A neutral zone infraction penalty is when a defender crosses the line of scrimmage and causes an offensive player to move to defend themselves or when the defender is parallel or beyond an offensive player with a clear / unimpeded path to the quarterback or kicker before the ball is snapped, even if no contact is made and no offensive player reacts. A neutral zone infraction penalty costs the defense five yards.
A neutral zone infraction differs from a defensive offsides penalty. A neutral zone infraction is when a defender causes an offensive player to move to defend themselves before the snap, or makes a move at the quarterback / kicker pre-snap. Offsides occurs when a player is in the neutral zone at the snap, and a “free play” ensues, allowing the offense to take a shot at the end zone because they are guaranteed a five yard penalty against the defense. A neutral zone infraction takes place before the snap, and an offsides penalty is called at the snap if the player is in the neutral zone.
One occurrence of a neutral zone infraction penalty is a defender causing an offensive player to false start. If the offensive player does not immediately react to defend themselves, and the defender returns to their side of the line of scrimmage, then no penalty is called. Conversely, if the reaction of the offensive player is too delayed, a false start penalty could be called.
One example of a neutral zone infraction penalty can be seen below, courtesy of Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels:
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Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler uses a hard count, which causes Daniels, and at least one other Packers defender, to jump into the neutral zone.
Quarterbacks will often attempt to use a hard count to get defenders to jump into the neutral zone on third and fourth downs, when the offense needs less than five yards and a defender jumping into the neutral zone will give the offense a first down.
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Ryan Dukarm wrote this entry. Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm.
Video courtesy of NFL GamePass.
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