Illegal contact penalties rise after NFL’s nudge


NFL officials threw 15 flags for illegal contact during the first week of the preseason, an elevated number that reflected the league’s request that officials pay close attention to those fouls.

The league does not compile public preseason penalty data, but the total is based on an ESPN examination of the week’s play-by-play logs. It represents a steep rise from 2021 trends, when officials threw only 36 flags for illegal contact for the entire 18-week regular season. It was also a significant bump from the average of 97 established annually between 2002 and 2020.

Illegal contact refers to prohibited contact by a defender when the quarterback still has the ball and remains in the pocket. It is a 5-yard penalty and results in an automatic first down.

The low 2021 total prompted the NFL’s competition committee to include illegal contact among its “points of clarification,” formerly known as “points of emphasis,” for the 2022 season.

League sources surveyed by ESPN were split on whether the wording of this year’s illegal contact instructions will lead to a spike in flags, as occurred after the two previous points of emphasis for the foul. In 2014, flags for illegal contact rose to 148 from 52 in 2013. In 2004, they rose to 191 from 79 in 2003.

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