Zebra Talk : Illegal Forward Pass

football, rules, forward pass

Did you all see the A Football Life documentary on the forward pass? If you haven’t it’s definitely one to add to your watch list for a great piece of NFL history. Because really, can you even imagine what the league would be like today if the forward pass was still illegal?

It would be rugby, pretty much.

So we are all very thankful for the evolution of the forward pass. But not all forward passes are legal. There is still such a thing as an illegal forward pass.

An illegal forward pass happens when: a) a pass is thrown in front of the line of scrimmage, b) a pass is thrown after a change of possession, or c) a pass is the second forward pass thrown on one play.

Let’s unpack that a little.

A) A pass thrown in front on the line of scrimmage

This actually happened on Monday Night Football this past week. Russell Wilson, in a feat of pure ingenuity, found a way to lob a pass over to an open Marshawn Lynch for a first down. The only problem was that Wilson was in front of the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass, which resulted in some yellow laundry on the field for an illegal forward pass. The quarterback has to be behind the line of scrimmage, the imaginary starting line where the ball is placed, when he is throwing a forward pass.

b) A pass thrown after a change of possession

Let’s say a defensive back picks off a pass intended to go to the wide receiver he’s covering. That’s an interception, which is a change of possession because as soon the defensive back catches the pass for an interception he becomes an offensive player trying to score. He was once defending against the offense trying to score, now he is the offense trying to score. Change of possession. But after he picks off the pass and runs toward his opponent’s end zone he can’t find an open teammate downfield and chuck the ball to him. That’s a pass thrown after a change of possession, and that’s illegal.

c) A second forward pass thrown on one play

It’s cool for the quarterback to throw a forward pass to an eligible receiver while he’s standing behind the line of scrimmage. It’s not cool for him to throw it forward to another offensive player and then for him to throw it forward to another eligible receiver. That’s a second forward pass thrown on a single play, which constitutes an illegal forward pass.

So: a pass thrown from behind the line of scrimmage to an eligible receiver? Good. A pass thrown in front of the line of scrimmage, after a change of possession, or for a second go-round on one play? Not so good.

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