Thursday, April 18, 2019

So there is this book. I call it it The Most Boring and Outright Ridiculous Book of Crap. Others call it the NFL Rulebook.

I cut and pasted it into Microsoft Word for a little light researching one day. It was over 24 pages long. Single spaced. I lost interest after the table of contents. So instead, I will just give you a few of the most common.

For even more rules, head to NFL Rules at


One quick thing before I dig into this. Sometimes after a foul you hear the refs say “The Penalty is declined.” I never could understand that!  If the other team f’ed up, don’t you want them punished? Here’s the deal: For every foul–rule breaking–there is a penalty attached to it. When there is a foul called on one team, the other team has the option of accepting or declining the resulting penalty. For example, let’s say it’s third down and the Cardinals are on the 50 yard line. The Steelers rough up Cardinals QB Kurt Warner and gets a roughing the passer call. That’s a no-no and they would get a 5 yard penalty—meaning the Cardinals get to move 5 yards closer to the goal and get to redo the 3rd down.

Great! Who would decline that? You avenge your Qb and move closer to scoring!

Well, see, sure he got beat up BUT on the same play, Kurt Warner completed an amazing pass 15 yards down the field to Larry Fitzgerald.

  • If they accept the penalty they would be on the 45 yard line but it would be third down.
  • If they decline the penalty, they would be  on the 35 yard line and it would be first down.

Does that help at all? If not feel free to email me for more details. Or go look it up somewhere else!



So in football there are (a million) rules…. and then there are penalties assessed for any rule breaking.

For example, each team can only have 11 players on the field. If they have too many men on the field, there is a 5 yard penalty given to the team that broke the rule. You’ll be surprised just how many times you see this called!

There are two kinds of penalties: against the offense or against the defense.

If the call is:

Against the offense: the yardage is now attached to their original goal. Meaning if they were first and ten and got a five yard penalty, they are now first (or second) and 15.

Against the defense: the yardage is now taken away from the offense’s original goal—or they get to move farther down the field.


Penalty Assessment:

Penalties will always be either 5 yards, 10 yards or 15 yards.

However, if the team is in within 10 yards of the goal line, you may hear the announcers say “Half the distance to the goal.” This means the team gets to move half way closer to the goal line, no matter what the penalty normally is. Why? Well let’s say they were on the 2 yard line and there was a 5 yard penalty called. If they were to move forward five yards they would be in the end zone! So instead, they found a fair way to assess the penalty.

The penalty may also include an Automatic First Down, regardless of what down they are currently on. If the violation doesn’t have an Automatic First Down (like offsides, delay of game, more than 11 players on field….) then they refs will say: “repeat [insert current number down here] down”

The Common Rules & Penalties

There are dozens of others than the ones listed here. These are just the ones that seem to be the most common! Feel free to check out all the rest at Wikipidia’s Football Penalties.

Holding (Offense or Defense): One player literally holds the other player so he can’t move, block a play, or catch a pass. This is the most common penalty in football.

Offensive: 10 yard penalty

Defensive: 5 yard penalty, automatic first down

Delay of Game: (Usually Offense), 5 yard penalty

If the offense fails to snap the ball before the play clock runs to zero, they get a delay of game penalty.

Too Many Men On the Field/Illegal Substitution 5 yard penalty

Each team can only have 11 men on the field. They are allowed to subsitute players at will, but the players must be completely off the field before the next ball is snapped. Quarterbacks will sometimes deliberately hurry up the offense to snap the ball, knowing the defense has another man on the field trying to get off.

False start (Offensive) 5 yard penalty
Never really understood this one even though every game I’ve ever watched seems to have this happen. The best answer I could come up with was from Wikipedia saying it’s “a sudden movement of the offense in an attempt to draw the defense offsides.”

Freaking great. Still no idea what that means or why it’s bad.

Here’s the deal. Prior to the snap of the ball, the offensive team must come to an absolute stop for at least one second with no movement of hands, feet, head, or swaying of body.

Once the players are in position on the line of scrimmage, the offense is not allowed to move or “fake out” the defense until the ball is snapped. If they do, they get a false start. If they were first and ten before the foul, they would now be first and 15.

F.A.Q.: “It seems like in every play there is a guy blatantly running behind the line before the snap. How come he doesn’t get called for a false start?” Well, because almost all the offense has to be stationary. One back is allowed to move and switch sides. Why? He is special…..

But: if he is moving forward at the start of the snap, he will get an illegal motion call.

Interesting Wow Factor Fact: The signal the referees use for a false start in football, is the same as the “traveling” call in basketball. Traveling is an illegal offensive movement on the court!

False Start vs. Off-sides vs. Encroachment vs. Neutral Zone Infraction vs. Illegal Formation

Behold the subtle nuances of football rules and penalties. All four are pretty much the same thing…. but they aren’t.

