A penalty called when a defensive player makes illegal contact with a quarterback. Defensive players are not allowed to make more than mild contact with the quarterback once he has released a pass, or any contact with the head of a quarterback whether or not the quarterback is in possession of the ball. A roughing the passer penalty results in a fifteen-yard penalty and an automatic first down. In the event the penalty occurred on an offensive play that gained yardage, the penalty is assessed from the end of the play.
Roughing the Passer is a penalty intended to protect the quarterback from dangerous hits. The quarterback is in a very vulnerable position after he attempts a pass, and the penalty helps reduce injuries that can cripple a team's chances due to the important nature of the quarterback position. Defenders are given a reasonable amount of time to make contact with a quarterback after release of the ball since it is impossible for a player to alter their momentum instantaneously. Defensive players have to be cautious when they attempt to sack a quarterback though, because the large amount of yardage and automatic first down can be crippling to a defense.