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Football Penalties and Football Penalty Rules

Football Penalties List

American football is full of penalties, given the dangerous and complicated nature of the sport. Football penalties might at times seem arbitrary and confusing to someone just learning the game of football, since similar penalties might be assessed different yardage. While many penalties are 5 yards, an interference penalty down the field is assessed at the spot of the foul, and might give an offense an extra 50 yards of field position.

Football penalties are generally assessed by the amount of advantage it gives to one side or the other, the amount of risk it places one or more players on the field and the intent of the player committing an offense. In the aforementioned interference penalty, it’s assumed that the defensive player committing this foul is trying to prevent a touchdown. If only 5 yards and a first down are assessed for such a foul (as it is in college football), the defenders would be encouraged to tackle receivers who are likely to catch the ball and go for a touchdown.

Given that football penalties and the football penalty rules have evolved over a hundred years of organized American football, most of the rules of football make a certain sense, once you understand the intent behind the rule. Here’s a comprehensive list of the football penalties.

Five Yard Penalty

These penalties are considered lesser, because they neither endanger another player’s health or they are not attempting to give a team an unfair advantage in player (such as interference to save a touchdown or holding to save a sack). I’ll break down the five yard penalties according to the type of unit which commits these penalties.

Five Yard Penalties – Offense

Five Yard Penalties – Defense

Five Yard Penalties – Special Teams Units

Five Yard Penalties – All Units

Automatic First Down

Offenses are awarded an automatic first down, except in the case of penalties which are considered lesser in offense. Since penalties like offsides and delay of game are among the most common penalties, these 11 instances account for a large percentage of football penalties.

The following 8 penalties do not result in an automatic first down.

Note: At one time, there was a 5-yard penalty in this category called “incidental face mask”. Because of the subjective nature of the ruling, the NFL changed the rule in the last year or so, making all facemask penalties 15 yards.

Five Yards and Automatic First Down

Combination Penalty – Five Yard Penalty and Loss of Down

10 Yards Penalties

Ten yard penalties in football are not dangerous to other players on the field (except in case of tripping/illegal blocks), but are not considered as egregious as the 15-yard penalties. Usually, the players committing these fouls tend to be trying to cover up a missed assignment on their part, either protecting their quarterback from a sack or a desperation move to avoid a touchdown.

10 Yards and Loss of Down (Combination Penalty)

New rules were instituted to give quarterbacks a better chance to get rid of the ball. If the quarterback is outside of the pocket (or outside where the offensive tackles lined up), he can legally ground the ball, if he gets it near the line of scrimmage. How close he must throw the ball to the line of scrimmage (or beyond) is a judgment call by the line judge.

15 Yards Penalties

These plays tend to be dangerous in nature, such as the much-hated “chop block”, where one blocker engages a defender up top, while another dives at the defender’s legs (perhaps attempting to cause a knee injury). Others fall into the bad sportsmanship category and are enacted to keep children from being bad sports, or to keep NFL players from influencing children with their unsportsmanlike behavior.

Some of these penalties are more extreme versions of lesser penalties. While the 5-yard running into the kicker penalty doesn’t incur an automatic first down, the roughing the kicker penalty is 15 yards and an automatic first down. “Running into” is meant to protect a kicker as he’s in a precarious position with one foot raised to the air, and involves any contact. “Roughing” involves a deliberate attempt to injure or intimidate the kicker, but a blatant run at his exposed leg.

15 Yards and Loss of Coin Toss Option

15 Yards (and disqualification if flagrant)

15 Yards and Automatic Disqualification

Suspension From Game – For One Down Only

Palpably Unfair Act Explained – A touchdown is awarded for a “palpably unfair act”, such as running off the bench to tackle an opponent streaking to the end zone.



This entry was posted on Monday, October 12th, 2009 at 1:05 pmand is filed under Football. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Football Penalties and Football Penalty Rules”

  1. Sam says:

    I’m going to print this one out and keep it next to the EZ chair when I’m watching the games. Very handy reference material. Thanks, Football Babble!

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