For all intents and purposes, Offsides is the defensive version of a false start. Offenses can be called for an offsides violation but its rare and complicated…..of course.

  • Off-sides (defensive) 5 yards, repeat the down
  • Encroachment (defensive) 5 yard penalty.
    Same as off-sides but the defensive player has contact with the offensive player before the start.
  • Neutral Zone Infraction (defensive) 5 yard penalty
  • If a defensive player moves off-sides and causes the offense to false start, it’s a Neutral Zone Infraction.
  • Illegal Formation: (offense) There must be exactly seven players lined up on the offensive line of scrimmage for at least one count before the ball is snapped. If not, then it is an illegal formation.


Pass Interference (Defensive, usually): Automatic first down & down begins at spot of the foul.
The defense touches, tackles or in any way impedes an offensive intended receiver from receiving a catchable pass before the ball has been touched by any other player. If the ball has been touched—all players are fair game!

Offensive Pass Interference results in a 10 yard penalty against the offense, meaning they have to move back 10 yards from where the penalty play began.

Intentional Grounding (Offensive) 10 yard penalty and loss of down.
When a quarterback gets scared is about to be sacked, sometimes he tries to throw the ball away because if he is sacked, the ball will be placed where is taken down, losing yard. If he throws the ball without an intended receiver in the area, he is intentionally grounding the ball because then the ball will be returned to the line of scrimmage.

Ineligible receiver -(Offensive) 5 yard penalty.

Offensive lineman are not allowed to catch passes. Why? No idea. But they are supposed to only be there for decoration to block.  If they do catch the ball or run down the field in an attempt to receive a pass, there is a penalty.

The Big No-Nos

Face mask (offensive or defensive): usually 5 yard penalty but p to 15 yards depending on the severity of the facemask infraction
Dangerous play where the opposing player grabs the facemask of the opposing player to stop him

Roughing the passer and roughing the kickers: (Defensive) 15 yard penalty This is when a defensive player makes contact with the quarterback or kicker after the ball has been thrown or kicked. Basically once the ball is put into play, the QB and kicker are defenseless since their blockers are following the ball so it’s a huge violation to touch them. Running into the Kicker, however, if if was unavoidable contact, is only a 5 yard penalty.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Offensive or Defensive) 15 yard penalty.

Taunting, gesturing, abusive language, making snow angels……This is a very vague rule. It’s supposed to be if one player sets out to intentionally hurt another player—verbally, not physically— but it extends to other weird violations.

If it is physical unsportsmanlike conduct, it is a Personal Foul on the player the committed the foul. The League will sometimes fine the player depending on the severity.

Excessive Celebration: Back in the day there were end zone dances and all sorts of fun things after touchdowns but now it’s considered unsportsmanlike and delays the game so the league has a No Excessive Celebration Rule.

Chop Block: (defensive)15 yard penalty. Player is tackled from behind or was hit below the knee when they are not carrying the ball. Major penalty as it endangers the general health of the blocker

Horse Collar Tackle 15 yard penalty

Grabbing the inside of shoulder pads or the jersey from behind to pull a player down.

Now you are fully prepared to scream “BAD CALL! REF YOU SUCK” during the game and actually feel confident saying that!

About the author: Jennifer Taglione is the owner of this fabulous website Stiletto Sports. Despite writing well over 500 posts, she still maintains that she is not a sports writer! She is however a huge fan of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Mark Sanchez, the Celtics, and totally kicks butt on March Madness brackets! Connect with her by following her on Twitter @StilettoSportsJ and subscribing to her weekly newsletter. For more info check out the About the Editor page!

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7 Responses

  1. RJ Eischeid Said,

    Love this!!! Very helpful and to the point:)

    Posted on December 31st, 2010 at 3:44 pm

  2. laura Said,

    You need to make an app!! You are awesome!

    Posted on October 2nd, 2011 at 10:03 am

  3. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Thank you!! I am actually in talks to develop one soon. Which I was cool enough to do one without help but unfortunately, I’m not 🙂 I’ll keep you updated!

    Posted on October 2nd, 2011 at 12:13 pm

  4. Shamshrita Said,

    It has helped me a lot to know about football. IT’S AWESOME

    Posted on October 29th, 2012 at 2:20 am

  5. Matthew Said,

    should add on intentional grounding that if the quarterback is out of the pocket they are allowed to throw the ball away. Intentional grounding is when the qb is trying to avoid a sack and is in the space behind the center.

    Posted on January 5th, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  6. Lisa Said,

    Very nice article. Thank you. Found the answer to my question & got a chuckle or two. 😉

    Posted on September 28th, 2014 at 7:54 pm

  7. Stiletto Jen Said,

    Buy spotify plays and also buy targeted instagram followers

    Posted on September 16th, 2018 at 9:19 pm

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