“And Brady – a ton of time. Finally a little pressure is put on. But that enables Amendola to get free. However, there is a flag on the play.”
That passage of commentary happened about half way through the final quarter of the Week 14 game between the New England Patriots and the Dallas Texans. And it’s a situation that’s quite common this year with 14 yellow flags thrown on average per-game. According to ESPN, this is one of the highest per-game averages since 1970.
So given that penalties are such a big part of the game this year, let’s take a look at the most common penalty flags being thrown.
This is the most common flag throw so far this year. It’s called when an offensive player uses his hands or arms to restrict a defenders path or passage. This means a defender cannot be taken to ground, twisted, turned or dragged. The result is a 10 yard penalty and replay of the down.
— NFL Football Ops (@NFLFootballOps) December 14, 2015
This is the second most common penalty so far in 2015 and it’s also a ruling against the offensive team. Once the ball has been set for play, offensive players who have taken position cannot move until the ball has been snapped. The intention is to stop any attempt from the offensive team to draw the defense offside (explained below). The penalty is five-yards and the down is replayed.
This is similar to offensive holding, but obviously ruled against the defensive team. Defenders cannot hold or tackle a player who does not have possession of the ball. However, defenders are able to initiate contact within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Likewise, defenders can use their hands or arms to protect themselves from impending contact but they cannot use this contact to advantage. Unlike offensive holding, the penalty is only 5 yards, however it does result in an automatic first down for the offensive team.
Defensive Pass Interference
Another defensive foul, it’s enforced when a defender inhibits a player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Basically, a defender cannot make any significant contact with a player before they have caught the ball which restricts them from catching the ball. The result is an automatic first down at the place the penalty occurs, or on the 1 yard line if it occurs in the end zone.
— Andrew Foote (@amkfoote) November 30, 2015
The fifth most common yellow flag thrown this year is for unnecessary roughness. This is often called as a consequence of the ball carrier being hit or tackled after play has stopped or after he has stepped out of bounds. But this can also be called against the offensive or defensive team anytime officials believe excessively rough tactics were used. For example leading a tackle with your helmet (known as spearing) or targeting the opposing player’s head while attempting to tackle them. The consequence is a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down.
— Ryan (@RyanAnnan) September 7, 2014
This is like a false start but it occurs when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. However, the player may backtrack without penalty if the ball isn’t snapped, they don’t make contact with any offensive players, and they don’t cause a false start. A recent trend for some of the best offensive lineman is to false start “on purpose” when a defender crosses into the neutral zone in order to leverage the additional yards. As you can imagine at times this can get very confusing for the referees and they are forced to make a judgement call on who jumped first. The penalty is five yards.
Neutral Zone Infraction
This is very similar to a defensive offside, but it’s called when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage and causes a false start. The penalty is again five yards.
On neutral zone infraction prior to the snap, isn't the offensive line supposed to have an instantaneous ju… https://t.co/ZjcVq6YzsF
— Tom Freakin' Brady (@NEPatsFanInCA) January 12, 2015
Common NFL Penalties – You Make the Call
The NFL has released this fun little tool. You look at a real-time passage of play, hear the official’s call, then you can replay it from the different video angles and decide if a challenge on the decision was upheld, or if the ruling on the field stood.