5-Yard Penalties in American Football - dummies

5-Yard Penalties in American Football

By Howie Long, John Czarnecki

The following common penalties give the offended football team an additional 5 yards. Some of these penalties, when noted, are accompanied by an automatic first down.

  • Defensive holding or illegal use of the hands: When a defensive player tackles or holds an offensive player other than the ball carrier. Otherwise, the defensive player may use his hands, arms, or body only to protect himself from an opponent trying to block him in an attempt to reach a ball carrier. This penalty also includes an automatic first down.

  • Delay of game: When the offense fails to snap the ball within the required 40 or 25 seconds, depending on the clock. The referee can call a delay of game penalty against the defense if it repeatedly charges into the neutral zone prior to the snap; when called on the defense, a delay of game penalty gives the offense an automatic first down. The ref can also call this penalty when a team fails to play when ordered (because, for example, the players are unsure of the play called in the huddle), a runner repeatedly attempts to advance the ball after his forward ­progress is stopped, or a team takes too much time assembling after a timeout.

  • Delay of kickoff: Failure of the kicking team to kick the ball after being ordered to do so by the referee.

  • Encroachment: When a player enters the neutral zone and makes contact with an opponent before the ball is snapped.

  • Excessive crowd noise: When the quarterback informs the referee that the offense can’t hear his signals because of crowd noise. If the referee deems it reasonable to conclude that the quarterback is right, he signals a referee’s timeout and asks the defensive captain to use his best influence to quiet the crowd. If the noise persists, the referee uses his wireless microphone to inform the crowd that continued noise will result in either the loss of an existing timeout or, if the defensive team has no timeouts remaining, a 5-yard penalty.

  • Excessive timeouts: When a team calls for a timeout after it has already used its three timeouts allotted for the half.

  • Failure to pause for one second after the shift or huddle: When any offensive player doesn’t pause for at least one second after going into a set position. The offensive team also is penalized when it’s operating from a no-huddle offense and immediately snaps the ball without waiting a full second after assuming an offensive set.

  • Failure to report change of eligibility: When a player fails to inform an official that he has entered the game and will be aligned at a position he normally doesn’t play, like an offensive tackle lined up as a tight end. In the NFL, all players’ jersey numbers relate to the offensive positions they play; consequently, the officials and opposing team know when it’s illegal for a player wearing number 60 through 79 (offensive linemen generally wear these numbers) to catch a pass.

  • False start: When an interior lineman of the offensive team takes or simulates a three-point stance and then moves prior to the snap of the ball. The official must blow his whistle immediately. A false start is also whistled when any offensive player makes a quick, abrupt movement prior to the snap of the ball.

  • Forward pass is first touched by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds and returned: When an offensive player leaves the field of play (even if he’s shoved out), returns inbounds, and is therefore an ineligible receiver.

  • Forward pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage after the ball crosses the line of scrimmage: When a player catches a pass, runs past the line of scrimmage, and then retreats behind the line of scrimmage and attempts another pass. However, a player is permitted to throw the ball to another player, provided that the ball isn’t thrown ­forward. A ball thrown this way is called a lateral.

  • Forward pass touches or is caught by an ineligible receiver on or behind the line of scrimmage: When an offensive lineman catches a pass that isn’t first tipped by a defensive player.

  • Grasping the face mask of the ball carrier or quarterback: When the face mask is grabbed unintentionally and the player immediately lets go of his hold, not twisting the ball carrier’s neck at all.

  • Illegal formation: When the offense doesn’t have seven players on the line of scrimmage. Also, running backs and receivers who aren’t on the line of scrimmage must line up at least 1 yard off the line of scrimmage and no closer, or the formation is considered illegal.

  • Illegal motion: When an offensive player, such as a quarterback, running back, or receiver, moves forward toward the line of scrimmage moments prior to the snap of the ball. Illegal motion is also called when a running back is on the line of scrimmage and then goes in motion prior to the snap. It’s a penalty because the running back wasn’t aligned in a backfield position.

  • Illegal return: When a player returns to the field after he has been ejected. He must leave the bench area and go to the locker room within a reasonable time.

  • Illegal substitution: When a player enters the field during a play. Players must enter only when the ball is dead. If a substituted player remains on the field at the snap of the ball, his team is slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. If the substituted player runs to the opposing team’s bench area in order to clear the field prior to the snap of the ball, his team incurs a delay of game penalty.

  • Ineligible member(s) of kicking team going beyond the line of scrimmage before the ball is kicked: When a player other than the two players aligned at least 1 yard outside the end men go downfield when the ball is snapped to the kicker. All the other players must remain at the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked.

  • Ineligible player downfield during a pass down: When any offensive linemen are more than 2 yards beyond the line of scrimmage when a pass is thrown downfield.

  • Invalid fair catch signal: When the receiver simply extends his arm straight up. To be a valid fair catch signal, the receiver must fully extend his arm and wave it from side to side.

  • Kickoff goes out of bounds between the goal lines and isn’t touched: When the kicking team fails to keep its kick inbounds, the ball belongs to the receivers 30 yards from the spot of the kick or at the out-of-bounds spot unless the ball went out-of-bounds the first time an onside kick was attempted. In this case, the kicking team is penalized five yards and the ball must be kicked again.

  • More than 11 players on the field at the snap: When a team has more than 11 players on the field at any time when the ball is live. The offense receives an automatic first down if the penalty is committed by the defensive team.

  • More than one man in motion at the snap of the ball: When two offensive players are in motion simultaneously. Having two men in motion at the same time is illegal on all levels of football in the United States. Two players can go in motion prior to the snap of the ball, but before the second player moves, the first player must be set for a full second.

  • Neutral zone infraction: When a defensive player moves beyond the neutral zone prior to the snap and continues unabated toward the quarterback or kicker even though no contact is made by a blocker. If a defensive player enters the neutral zone prior to the snap and causes an offensive player to react immediately and prior to the snap, the defensive player has committed a neutral zone infraction.

  • 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.

  • Player out of bounds at the snap: When one of the 11 players expected to be on the field runs onto the field of play after the ball is snapped.

  • Running into the kicker or punter: When a defensive player makes ­contact with a kicker or punter. Note that a defender isn’t penalized for running into the kicker if the contact is incidental and occurs after he has touched the ball in flight. Nor is it a penalty if the kicker’s own motion causes the contact, or if the defender is blocked into the kicker, or if the kicker muffs the ball, retrieves it, and then kicks it.

  • Shift: When an offensive player moves from one position on the field to another. After a team huddles, the offensive players must come to a stop and remain stationary for at least one second before going in motion. If an offensive player who didn’t huddle is in motion behind the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball, it’s an illegal shift.