During the Monday night game between Green Bay and Detroit on 14 October 2019, Detroit’s Trey Flowers was twice penalized for “Illegal Hands to the Face” when he wasn’t really touching the face but was instead grabbing the shoulder pads under the chin. The result of the penalties was a first down, both happening at crucial moments for the Packers.

The ESPN announcer made a big deal about how the calls were wrong and that it affected the outcome of the game. However, a friend of mine pointed out that although “Illegal Hands to the Face” is not the correct call, it should have been penalized as “Defensive Holding,” which results in the same 5 yards and First Down.

Is this true? Is grabbing and holding the shoulder pads under someone’s chin considered Defensive Holding?

  • 2
    Booger mentioned that hands to the neck is covered under the umbrella of this penalty. I assume in the eyes of the officials it appeared that Flowers' hand was close to the neck in either case. Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 20:09

1 Answer 1


Using equipment to pressure the face or neck is hands to the face. It is quite common to see a defensive lineman get a hands to the face penalty when hitting the players neck. The other option the ref has is to give him a misconduct which is 15.

Also both lines can hold the shoulder pads in the front chest area. I don't think you can find this in a rulebook but it is in referee guides. However neither side can pull the other using the pads or anything else and this is why holding - on either side - is called 98% of the time.

In summary this situation didn't seem like defensive holding. It seemed like a personal foul - hands to face. In that umbrella it is touching the face mask, chin, or neck or using any equipment to aid in that. Again I am not sure you will see all of this referenced in a rulebook unless it has been annotated recently. This is something you will see in referee guides, especially in the NFL where they have a rulebook that covers the main things and then half of the other stuff - like this - is secretly given to their referee crews and is generally non-public (think the catch rule and current PI calls).

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