Zebra Talk : Ten Common Penalties (Part I)

football, rules, penalties

Here’s the post a lot of you have probably been waiting for most in this series: ten common NFL penalties explained in terms that won’t make you want to poke your eyes out. This should prove to be tremendously helpful the next time a whistle blows and a yellow flag hits the turf.

Originally I put all of this info into one post…but it got so long that I feared it might make you go back on the statement above and actually poke your eyes out. So let’s tackle this over the course of two days!

We’ll start with these pre-snap penalties…or several variations of the same foul with the same penalty with four different names because why not make life complicated?

False Start (offense – 5 yards, replay down)

Players on the offensive line have to come to a complete stop for at least one second before the ball is snapped. When a player on the offensive line crosses the line of scrimmage or makes any sudden movement prior to the snap of the football, it’s a false start.

*One member of the offense is allowed to be “in motion” prior to the snap. You’ve seen this happen when a running back or wide receiver runs across the back of the formation to take a new position – totally legal. However, if he moves forward prior to the snap after arriving at his new position, it’s an illegal motion penalty.

Offsides (defense – 5 yards, replay down)

For nearly all intents and purposes, offsides is a false start call on the defense. If any member of the defense moves suddenly or crosses the line of scrimmage prior to the snap, it’s an offsides penalty. (To remember which one goes with which side, associate the “start” part of false start with the offense, since they are the ones “starting” the play.)

Encroachment (defense – 5 yards, replay down)

Encroachment is when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage prior to the snap and makes contact with an offensive player. One would think that a foul that is slightly different from the offsides call would also carry a slightly different penalty, but one would be wrong.

Neutral Zone Infraction (defense – 5 yards, replay down)

You know when someone jumps over the line and both sides are pointing to the other side to assign fault? That’s funny usually a neutral zone infraction: when a member of the defensive line moves offsides and causes a member (or members) of the offensive line to false start.

*Just a note: the offense can, and often will, try to do a legal version of this to draw the defense offsides. It usually happens in a critical 3rd or 4th down situation. The quarterback will fake like he’s about to take the snap in an attempt to get one of the defensive linemen to jump offsides. As long as none of the members of the offensive line false start, this act is as legal as the day is long.

Those four are the most likely offenders prior to the snap – tomorrow we’ll get into the wild world of live action penalties. It’s going to be a blast! See you all then!!!

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