Most Common Penalties in (American) Football

For all of you “newbies” to football, when watching a game, you may be thinking that just about anything goes. This is football, after all. However true, there are rules that need to be followed and when an offending player commits an infraction, his team must be penalized.

In the NFL, when a player commits a penalty, the Referee announces the penalty to the whole world. He will announce what the penalty is, and who it is on. For example, he will say something like, “Holding, number 74, Offense”. This tells everyone that number 74 on the Offense committed a holding penalty. In the NFL, you can run, but you can’t hide. When a player commits a penalty, the Referee (or one of the other Officials that spotted the infraction) tosses a yellow “FLAG” (which is really a weighted down hanky) into the air. So, anytime you are watching a game on TV and you see or hear the word “FLAG”, you will know that a player committed a penalty. While there are a number of different penalties that players can commit, I am only going to mention the most common ones. Here they are:

– False start – this occurs when a player on Offense (usually an Offensive Lineman) moves or flinches before the ball is snapped. This is usually a pretty easy penalty to spot. It usually occurs because a player is trying to get a jump on his opponent before the play starts and inadvertently moves before the snap. False start costs the Offense five yards.

– Holding – this occurs when a player grabs hold of his opponent in an illegal manner. While it may appear that holding occurs on just about every play, the Officials must pick and choose their battles. Usually, unless it is pretty obvious, the Officials will let this go. Holding costs a team ten yards if it is on Offense, and five yards and an automatic first down if on the Defense.

– Offsides – usually occurs on the Defense, but an Offensive player may be Offsides as well. Offsides occurs when a player (other than the Center) has any part of his body in or beyond the neutral zone when the ball is snapped. The neutral zone is the area between the lines of scrimmage (or, the length of the ball when it is on the ground at the start of a play). Offsides costs a team five yards.

– Encroachment – this penalty is similar to Offsides in that a player enters the neutral zone before the snap, but on this penalty, he makes contact with an opposing player. The penalty on this is five yards.

So, when watching the game, look for these common penalties. Pretty soon, you’ll be calling them before the Officials.

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