Holding Penalty Calls in Week 1 of NFL Season Down 78 Percent Compared to 2019

Jenna CiccotelliContributor ISeptember 16, 2020

A penalty flag sits on the turf during the second half of an NFL football game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
Stew Milne/Associated Press

In Week 1 of the NFL season, the amount of offensive holding calls was the lowest it has been in at least 20 seasons, with a 78 percent drop from the same week in 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

There were just 18 flags thrown for holding across the league in the first games of the season.

The previous low was 26 holding flags thrown in Week 1 of the 2001 season, the first year that ESPN recorded such data. 

Based on the five-year average from 2014-18, the minuscule amount of holding flags over the first week marks a 58.6 percent decrease.

It's a marked adjustment from parts of the last two seasons, when the NFL told officials to be more wary of certain techniques that hadn't previously been forbidden—a change that backfired.

During the 2018 season, the NFL encouraged referees to be stricter when it came to making holding calls, and the results were immediate. In Week 13, the first games played after the instruction, officials threw 94 holding flags—the highest total in any week in the ESPN data. The upward trend continued into the 2019 season, when the league encouraged extra scrutiny on "lobster blocks" and similar tactics, per ESPN. As a result, there were 82 offensive holding flags were thrown in the first 32 games of last season, and the league decided to reverse its changes

The changes may have less to do with a change in the game at the player level, but rather how officials are calling games.

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"Officials are good soldiers," ESPN officiating analyst John Parry told ESPN. "They hear the message and they perform based on what they've been instructed to call. At this level, they are that good. Whatever the marching orders are, that's how they will officiate."

To start off this year, 10 teams received offensive holding penalties, with Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle each earning two, according to NFLPenalties.com.