NFL Rules of the Game.

The best way to understand NFL footballis to know the NFL rules of the game. Players are always looking for opportunities to find an advantage that stretches the limitations imposed by the rules.

With players being intelligent, powerful, fast etc.. The NFL rules committee has to review the rules to make sure that the rules are up-to-date with players, coaches and the style of play that is happening on the football field.

Also, the frequency and severity of fouls can make a big difference in the outcome of a game, so coaches are constantly looking for ways to minimize the number and severity of infractions committed by their players.

The game of pro football is a hard hitting contact sport that requires the offense and defense to have balance of equality, safety, power, and action of the players on each team.

There are rules (OFFICIAL NFL RULES) and procedures to follow like in any sport and not following the rules will cause a penalty.

The team that gets called for a penalty looses yards, downs, a player can be thrown out of the game, a player can face suspension, and fined a large some of money.

The usually penalties are holding, offside, and interference.

Who Officiate the Game?

In the game the officials which are call referees aka, "zebra because of their black and white stripy shirts", will officiate the game and will call a penalty by throwing a yellow flag that is carried in the back pocket of each referee.

Flags are usually thrown when the football is snapped and the penalty is assessed after the play is over. It is a common misconception that the term "penalty" is used to refer both to an infraction and the penal consequence of that infraction.

What is a Foul?

A foul is a NFL rule infraction for which a penalty is prescribed. Most penalties are 5, 10 or 15 yards depending on the infractions.

NFL rules states, the team that has been offended can either accept the penalty and gain yards or decline the penalty and take the yards that were gained during the play which is more than the penalty yards.

Also, in most cases, if the foul is committed while the ball is in play, the down will be replayed from the new position (for example, if the offense commits a foul on a first-down play, the next play will still be first down, but the offense may have to go 15 yards, or farther, to achieve another first down.)

But if a defensive foul results in the ball advancing beyond the offense's first-down objective, the next play will be the first down of a new set of downs.

Some penalties (typically for more serious fouls), however, require a loss of down for the offense; and some defensive fouls may result in an automatic first down regardless of the ball position.

In all cases (except for ejection of a player or, in rare cases, forfeiture of the game), the non-offending team is given the option of declining the penalty and letting the result of the play stand (although the Referee may exercise this option on their behalf when it is obvious), if they believe it to be more to their advantage.

NFL rules states for some fouls by the defense, the penalty is applied in addition to the yardage gained on the play.

Most personal fouls, which involve danger to another player, carry 15-yard penalties; in rare cases, they result in offending players being ejected from the game.

Here's an example of a play where the offense threw a pass and gain 20 yards down field, but a penalty against the defense for being offside which is a 5 yard penalty.

So the coach of offensive chose to decline the penalty because his offense had gain 20 yards versus the 5 yard penalty.

In the NFL, if a defensive foul occurs after time has expired at the end of a half, the half will be continued for a single, untimed play from scrimmage.

What Does Half the Distance Means?

In the NFL, with 3 exceptions, no penalty may move the ball more than half the distance toward the penalized team's goal line.

These exceptions are defensive pass interference, intentional grounding, and offensive holding – but in this last case the exception pertains only if the infraction occurs within the offensive team's own end zone, in which case an automatic safety is assessed (intentional grounding from the end zone also carries an automatic safety).

Note: The neutral zone is the space between the two free-kick lines during a free-kick down and between the two scrimmage lines during a scrimmage down.

For a free-kick down, the neutral zone is 10 yards wide and for a scrimmage down it is as wide as the length of the football. It is established when the ball is marked ready for play.

No player may legally be in the neutral zone except for the snapper on scrimmage downs, and no one except the kicker and the holder for free kick downs.

Return to Top

NFL Football Rules | NFL Referees | NFL Officials | Football Penalties |

Football-Terminology |