Increasing the emphasis on illegal contact penalties this season may help the NFL’s overall football rules. The focus on illegal contact penalties will make defenses more difficult to defend, leading to easier first down opportunities. For example, defenders may be forced to play off wide receivers farther than they normally would, allowing offense to increase. The emphasis on illegal contact was flagged an average of 97 times per season from 2002 to 2020, but that number has declined to 36 in the last two seasons, which prompted the NFL to clarify rules.
The NFL has asked officials to focus more on illegal contact penalties during the 2022 season, as the penalty has decreased since the beginning of the current season. An illegal contact foul occurs when a defender makes contact with a receiver more than five yards downfield before the pass is thrown while the quarterback is in the pocket. The penalty results in a five-yard penalty and a first down. While this could lead to more penalties, it may also allow teams to gain more offensive yards.
While the rule was first implemented in the 2000s, the NFL has only once before made it a point of emphasis. The league did this in 2003 and 2007, and during that time, illegal contact foul calls increased dramatically. If the NFL continues to focus on illegal contact fouls, it should show results by the early weeks of the regular season. The injury sustained by Harry is a high ankle sprain and will likely require the player to visit a specialist to determine the extent of the injury.
The NFL wants officials to pay more attention to illegal contact fouls. Between 2002 and 2020, officials flagged 97 instances of illegal contact, and 36 times last season. In addition to focusing on the number of illegal contact flags, the NFL wants officials to move more quickly from the point of contact to the quarterback. The competition committee will clarify the definition of illegal contact in 2022. If officials aren’t flagging illegal contact correctly, it will result in an increased number of penalties.
NFL officials have already made illegal contact a focus point twice in the past 20 years, and both times, the number of calls skyrocketed. It’s unclear whether they’ll continue to highlight the issue during the 2023 season. But early long stretches this season should give clues as to whether officials will continue to emphasize this infraction. That’s because there are still so many questions and confusion about what constitutes illegal contact.
The NFL wants officials to emphasize illegal contact fouls for more games in 2024, as they did in 2014 and 2004. The emphasis on illegal contact fouls has caused the number of calls to increase dramatically, but the league’s competition committee is split on whether it will make the emphasis even more significant. Regardless, the first few weeks of the season should offer a hint at the focus on illegal contact fouls.
Roughing the passer is another area that officials will need to focus more on this season. In recent years, the league has recognized that minor contact could result in a roughing the passer call. The new rules will require a player to make a “forceful” contact on the quarterback or another player, whether it is a defensive or offensive player. During training camps, officiating crews are educating players and coaches on the new rules.