List of Football Penalties (NFL)

By Howie Long, John Czarnecki

Part of Football For Dummies (USA Edition) Cheat Sheet

Making sense of the penalties in American football can be tough — unless you have a handy list of common football penalties to refer to as you watch a game. Here are some brief explanations most common football penalties in National Football League (NFL):

List of Football Penalties
Penalty Description Penalty Yardage (NFL)
Encroachment When a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage and makes contact with an opponent before the ball is snapped. 5 yards
False Start When an interior lineman on the offensive team moves prior to the snap of the ball, or when any offensive player makes a quick, abrupt movement prior to the snap of the ball. 5 yards
Offside When any part of a player’s body is beyond the line of scrimmage or free kick line when the ball is put into play. 5 yards
Holding (Offensive) When an offensive player uses his hands, arms, or other parts of his body to prevent a defensive player from tackling the ball carrier. 10 yards
Holding (Defensive) When a defensive player tackles or holds an offensive player other than the ball carrier. 5 yards
Automatic First Down
Pass Interference A judgment call made by an official who sees a defensive player make contact with the intended receiver before the ball arrives, thus restricting his opportunity to catch the forward pass. Spot of the foul
Automatic First Down
Helmet to Helmet Collision When one player uses his helmet to hit into another player’s helmet. 15 yards
Automatic First Down
Horse Collar Tackle When one player tackles another by grabbing inside their shoulder pads (or jersey) from behind and yanking them down. 15 yards
Automatic First Down
Face Mask When a player grabs the face mask of another player while attempting to block or tackle. 15 yards
Automatic First Down
Roughing the Kicker When a defensive player makes any contact with the punter, provided the defensive player hasn’t touched the kicked ball before contact. 15 yards
Automatic First Down
Roughing the Passer hen a defensive player makes direct contact with the quarterback after the quarterback has released the ball. 15 yards
Automatic First Down
Personal Foul An illegal, flagrant foul considered risky to the health of another player. 15 yards
Delay of Game An action which delays the game; for example, if the offense allows the play clock to run out 5 yards