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What Are The Most Common Penalties In NFL Football?

In the past three seasons, the five most common penalties have finished in the same order of occurrence:

  1. Offensive Holding
  2. False Start
  3. Defensive Pass Interference
  4. Defensive Holding
  5. Unnecessary Roughness

Other common penalties include encroachment, offside, targeting, tripping, and unsportsmanlike conduct.

PenaltyMeaningPenalty (NFL)
EncroachmentA member of the defense crosses the line of scrimmage before the center has snapped the ball to the quarterback.The offense is allowed to move down 5 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.
False StartA member of the offense moves out of his set position before the center has snapped the ball the quarterback.The offense must move back 5 yards away from the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.
OffsideA member of the defense is not on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Unlike other offenses, where the referee immediately stops the play, when an offside occurs, the play is allowed to continue. At the end of the down, the offense is then given the choice to move down 5 yards towards the end zone from the initial line of scrimmage and restart, or to just continue the game. The option that the offense chooses will depend on how successful the down was.
HoldingA player holds or grasps another player who is not carrying the ball.If committed by a member of the offense, the team must move back 10 yards away from the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.If committed by a member of the defense, the offense will be allowed to move down 5 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage. The offense will also be given an automatic first down from this new line of scrimmage.
Pass InterferenceImagine that player A is passing the ball to player B. Pass interference would occur if player C makes contact with player B before the ball is touched, or vice versa.Defensive Pass Interference is much more common than Offensive Pass Interference.If committed by the defense, the offense will be given an automatic first down from the spot where the foul occurred.If committed by the offense, the team must move back 10 yards away from the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.
TargetingA member of the defense tackles an offensive player by grabbing any part of the body above the neck, such as the helmet.A player intentionally bangs his helmet into another player's helmet. The offending player will be immediately suspended from the game, and the other team will be allowed to move down 15 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.
TrippingA player intentionally trips another player.If committed by the defense, the offense will be allowed to move down 10 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage. The offense will also be given an automatic first down from this new line of scrimmage.If committed by the offense, the team must move back 10 yards away from the end zone, as measured form the line of scrimmage.
Unnecessary RoughnessThis encompasses a broad range of physical contact considered unnecessary and excessive for the purposes of the game, such as chasing after and tackling a player who has run out of bounds.If committed by the defense, the offense will be allowed to move down 15 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage. The offense will also be given an automatic first down from this new line of scrimmage.If committed by the offense, the team must move back 15 yards away from the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.Furthermore, depending on the severity of the "roughness," the offending player may be ejected from the game or be given a 15-year personal foul.
Unsportsmanlike ConductThis encompasses a broad range of unsportsmanship behavior, such as verbally abusing another player or a referee. If committed by the defense, the offense will be allowed to move down 15 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage. The offense will also be given an automatic first down from this new line of scrimmage.If committed by the offense, the team must move back 15 yards away from the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.A personal foul is also issued to a player guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct.


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