Adjustments continue as illegal contact, defensive holding penalties increase in NFL

Oct 19, 2014; San Diego; Chiefs strong safety Ron Parker (38) breaks up a pass intended for Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) at Qualcomm Stadium. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2014; San Diego; Chiefs strong safety Ron Parker (38) breaks up a pass intended for Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) at Qualcomm Stadium. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The NFL’s apparent desire for more offense has paid off.

Teams league-wide combined to score 4,250 points two weeks ago, marking the most points through six weeks of action in NFL history.

To put the scoring binge in perspective, the Chiefs currently allow 20.2 points per game entering Week 8, yet rank as the sixth-best defense in points allowed. This clearly isn’t the NFL of a decade ago when a defense allowing 20-plus points per game cracked the Top 10.

At the heart of the weekly Madden-like video game product on the field is the league’s point of emphasis in 2014 on illegal contact beyond 5 yards and defensive holding. The rules were always in place, but the league’s mandate for officials to enforce the letter of the law has arguably opened the floodgates.

And it’s not just with points per game, as overall league-wide penalties are on the rise where 1,777 plays drew yellow flags through Week 7 (16.8 per game in 106 total contests), according to statistics received from the NFL. Those numbers represent an increase from the 1,605 penalties committed in the same span in 2013 (15 per game, 107 games).

“We all know the numbers are way up,” said St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who serves as the co-chairman of the NFL Competition Committee. “We expected the numbers to go up. They were up in the preseason. I think the game is changing. Players are responding.”

The league-wide penalties through seven weeks show dramatic increases from 2013:


Through Week 7, 2013

Through Week 7, 2014

Illegal Contact



Defensive Holding



Offensive Pass Interference



Illegal Use of Hands



Meanwhile, Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith agreed with Fisher when it comes to adapting on defense this season compared to past seasons.

“The one thing we try and do is be consistent in our technique,” Smith said. “We still want to remain aggressive. We are a press-man team; it’s what we do. We’re definitely getting our hands on guys. We just have to be cautious of hand placement, especially down the field in grabbing and things like that.”

The modern game has transformed mostly on offense, as NFL quarterbacks are combining to post historic numbers.

The NFL’s yards-per-pass attempt average is 7.28 entering Week 8, a figure on pace to be the highest in the Super Bowl era.

Efficiency numbers entering Week 8 have increased to the tune of quarterbacks combining for a 91.5 passer rating and completion percentage of 63.3. Both areas are on pace to establish the highest in NFL history, surpassing the 86 passer rating and 61.2 completion percentage set just last season.

While the statistics point to the offense having an advantage, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said everyone plays under the same guidance.

“There are rules you have to abide by while playing this game,” Kelce said. “I think there’s leeway on both sides of the ball. It’s not just one-sided where the defender is at a disadvantage at this point. I think it is still fair game. You just have to play by the rules and master the technique they’re trying to put parameters on you.”

Still, the increase of infractions against the defense in 2014 often lead to questions surrounding consistency, as some officiating crews on the field don’t see the same thing another crew observes.

“I think the officiating department – (NFL vice president of officiating) Dean (Blandino) is doing a great job there – they’re working very hard at consistency from crew to crew,” Fisher said. “There’s been a little bit of inconsistency. There’s been some of those calls that you just don’t like that should not be called.”

The Chiefs were on the receiving end of at least one questionable pass interference call during Week 7’s game against the San Diego Chargers.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid, however, said he understands the officials will make calls.

“We’re all apt to do something out there that maybe the other person doesn’t agree with,” Reid said. “I’m with that, I’ve got it. You want to be able to – within the rules that you’re given – be able to correct any mistakes that take place. The officials, I think, for the most part are right on. That human element comes in and sometimes they’re not.”

The adjustments around the league continue as coaching staffs and players, mostly on defense, get comfortable within the rules.

Fisher conceded there are growing pains.

“I think by and large considering where we are in the season,” Fisher said, “I think the changes have been obviously not well-received, but understood and the players have adjusted their technique.”

And for defenders still adapting to the NFL’s enforcement of illegal contact and defensive holding, offensive players apparently don’t mind the penalty flags.

“Beyond 5 yards they have to let us run and let us be able to come in and get out of our break,” Chiefs wide receiver A.J. Jenkins said with a grin. “If they don’t, there’s going to be a flag. At the end of the day, we always want to win, so it’s cool with me.”