Pass interference is a penalty in American football when a player tries to interfere or prevent another player from catching or making a play on a thrown ball. However, both defensive and offensive players have a right to attempt to make a fair catch in football. If another player tries to prevent that catch by interfering with the player, it qualifies as a pass interference penalty.
What is the Pass Interference Rule?
A pass interference call happens when a player makes illegal contact with another player trying to make a fair catch. According to the NFL rulebook, pass interference includes holding, pulling, tripping, putting hands in the face, or cutting in front of an eligible receiver.
The rules specifically excuse incidental contact, including accidental bumping while running routes or body positioning when two players jump up to catch a ball. There are two critical types of pass interference: offensive and defensive, which indicates which team committed the foul.
Offensive Pass Interference
If an offensive player pushes off or blocks a defensive player more than one yard past the line of scrimmage, it’s offensive pass interference. One of the most notable parts of offensive pass interference is that a player can make illegal contact before the passer throws the ball. If, after the snap, an offensive receiver rushes past the neutral zone and pushes off a defensive player as part of the route they’re running, they will earn a personal foul.
Defensive Pass Interference
Defensive pass interference can only happen after the QB throws the ball. While the ball is in the air, a defensive player cannot block or interfere with another player’s attempt to catch a ball. Defensive pass interference happens after physical contact occurs on an eligible receiver before they contact the football.
If the defensive player makes illegal contact before the snap, it’s defensive holding. This defensive holding is a 5-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the offense.
What is the Penalty for Pass Interference?
The penalty for pass interference depends on whether it is on the offense or defense. Offensive pass interference is always a 10-yard penalty from the previous spot and a loss of down. Meanwhile, defensive pass interference is a spot foul, with the added benefit of an automatic first down for the offense. If the defensive pass interference is in the end zone, the ball spot is at the 1-yard line.
In NCAA college football, the penalty for pass interference is a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul if illegal contact was within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. If the foul occurred more than 15 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage, the penalty distance is from the last spot. As in the NFL, pass interference also comes with an automatic first down.
The Controversy around Pass Interference
Since pass interference is often a judgment call by the officiating team, it comes with controversy. Football is known to be a physical sport, with its fair share of shoving and pushing. It’s up to the officials to decide how much shoving is allowed and how much counts as interference. This subjectivity often makes players, coaches, and fans frustrated with the rule.
One Giant Missed Interference Call in the Playoff
One of the most controversial games involving a missed interference calls was the 2018 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams. In the fourth quarter, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman caused an uncalled defensive pass interference on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis with only 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. The play happened on third down with 10 yards to go. Since the penalty wasn’t issued, it caused the Saints to kick a field goal. With 1:41 remaining in the game, the Rams scored a touchdown, which sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, the Saints failed to score on their opening drive. When the Rams received the ball, they could march down the field and kick a field goal, winning the game and earning a trip to the Super Bowl.
The missed defensive call was so controversial that the NFL made pass interference eligible for the coach’s challenge in 2019. That year, coaches challenged the call 81 times but only got it overturned 16 times. At the end of the year, the league opted not to renew pass interference as a challengeable penalty.
Conclusion Regarding Pass Interference in Football
Pass interference is a penalty in football where a player makes illegal contact with a person of the opposite team to catch a football. This penalty can be called on either the defense or the offensive team, making it unique. Since it’s often a judgment call by the officiating crew, pass interference is one of the most controversial calls in football, making it one that can drastically change the result of a game.