If I Were Commissioner: Penalties (2 of 2)

The whole idea of this segment is to assume that I have complete authority over anything in the NFL, and what I would do to make the game even better than it already is. The next penalty that we're going to review and then fix is the defensive holding/illegal contact penalty.

After the AFC Championship game in 2003 in which the Patriots defeated the Colts, the NFL competition committee decided to take a greater look at the way defensive holding and illegal contact was being officiated. If you remember, in that particular game, the Patriots defensive backs were holding and getting extremely physical with the Colts receivers. The league apparently felt that the game was getting "uglied up", and legislated to the referees to place a greater emphasis on the defensive holding and illegal contact.

Beginning in 2004, the league instructed referees to call these penalties by the letter of the rule. The rule states that defensive holding is the use of the hands to hold or push an offensive receiver or back on a passing play beyond the first five yards past the line of scrimmage. Inside the five yard chuck zone, the defense may jam the receiver, but after that a penalty is called. Defensive holding results in a five-yard penalty on the offending team and an automatic first down.

Illegal contact penalties are defined simply as any contact with a receiver past five yards of the line of scrimmage. Illegal contact results in a five-yard penalty and also an automatic first down.

Ironically enough, in the 2007 AFC Championship game, the Indianapolis Colts secondary benefited from a lack of defensive holding and illegal contact penalties in the fourth quarter to defeat the New England Patriots and advance to their first Super Bowl since moving to Indianapolis. The team that the rule changes were meant to benefit, benefited from the lack of those particular calls.

I understand the need for a "cleaner" passing game in the NFL. More scoring tends to garner more interest, and more interest in the game is always a good thing. But here is how I would change the penalties. I would enforce those penalties the same way, but not make it five yards and an automatic first down. The penalty would simply be five yards. I believe that it is unfair for a defense to be penalized that harshly for possibly touching a receiver past five yards, and this rule change would be a greater benefit for defenses, which most rules are legislated against.


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