ITP Glossary: Pass Interference

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Pass Interference

Pass interference is judgement call (not reviewable) made by an official on a pass thrown more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, resulting a penalty. The most common form of pass interference is defensive pass interference, when a defender makes physical contact with a pass receiver attempting to secure the ball. Receivers who interfere with a defender attempting to make a play on the ball, usually by pushing or holding, are called for offensive pass interference.

The key element to both calls is physical contact that prevents a player from attempting to securely catch the ball. In the NFL, defensive pass interference is a “spot” foul and a first down, meaning the ball is placed at the spot of the foul, or on the 1 yard-line if the infraction is committed in the end zone. Offensive pass interference results in a 10 yard penalty, and a repeat of the previous down.

Within five yards of the line of scrimmage, or behind it, the rules violation for physical contact between players is holding (either offensive or defensive) and results in a different penalty. Within this five yard zone, it is permissible for a defender to jam a receiver, or for a receiver to counter a jam attempt. Neither player can “hold” on to the other, or they are subject to the holding penalty rules.

As part of the judgement call, an official can deem a pass “uncatchable” and not call pass interference, even if there is extensive physical contact between receiver and defender. Further, contact between two players is permissible if both are attempting to make a play on the ball. However, the defender must have “turned his head” toward the ball or make contact with the ball first to avoid a defensive pass interference call.

Here is an example of an easily understood defensive pass interference penalty:

New England Patriots’ receiver Julian Edelman is looking back, tracking the ball in flight, bringing his hands up to catch it – and slowing down to do so – when Buffalo Bills defender Duke Williams grabs his shoulder pads and shoves the receiver to the ground, without looking for the ball. The pass interference here is obvious, and deliberate, and resulted in a spot foul, with the ball placed at the 1 yard-line because the foul was committed in the end zone.

The NFL helpfully provides a video explanation – with examples – of both defensive and offensive pass interference. We encourage you to click through and watch both videos.

In college football, the rules are basically the same, with the notable differences coming in the assessed fouls, with the officials having a further judgement on whether the penalty was intentional or unintentional, with different yardage penalties for each.

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