The NFL's new emphasis on eliminating illegal-contact penalties was evident in the first week of the preseason.
According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, referees threw 15 flags for illegal contact this past week, compared to 36 flags for the penalty across the entire 18-week regular season in 2021.
Between 2002 and 2020, officials averaged 97 illegal-contact calls per season. Per Seifert, the low total from 2021 prompted a review from the NFL's competition committee, which made it one of its "points of clarification" for the upcoming year.
Kevin Seifert @SeifertESPN
No official penalty stats in the NFL preseason, but I counted 15 flags for illegal contact in Week 1. Not spread evenly; 3 games had 3 apiece. But it represents the uptick some expected when it became is a league-wide point of clarification for 2022. (1/2) <a href="https://t.co/XYTfBY2MBz">https://t.co/XYTfBY2MBz</a>
Defenders are prohibited from making contact with receivers after five yards while the quarterback has the ball and remains in the pocket. Such an infraction incurs a five-yard penalty and automatic first-down for the offense.
Per Seifert, "League sources surveyed by ESPN were split on whether the wording of this year's illegal-contact instructions will lead to a spike in flags, as occurred after the two previous points of emphasis for the foul. In 2014, flags for illegal contact rose to 148 from 52 in 2013. In 2004, they rose to 191 from 79 in 2003."
Another point of emphasis, per Seifert, is penalties for roughing the passer, with the competition committee stressing that hits to the helmet or knee area must still be done with force to draw flags. In years past, officials have called such penalties even when minimal contact was made.