Questions about false starts in football

  1. Why is it necessary to penalize a false start in the first place? If an offensive lineman jumps early, or twitches, how exactly does it affect the outcome of the play which has not even started yet? As long as nobody has crossed the neutral zone or line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped, why does any movement before the snap matter?

  2. Why do offensive linemen not watch the ball itself and wait for it to be snapped before they move, rather than being twitchy and jumping at a cadence? By watching the ball they would make crowd noise a non-factor. It might take their eyes off the pass rusher but that would be the necessary tradeoff.

The reason that a false start is a penalty is that the rules of American football state that the offensive players (with the exception of one back, who can be in motion, but not towards the line of scrimmage) have to be motionless before the ball is snapped. Doing otherwise is seen as giving the offensive players an advantage.

Also, part of the reason why even a twitch is flagged as a false start is that it could otherwise be used to lure defensive players across the line of scrimmage before the snap (which would, thus, be an offsides penalty on the defense).

As far as #2, in very noisy conditions (such as playing on the road), lineman may well be forced to watch the ball to know when the snap occurs, because they aren’t able to hear the quarterback’s cadence. And, yes, most offensive coaches would rather have their players have their eyes on the other team at the snap, rather than the ball. The risk of a false start is apparently seen as a smaller issue than the risk of being caught out of position by not seeing what the defense is doing at the snap of the ball (and remember that the defense can move all they want, as long as they aren’t across the line of scrimmage at the snap).

to discourage offensive linemen from trying to draw the defense offside. if false starts weren’t illegal, OLs would do it all the time.

I’m no expert, but I played for years as a kid, so I’ll take a stab…

False Starts: If the offensive is allowed to hop around, it gives them a HUGE advantage over the defense, who would then have to keep their eyes on the ball for the snap and the start of the play. A good rule, if you ask me. The offense knows when the snap will be (and what the play called is, who is going where and why) and that should be enough of an advantage.

Point 2 answers itself with the ultimate sentence.

It all used to be called “Offsides” in my day. :wink:

And now I’m going to ruin football for you! Watch every kick-off, real close. I’ll bet you could call about 95% offsides. God, that would bring games to grinding halts. :smiley:

And if a defender sees motion, starts to advance, then checks himself in order to not go offside, he is placed at a disadvantage due to the check motion compromising his launch into the line/backfield.

Yeah but the defense could just watch the ball, too, and not move until it is snapped. Seems like there is much more to lose and little to gain by timing your rush based off of what your opposing lineman is doing, rather than just watching the ball.

In fact, at least in the NFL, that’s not happening any longer, as of this season:

As of this season, players on the kicking team have to line up within one yard of the “restraining line” (i.e., the yard line from which the ball is being kicked), and can’t take a running start any longer.

Related question:

A defensive lineman can jump the gun and go past the line of scrimmage to an extent (not to the point of encroachment), but as long as he gets back before the ball is snapped, a penalty isn’t called.

If an offensive lineman reacts to this defender, he will be called for a false start, right? Why don’t more defensive linemen try to induce a false start this way? I mean, they couldn’t do this every snap, but a few times a game, why not?

Because an alert center will snap the ball to enforce the penalty.

A sharp QB/center combo will snap the ball, spike it EVERYTIME and get a free 5 yards. They can react faster than the defensive guy could recover.

The defense would try it twice before giving it up.

Ninja’d twice in the same thread! Oh, The Irony! :smiley:

agreed, but not sure why they would spike it. It’s a free play and they usually chuck it downfield as far as possible. Worst case, five yards. Best case, TD!

Exactly. Some quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, for one) are known for being able to draw the defense offsides with a hard cadence; when they succeed in doing so, they’ll usually try to throw deep, for that very reason.

The offense already has significant advantages. They start with possession of the ball and they know what the upcoming play if going to be and they know the count sequence. So it would unbalance the game if the defense had the further disadvantage of having to wait until they saw the ball snapped to start their response to the offense’s play.

It would probably never work. The point of the QB spiking the ball when a defensive player is out of position is that it’s a snap reaction to an unexpected momentary opportunity. You’re not going to be able to get an entire offensive line to make that kind of instant reaction and move in a coordinated fashion.

It works quite often. Granted some of those are 12 men on the field penalties as well, but hard count -> offsides -> free play is practiced all the time.

That’s why they do “2-a-day” practices.

If the defense was offsides on the actual hike then they usually run the free play. If it was just the center jumping the gun to catch someone offsides the QB would usually spike it because nobody else was moving.

Now they just call it a neutral zone infraction and any offensive lineman can catch a defender in the neutral zone and the play is blown dead.

My suspicion (though I could be wrong) is that, on a play on which the QB is planning to try a hard count, one of the receivers likely has on option to run a fly pattern if the defense jumps.

If the defense jumps otherwise (i.e., not when the QB was actively trying to draw an offsides), I don’t know if an offense necessarily would adjust with that sort of option.

And if an OL DOES react to a jump by a defensive player, it’s a neutral zone infraction on the defensive player.