According to recent reports, the NFL is cracking down on illegal contact fouls against quarterbacks for the 2022 season. A league spokesperson confirmed to ESPN that the NFL has requested that officials pay closer attention to the rule.
During the 2021 season, flags penalizing illegal contact decreased quite a bit compared to previous years. According to ESPN‘s report, between 2002 and 2020, NFL referees flagged illegal contact 97 times on average per season. However, in 2021, that average dropped significantly as officials only flagged the defenders 36 times. The major drop in penalties caused the league’s competition committee to address illegal contact among its “points of clarification” in 2022.
Specifically, illegal contact occurs when a defender makes prohibited contact with a quarterback in the pocket who’s still holding the football. The result of the flag gives the offense a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down.
When calling illegal contact against a defender, officials are required to first identify the prohibited contact. Then, they must confirm the position of the ball and quarterback. The NFL’s competition committee is also encouraging refs to move quickly from the contact to the quarterback. The league thinks this will aid in enforcing the penalty with more accuracy.
Now, the league’s request will put more of an emphasis on the rule for the upcoming season. Therefore NFL fans are likely to see an uptick in illegal contact fouls in 2022. Previous points of emphasis across the league show exactly that. In 2014, illegal contact calls increased to 148 from 52 the year prior. Additionally, in 2004, the same penalties went up to 191 from 79 in 2003.
Further Points of Clarification for the 2022 NFL Season
While the NFL is placing more emphasis on illegal contact for the 2022 season, it’s not the only rule the league is drawing attention to this offseason. In addition to illegal contact, the competition committee added roughing the passer fouls to this year’s “points of clarification.”
In previous seasons, NFL officials have flagged minor contact when a defender tackles a quarterback. The league is now clarifying roughing the passer fouls, saying that contact to a QB’s helmet or below their knee must be “forcible.”
To help with the new rule changes and tweaks, officiating crews are visiting each team’s training camps. As is standard procedure each summer, officials visit with teams to update the coaching staff and players on each new rule and clarification.