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Football Defensive Pass Interference Penalty

Football Defensive Pass Interference Penalty

Defensive pass interference is a penalty committed by the defense in the sport of football. It occurs when the defensive players significantly get in the way of an eligible player's chance to catch the ball." Players on offense and defense can be called for pass interference, but this page will only cover the defensive side of the penalty. In the NFL the penalty for pass interference is automatic first down at the spot where the foul occurred.


In order for this penalty to be called on a particular play, there must be a forward pass that comes from behind the line of scrimmage. It does not need to pass the line of scrimmage or be a legal pass for pass interference on the defense to be called. Defensive pass interference can only occur from when the ball is in the air to when it is first touched; contact made by defensive players outside this time range is not considered defensive pass interference.

The single most common form of defensive pass interference comes in the form of contact; this could mean shoving a player to create space, holding a receiver's arms so they cannot make the catch, or cutting off the path of the wide receiver by creating contact. All of these would be considered defensive pass interference and result in a penalty for the defense. The best way to ensure as a defender you will not commit pass interference is to limit contact with the receiver and instead to either knock the ball out of the air before it reaches the receiver or knock the ball out of the hands of the receiver once they touch the football.

The contact should be intentional and if there is any sign that the player's actions were accidental, there should be no penalty for defensive interference.


In the NFL and AFL, the penalty for a defensive pass interference call is an automatic first down from where the foul occurred. If this penalty occurs within the end zone the ball is placed at the one yard line. Unlike the NFL and AFL, the NCAA and the CFL have made a new rule setting the maximum number of yards a team can gain from this penalty to 15 yards. This reduces the impact that defensive pass interference can have; in the NFL, this call makes a huge difference in who wins a game as field position can shift in second. In high school football, the penalty simply results in a 15 yard penalty with down replayed.

Defensive Pass InterferenceSpot of the Foul, Automatic First Down15 Yards, Spot of Foul, Automatic First Down, Maximum of 15 Yards from Previous Spot15 YardsSpot of the Foul, Automatic First Down, Maximum of 15 Yards from Previous SpotSpot of the Foul, Automatic First Down

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal defensive pass interference

To make the defensive pass interference signal, the referee will raise both arms to their chest with their palms facing out, then make an outward pushing motion. The referee will then point with their hand to which side of the ball the inference was made by, in this case the defense.


  • The defensive player makes contact with the offensive receiver and restricts the receiver's ability to make the catch.
  • The defensive player hooks the offensive receiver and causes the receiver's body to turn prior to the ball arriving.
  • A defensive player extends their arm across the receiver's body, redistricting the offensive player's ability to raise their arms up to make the catch.

Similar Penalties To Defensive Pass Interference