward. He instead starts to try to launch himself laterally off of one foot to preserve what inertia he still has left.


Though Watt comes in lower than his preferred target area, he still hits Manuel square in the thigh as he releases the ball.


The fifth provision of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 ("Roughing The Passer") of the NFL Rule Book says:

"A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him."

Not only did Watt make initial contact on Manuel’s thigh – not his knee – but the only time in which Watt’s shoulder was even touching Manuel’s knee was as he fell on top of Watt.



Was the hit hard? Yes. Was it a little too close for comfort? Yes. Was it intentional, or even illegal? No.

I can understand the refs throwing the flag while watching the play full speed. It was a bang-bang hit and reaction with no benefit of instant replay, after all. What I would not understand, however, is if Watt were fined for a hit that upon closer inspection does not appear to violate any actual rules.

Only two Buffalo possessions later, however, Watt’s wallet would be put at risk once again.

1st Quarter – 01:03 – 2nd and 10

Buffalo is again running a screen pass to a running back right behind Watt, yet this time rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson is tasked with blocking #99 through the entirety of the play.


Naturally, Watt starts working the edge against Henderson immediately before getting under him with a textbook rip move.



Henderson, who lost the edge almost instantly, pushes Watt in the back to try to get him on the ground.


Watt is again off balance and moving laterally without any way to really stop or redirect himself into a higher target area.


Manuel absorbs a helmet to the thigh at full speed once again.  More importantly, Manuel's mostly extended legs take the brunt of the impact from Watt’s shoulders and arms. If any of Watt’s hits had a chance of doing serious damage, this was probably it.



As with the first penalty, I do not blame the refs for flagging this one based on where Watt hit, how fast he hit, how little time any of the officials had to make a judgment call, and the fact that knees bending in the wrong direction is something that generally should be avoided. However, just as with the first penalty, I would take major issue with this hit resulting in a fine. Watt was pushed, got off balance, and ended up in the quarterback’s legs. It happens. Nothing about either of these two penalties was intentional, and it would behoove the league, the fans, and every player involved to realize that nothing shady transpired here.

UPDATE (10/03/14): The league did not find this cogent analysis convincing.

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