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What Are The Most Common Penalties In NFL Football?

What are the most common penalties in NFL football

The game of football is known for its wide variety of distinctive penalties, which are most-commonly signaled by the on-field referees throwing small yellow flags into the air. Football players and fans alike both love and dread seeing a flag come out, depending on which team they think committed a foul. But many may often wonder: which penalties are the most common in NFL Football? Here, we will take a look at the penalties that are given out most often on the football field, breaking down what they mean, when they are given out, and what their consequences are.

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Most Common Football Penalties

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.

Encroachment

Definition: A member of the defense crosses the line of scrimmage before the center has snapped the ball to the quarterback.

Result: The offense is allowed to move down 5 yards towards the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.

False Start

Definition: A member of the offense moves out of his set position before the center has snapped the ball to the quarterback.

Result: The offense must move back 5 yards away from the end zone, as measured from the line of scrimmage.

Holding

Definition: A player holds or grasps another player who is not carrying the ball.

Result: 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.

Offside

Definition: A member of the defense is not on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.  

Result: 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.

Pass Interference

Definition: Imagine 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.

Result: 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.

Targeting

Definition: A 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.

Result: 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.

Tripping

Definition: A player intentionally trips another player.

Result: 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 from the line of scrimmage.

Unnecessary Roughness

Definition: This 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.

Result: 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 Conduct

Definition: This encompasses a broad range of unsportsmanlike behavior, such as verbally abusing another player or a referee.

Result: 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.

FAQ

What is the most common penalty in football?

The most common penalty in football, statistically, is offensive holding. Offensive holding is a penalty that occurs when an offensive lineman grabs onto a defensive player, impeding him from moving freely. Offensive holding typically results in a 10-yard penalty, but does not result in a loss of down. In the 2021 NFL season, a total of 676 offensive holding penalties were called in the NFL, resulting in a total of 6,542 yards lost. The Dallas Cowboys were the league leader in offensive holds in 2021, with 34 holding penalties called against them that season, across 18 games.

What is the easiest penalty to commit in football?

While there is not really a definitive answer on what penalty is easiest to commit in football, two very easy penalties to commit include holding and offsides/false starts. Holding is an easy penalty to commit, as players are constantly grappling with each other, which can make it easy for instinct to take over, resulting in one player grabbing and holding another. As for offsides and false starts, players can easily fail to pay attention to their position on the field, and also want to react to the snap as soon as possible. Therefore, they can often misjudge their timing and move too quickly, resulting in a false start.

How many penalties occur in an average NFL game?

In 2021, an average NFL game featured just under a dozen penalties per game. This means that over the 60 minutes of regulation playing time, there was a penalty called once every five minutes or so.

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