Ask the Official: February 18, 2013
With the advent of the read/option offense and QB versatility, there exists a theme among defensive players to hit the QB as much as possible. Is it permissible to tackle the QB to the ground after he has handed the football to another player? The thought being as long as the QB has the ball in some form of movement, the defense can consider him as a running back. Thank you. – Joe M.
I agree that in this age of running QB’s and option offenses, there is increased likelihood that the QB may become the target for multiple unwarranted and illegal hits possibly leading to injury and being taken out of the game.
In this instance, the Referee, who is responsible for protecting the QB, must read whether the defense had a reasonable expectation that the QB still has the ball (i.e., has he continued his fake in a manner in which he still indicates that he may have the ball) or whether the QB has made it clear that he is no longer in possession of the ball, typically by showing the defense that both hands are empty.
The situation puts an extra burden on the Referee and, unfortunately, a 15-yard penalty will not mean much if a late/illegal hit puts the QB out of the game. Given the instructions provided to the officials, you can expect that they will err on the side of conservatism and call penalties if there is the slightest indication that such a strategy is being followed. However, this is one reason why traditionally running QB’s and option offenses do not tend to last too long in the NFL.