Is there a difference in enforcement if the holding penalty happened after and not before a pass? This is NFL if it makes a difference.

1 Answer 1


Yes. Most defensive fouls on eligible receivers, most commonly "illegal contact", are only penalized prior to the pass being thrown. From NFL Rules 2020, 8.4.7:

If the quarterback or the receiver of the snap demonstrates no further intention to pass the ball (i.e., hands off or pitches the ball to another player, throws a forward or backward pass, loses possession of the ball by a muff that touches the ground or a fumble, or if he is tackled) the restrictions on the defensive team prohibiting illegal contact, or an illegal cut block, against an eligible receiver will end, and a defensive player is permitted to use his hands, arms, or body to push, pull, or ward off an offensive receiver, pursuant to Rule 12, Section 1, Article 5.

Illegal contact, further, is not penalized if the quarterback leaves the pocket, though defensive holding still is.

If the quarterback leaves the pocket area with the ball in his possession, the restrictions on illegal contact and an illegal cut block both end, but the restriction on defensive holding remains in effect.

As such, Defensive Holding is "prior to the pass", and Illegal Contact is "prior to the quarterback leaving the pocket" or "prior to the pass" depending on if the quarterback left the pocket or not.

As a side note, neither foul actually requires a pass being thrown; it is very common for a sack or a scramble to occur on plays which have a defensive holding or illegal contact play being called. It simply requires it being legal for the quarterback to pass, and that he did not clearly abandon passing by his actions.

I'm not sure if it's technically possible to have defensive holding after the ball is thrown (except on an interception), but if it were it would have a very different set of rules; most of the cases that would qualify as defensive holding prior to the pass being thrown are either legal or become (the usually more serious) defensive pass interference.

  • I think it would be? A defensive player can in theory commit holding against a lineman, for example (which wouldn't be pass interference since the lineman isn't eligible). And once the ball is caught, it is also possible to hold against any offensive player blocking downfield.
    – Kurt Weber
    Dec 9, 2020 at 13:04
  • @KurtWeber For the most part, you can't get a defensive holding call on a defender on the line. They're pretty much allowed to do whatever they want, as long as they are trying to improve their position (and not solely obstructing), and there's no real incentive to obstruct. From 12-1-5: ARTICLE 5. LEGAL USE OF HANDS OR ARMS BY DEFENSE A defensive player may use his hands, arms, or body to push, pull, or ward off offensive players: (b) when an opponent is obviously attempting to block him; for example.
    – Joe
    Dec 9, 2020 at 16:17
  • They can be called for illegal use of the hands, for things like grasping the facemask, but that's a different foul. For the most part, a defensive player would have to tackle an offensive player who was not trying to block him in order to get called for holding, which is why it's so rare. (In any event, in the case of the question, the foul is in relation to an eligible receiver, so this is moot.)
    – Joe
    Dec 9, 2020 at 16:18

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