Flag on the Play!


During a football game, we’ve all seen the officials pull a little yellow scarf out of their pockets and throw it onto the field.  That little yellow scarf is known as a FLAG, and it signals that a rule has been broken and a penalty will be enforced on one the teams.

I’ve often wished I could throw Flags in my daily life (Flag! unnecessary rudeness, Flag! bad pick-up line, Flag! driving too slow), but for now…


Let’s break down the most common reasons a FLAG is thrown during a football game.


  • A foul is an infraction of the rules of the game (a player breaks a rule)
  • A penalty is the consequence of breaking the rule (usually a loss of yards)
  • A flag signals that a foul has been committed and a penalty will be enforced

The official will always announce the foul, the player who committed the foul, and the penalty.  So when you see the flag, listen up!

Flags thrown at the Line of Scrimmage

Remember, the line of scrimmage is the imaginary line that extends out from the football after the referee places the ball on the field. No player can have any part of his body on the line scrimmage except for the Center who snaps the ball to the Quarterback. This space between the two teams is also known as the Neutral Zone. (see pic)



Offside occurs when any part of a player’s body (except the Center) is beyond the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. The player is OFF his SIDE of the line of scrimmage. This is typically called on the defense because the players are anticipating the snap of the ball and sometimes move early. However, it can also be called on the offense. Offside occurs when the football is snapped. If a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage but jumps back before the ball is snapped, no foul has occurred.



False Start is an offensive foul. An offensive Lineman cannot make any movement at the line of scrimmage, and the other offensive players are not allowed to make quick, sudden movements. This rule is in place to keep the offense from trying to trick the defense into moving early, or to “draw the defense offside.” If an offensive Lineman makes any movement before the ball is snapped, or if the other offensive players make quick, sudden movements before the ball is snapped, FALSE START.



The Center must snap the ball to the Quarterback before the Play Clock runs out. This rule is in place to keep the game moving at a good pace. If the ball is not snapped by the time the Play Clock runs out, DELAY OF GAME.

Flags thrown during a Play



Holding is the most common penalty in football. Holding occurs anytime a player restrains another player who is not carrying the ball. Blocking is the legal attempt to obstruct and move an opponent by blocking the path with their own bodies or pushing the opponent in the middle of his body. Holding is any other attempt to hold the player back, for example: grabbing arms, shoulders, or jersey (see pic).


Remember: Holding is illegal against any player who is not carrying the football.  However, the ball carrier is free game to tackle and get down. Holding can be called on the offense or defense.


A defensive player must give the offensive receiver reasonable space and ability to catch a pass. If the defensive player makes contact with the receiver, grabs the arms of the receiver (see pic), or in any way hold the receiver thus interfering with his ability to catch the pass, PASS INTERFERENCE. Pass Interference can also be called on the offense, although it’s rare.  If a defensive player makes a move to intercept the pass and the offensive player pushes or makes contact with a defensive player, PASS INTERFERENCE.

Flags thrown for Player Safety


If a player grabs any part of another player’s  Face Mask (the grill part of the helmet)


If a player tackles any non-ball carrying player from behind (again, the ball carrier is free game)


If a defensive player makes contact with the Quarterback after the release of the ball.  The act of passing puts the quarterback in a vulnerable position for injury because he can’t protect himself from hits. He is “defenseless,” and therefore this rule is taken very seriously by the officials.


If a defender tackles or runs into the kicker while attempting to block the kick. This rule protects the vulnerable leg of the kicker.


If a referee judges any hit to be unnecessary, such as making contact after the play ends, tackling a ball carrier when he has already stepped out of bounds, or leading a tackle with the helmet. This is also known as a personal foul.



Sometimes the penalty includes replaying the down. A team may decline the penalty if the results of the play were more beneficial than the penalty. For example, if the offense scored a touchdown during a play, but accepting a penalty against the defense required replaying the Down, the offense can decline the penalty and keep the results of the play.



Category: Football Popular