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NFL Asks Refs to Focus on Illegal Contact Fouls This Year After a 'Big Drop' in 2021

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVAugust 8, 2022

Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL has listed illegal contact fouls among its "points of clarification" for the 2022 season, per ESPN's Kevin Seifert.

The penalty is enforced when a defender makes contact with a receiver more than five yards down the field before a pass is thrown and while the quarterback is still in the pocket. The five-yard penalty also results in a first down.

The league wants on-field officials to keep an eye out for the infraction after "a big drop" in 2021, per Seifert. Officials threw only 36 flags for illegal contact last season after averaging 97 per year from 2002 to 2020.

Defenders were still under close watch last season, especially in the pass game. Officials called defensive pass interference 301 times in 2021 with 163 flags for defensive holding, per Pro Football Reference.

The new emphasis could make things even more difficult for defenses if officials further limit downfield contact and create easier first-down opportunities.

As Seifert noted, the last two times (2004 and 2014) illegal contact was considered a point of emphasis for NFL officials, flags for the infraction more than doubled from the previous season.

The other point of clarification heading into 2022 involves roughing-the-passer calls. Defenders should only be flagged for "forcible" contact to the helmet or below the knee, rather than any minor contact.

It could lead to a drop in roughing-the-passer calls after there were 149 penalties last season, the most this century.

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