While there is no statistic available, there is likely no element in all of professional sports more table-flip-inducing than this trio of defensive penalties. In recent years, the enforcement of these penalties has become more strict, blurring the line of what is a penalty and what is not for fans watching in-person and at home. So, with more of these penalties being called than ever before, what do they even really mean?
Defensive Holding: Called 386 times in 2014 (73 more times than in 2013), defensive holding is the most common of the three infractions. Basically, this is when a defensive player uses his hands to pull and hold an opposing offensive player who does not have the ball. The result of the play is a five-yard penalty on the defense and an offensive first down.Illegal Contact:
Sometimes referred to as "Illegal Touching," this penalty was a major emphasis last offseason. As a result, it was called 102 times in the regular season, nearly three times more than it was called in 2013. This is when a defensive player (most often a cornerback, safety or player in coverage) interferes with an offensive receiver more than five yards away from the line of scrimmage. Like holding, the result is a five-yard penalty and first down.
Defensive Pass Interference: More so than the two listed above, pass interference is more of a judgment call by the officials. It is called most often when a defensive player makes contact with an offensive player before the receiver touches the ball AND that contact inhibits the offensive player from making the catch. This can be accidental tripping, grabbing the arms, or making contact without turning to look for the ball. Pass interference can only be called when the receiver could reasonably have caught the ball. The penalty results in an automatic first down and the offense gets to spot the ball at the yard-line where the foul occurred.
Recent changes to these rules and a heavier emphasis on enforcing them has led to more being called, which could also be viewed as a cause for the recent surge in offensive performance, particularly in the passing game.
Bottom line: these calls are very often the subject of much Monday morning water cooler talk and causes a fair amount of head-scratching from time to time for every level of fan from beginner to casual to diehard. But that is why we love the game.