Interfering with a player’s ability to catch the ball is both an offensive and defensive penalty.
In general, this penalty is called when a player physically blocks their opponent from making the catch.
It is legal to swat away the ball or maintain body position to break up a pass. It is illegal to contact the opponent so that he is unable to move on the ball.
A defensive pass interference penalty is a first down at the spot of the foul, whereas an offensive pass interference penalty is ten yards from the previous spot.
For more information on offensive passing penalties, read about quarterbacks catching their own passes or the relatively rare illegal use of hands.
Interference with a Defensive Pass
The most common of all pass interference penalties is defensive pass interference. Defensive pass interference is often referred to as DPI.
It can only be called when the quarterback has thrown the ball but has not yet caught it.
As opposed to offensive pass interference, which can be called from the moment the ball is snapped up until it is caught.
Pass coverage is Something a Defensive Player cannot Do
According to the NFL rulebook, there are seven different acts that can result in a defensive pass interference penalty.
- Restricting the ability of an opponent to catch the ball while not playing it.
- Making a play on the ball through the back of an opponent.
- Catching the opponent’s arm so they can’t catch it.
- The act of extending your arm across the body of an opponent in order to hold them back.
- Blocking an opponent’s path to the ball through contact.
- The act of hooking an opponent so that they turn around.
- Pushing or shoving an opponent to gain more separation.
Rulebook Sections 5 and Article 2 of the NFL
In the event a defensive player commits any of these acts after the ball has been thrown, a defensive pass interference penalty should be assessed.
Usually, the NFL will not call this penalty when the contact severely hinders the player’s ability to catch the ball.
According to the rulebook, the penalty will not be called if the officials are unsure whether the contact was incidental.
How a Defensive Player can Help
The NFL rulebook contains a list of actions that result in a defensive pass interference penalty as well as permissible actions for defenders.
NFL rules outline five actions that don’t lead to a defensive pass interference penalty.
- As both players go for the ball, their hands, arms, or bodies may come into contact.
- As a result, the player’s feet become tangled
- An uncatchable pass was interfered with by a contact that would normally be pass interference
- A hand that does not interfere with an opponent’s ability to catch the ball
- Attempt to catch the ball by contacting a player who has gained position on an opponent
NFL Rulebook, Section 5 Article 3
All of the acts above are legal and will not result in a DPI penalty. Though these actions may appear as interference, the rulebook clarifies that they are not.
Interference with an Offensive Pass
When an offensive player interferes with a defensive player’s ability to catch the ball, offensive pass interference is called.
As soon as a pass is thrown in football, both offensive and defensive players are entitled to receive it.
The offensive pass interference penalty can be called from the moment the ball is snapped until the moment it is caught. This is unlike the defensive pass interference penalty, which can only be called when the ball is in the air.
What an Offensive Player can’t Do on Passing Plays
The officials will use the same reasoning to determine whether to call offensive pass interference penalties.
Players will be monitored for the same seven actions that earn defensive pass interference penalties as well as for one additional offense-only penalty.
Offensive pass interference occurs when a receiver makes the following actions.
- Restricting an opponent’s ability to catch the ball while not playing it.
- Making a play on the ball by running through the back of an opponent.
- Holding an opponent’s arm so they cannot catch it.
- You extend your arm across an opponent’s body to hold them back.
- The act of cutting off an opponent’s path to the ball through contact.
- Hooking an opponent and causing them to turn.
- Using a push or shove to gain more distance from an opponent.
- The act of blocking a player one yard past the line of scrimmage before a pass is thrown
Section 5 Article 2 of the NFL rulebook
If a player blocks an opponent more than one yard down the field before a pass is thrown, that is offensive pass interference.
OPI penalties will be assessed if an offensive player commits any of the above actions.
What an Offensive Player can do on Passing Plays
It was necessary for the NFL to develop a list of actions that do not constitute offensive pass interference penalties in order to make things more clear for officials.
The five permissible acts are the same ones that determine whether a DPI penalty should be imposed.
An offensive player may perform the following actions.
- A player’s hands, arms, or body come into contact with another player’s during an attempt to get the ball.
- A player’s feet get tangled by accident
- Pass interference that is uncatchable but would normally be pass interference
- Interfering with an opponent’s ability to catch the ball by laying a hand on them
- In order to catch the ball, contact an opponent who has gained position on you
NFL Rulebook, Section 5 Article 3
Pass Interference in the End zone
It is a common question among football fans what happens when pass interference penalties occur in the end zone.
In the event of a defensive pass interference in the end zone, a first down will be awarded and the ball will be placed at the one-yard line.
It is only when the offense is already inside the two-yard line before that play that the ball is not placed at the one-yard line.
Hence, the offense will move the ball half the distance to the goal, which would place them inside the one yard line.
In the case of offensive pass interference in the end zone, the offensive player will be moved back ten yards from the previous spot.
This penalty is also often looked up by football fans because the rules have changed.
It was announced in 2019 that all offensive and defensive pass interference penalties would be reviewed.
In addition, teams will be able to challenge plays where they think there should have been a pass interference penalty, but there was not.
There were many NFL fans who thought this made sense, especially after the missed call between the Saints and Rams in the playoffs.
As a result of the changed rule, the game actually moved slower, as teams were more likely to use their challenges.
In addition, it was much easier for fans to determine whether a play was a penalty or not.
NFL officials have decided not to continue using replays on pass interference calls after just one year of use.
You can learn more about pass interference penalties in football by checking out our guides on illegal touching penalties and illegal forward passes.