If you are one of the handful of NFL fans that tune in each Sunday to see the yellow flags fly, and to hear arcane interpretations of the rulebook every other play, you are in luck. According to a report from ESPN, the NFL has asked on-field officials to pay particular attention to illegal contact fouls during the upcoming season.

Between 2002 and 2020, officials flagged illegal contact an average of 97 times each season. Last year, however, that number dropped to 36. That drop led the NFL Competition Committee to include the penalty among its “points of clarification” for the upcoming year.

The NFL rules define illegal contact as follows:

Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him. A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver.

This is not the first time the league has emphasized this penalty, as it has done so twice before. Back in 2004, the league saw illegal contact penalties rise to 191 from 79 the year prior, and the NFL saw 148 such penalties in 2014, up from 52 in 2013.

Perhaps we see a similar spike in the season ahead.



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