NFL Rules Question

I like watching a bit of American Football, and have a fairly decent grasp of the rules.

But something came up in a game I was watching yesterday and I haven’t been able to find an answer to the rules question. I think it was the Chicago/Detroit game if that makes a difference. (but can’t guarantee I watched most of two games and can’t be sure now which game it occurred in)

Anyway a flag was thrown for unneccesary contact with the Quarterback. However the penalty was ultimately not given as the umpires ruled that the QB had left the pocket.

No replay was shown of the play, so I’m wondering what sort of contact could have been made that would be illegal while the QB is in the pocket but is OK outside of it.

I understand some of the illegal tackles, and unnecessary roughness, etc, but I didn’t think any of those penalties would have been conitngent upon the QB being either in or out of the pocket.

The play you are describing sounds like intentional grounding call. When a quarterback drops back to pass and gets rushed by defenders, if he is about to get tackled for a loss and throws the ball to nobody just to avoid the loss of X yards, the refs can rule that the quarterback intentionally grounded the ball and essentially award the defense the yards he would have lost on the sack.

There is one exception to the rule however. When the quarterback is out of the pocket (as defined by the starting position of the 2 offensive tackles), he is allowed to throw the ball away to avoid the sack with no repercussions. Sometimes the QB will be right near the imaginary line when he throws it away, and a flag gets thrown, then the refs will converge and discuss it, and ultimately decide that the QB was sufficiently outside the pocket and thus no flag.

The foul would have been called against the defender covering a receiver. Normally a defensive back is only allowed to make contact against a receiver between the original line of scrimmage and five yards beyond it. However, once the QB leaves the “pocket*,” more contact is allowed.

The reason behind this is because plays where the QB is the ball-carrier, defensive backs have to be able to fight past blocking by receivers.

I don’t remember seeing the play you described as I missed a good chunk of the first half, but assuming your recollection is correct and it wasn’t a grounding or contact with a WR call it’s probably a little known provision that a defender is allowed one step before hitting a passing QB after he throws within the pocket, but he’s allowed two steps when hit outside of the pocket.

Chances are the defender who was chasing down the QB completed the tackle within two steps of the release of the ball making the hit legal, had it occurred within the pocket it’s have been considered late. The rationale is that a QB outside the pocket is more a threat to become a runner/ball carrier and defenders need extra freedom to make plays and a defender chasing a QB would have a more difficult time knowing when the ball was released.


It was definitely not a grounding penalty. I wouldn’t bet my house on whether it was contact with the QB instead of a WR though, but the proposed penalty was definitely withdrawn because ‘The QB was out of the pocket’.

I suspect that your explanation is exactly what occured Omniscient, Cheers.