Bad Defensive Penalties Make Bad NFL Defenses

The NFL’s officiating on defense has made it harder for players to effectively execute defensive plays.

Specifically, controversial pass interference, unnecessary roughness, and roughing the passer have caused the outcome of certain games.

Pass Interference

Pass interference is a penalty that is called when a defender or a receiver is being hindered from catching the ball beyond the line of scrimmage, according to the NFL.

Plus, the ball must be catchable or in range for either the receiver or defender before the penalty can be called.

To hinder a player from catching the ball, the penalized player must do at least one of the following:

  • Playing through the back of an opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball
  • Grabbing an opponent’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass
  • Extending an arm across the body of an opponent, thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, and regardless of whether the player committing such act is playing the ball
  • Cutting off the path of an opponent by making contact with him, without playing the ball
  • Initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating separation.
  • Hooking an opponent in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the opponent’s body to turn prior to the ball arriving
  • Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent’s opportunity to make the catch.

Defensive pass interference can only occur from the time that the ball is thrown until the ball is caught or touched, according to the NFL.

DPI is one of the most detrimental calls to a team because it is a spot foul.

For example, if the offense has a ball on their 20-yard line and the penalty was called at the opposing team’s 40-yard line, then the offense would be placed at the opposing team’s 40-yard line.

That’s 40-free-yards given to the offense without making multiple plays to go down the field.

If pass interference was called on the opposing team’s offense, then the offense only has to move back 10 yards.

There have been some controversies when it comes to officials calling pass interference.

The most recent example would be Super Bowl LVI, where there was a pass interference call

The Los Angeles Rams were at the Cincinnati Bengals 8-yard line on a third-and-goal situation with 1:47 left in the game.

The Rams were down 20–16 and needed a touchdown to take a lead over the Bengals and win the game.

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson was tasked to cover Rams receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams snapped the ball and the ball was thrown towards Cooper on an in-route.

Wilson was able to deflect the ball before Cooper could catch it. However, the officials called a pass interference call for slightly touching Cooper.

Many people felt upset by this call because Wilson didn’t impede Kupp’s ability to catch the ball.

Even Though Wilson slightly touched him, he did not shove or grab Kupp when he was running his route.

If this play was not called, the Rams would have only one more opportunity on offense to score a touchdown.

Unfortunately for Cincinnati, that call gave Los Angeles a first down and they were four yards away from the end-zone.

Many players voiced their frustrations about this play on Twitter.

“Well I’m here to tell you it’s not that we as defensive players have a right to make plays on the ball as well and Wilson made a great play that was stolen away from him by an absolutely atrocious penalty,” said Green Bay Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell in a tweet. “He never once held or tugged on him, he was using his 5 yards to reroute him.”

LA Chargers receiver Keenan Allen also shared his thoughts.

“And there you go, the refs calls some bs…never fails,” said Allen.

What is even worse is that the officials didn’t address the call. Instead, they addressed a controversial non-call that benefited the Bengals.

In the first 15 seconds of the second half of the Super Bowl, Joe Burrow threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins.

This play should’ve been penalized because Higgins pulled on Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s facemask in order to create separation from Ramsey and catch the ball easily.

“The crew did not see any contact that warranted pass interference,’’ referee Ron Tolbert. “It was a contested catch, and the crew didn’t see any contact that rose to the level of pass interference.”

Unnecessary Roughness

Tackling is a major part of defense and from the early 2010s and years prior, the NFL allowed defenses to make big and hard tackles.

An example of prior NFL defenses would be this hit from retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on former NY Jets wide receiver Dustin Keller.

This hit on former Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady by Nate Clements was a legal play in 2001.

In today’s modern NFL, both plays would’ve been penalized.

Unnecessary roughness is creating unnecessary contact on a player that is in a defenseless position.

What determines a defenseless player is the following, according to the NFL:

  • A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass (passing posture)
  • A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner. If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player
  • The intended receiver of a pass in the action during and immediately following an interception or potential interception. If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.
  • A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped
  • A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air
  • A player on the ground
  • A kicker/punter during the kick or during the return
  • A quarterback at any time after a change of possession
  • A player who receives a “blindside” block when the path of the offensive blocker is toward or parallel to his own end line.
  • A player who is protected from an illegal crackback block
  • The offensive player who attempts a snap during a Field Goal attempt or a Try Kick

This penalty is a 15-yard penalty no matter if it was committed by the offense or defense.

However, there have been a couple of cases where the officials made some questionable unnecessary roughness calls.

Against the New York Jets, Bengals cornerback Ty Hilton made a tackle on NY Jets running back Ty Johnson. However, that was called an unnecessary roughness penalty because Hilton’s helmet connected to Johnson’s helmet.

“The line judge had unnecessary roughness — it was Cincinnati #21 (Hilton) and the foul was for lowering his head to initiate contact,” said referee Craig Wrolstad when asked about the call. “So that’s going to be a use of the helmet foul.”

The issue with this call is that Johnson lowered his shoulder while Hilton tried to make a leg tackle.

Johnson initiated the contact and the penalty should’ve been called on the Jets. Another option would be to not penalize anyone and let the play stand.

There was a similar situation that occurred between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

During a fake punt, Dolphins Punter Michael Palardy was running towards the first down market and Patriots running Brandon Bolden was trying to prevent him from doing so.

While running, Palardy slid on the turf. At the same time, Bolden was preparing to make a tackle and slightly touched him.

Bolden was penalized for that play. Bolden shouldn’t be penalized because he couldn’t control his momentum making the tackle while Palardy was giving himself up too late.

Bolden’s teammate, James White, stated that Palardy wasn’t even touched.

Bolden also said that he didn’t touch the punter, according to Patriots Wire.

“I went in there, and I was trying to get the ball off of him,” Bolden said. “But I did not touch him at all. That’s just how it goes sometimes — ball don’t bounce your way every time. They call what they call.”

Roughing the Passer

Roughing the passer is a penalty that is used to protect the quarterback. It penalizes players who caused unnecessary contact towards the quarterback.

That includes hitting the quarterback below the knees and hitting him way after the ball was released from his hands.

This is a 15-yard penalty and it results in an automatic first down for the offense. However, this penalty is very flawed because it over-protects the quarterback.

In this play, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray threw the ball and was slightly pushed by Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

Jackson was flagged on that play. That was a terrible call because Jackson was pushed into Murray and Jackson slightly shoved him.

That is a legal play and many fans reacted online.

In a game between the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team, Washington’s defensive tackle, Chase Young, tackled Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and landed on top of him.

To avoid a sack, Jones threw the ball away. However, it didn’t matter because Young was penalized for that play.

According to the NFL, players can’t put their full body weight on the quarterback while tackling the quarterback in the backfield.

This rule defeats the purpose of sacking a quarterback because it is nearly impossible to do.

Players cannot manipulate their body to the point where their body weight doesn’t doesn’t land on the quarterback while making a tackle.

That rule has to be eliminated.


There are some possible solutions for some of the rules.

For starters, eliminating the body weight rule when tackling a quarterback will bring back the players ability to be more physical towards opposing quarterbacks.

However, the most effective thing that the NFL can do is fine the referees.

For too long, the officials were able to get away with making terrible calls that can change the outcome of games.

If the league holds the officials accountable, then there will be fewer mistakes.



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