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NFL may cap defensive pass interference penalty at 15 yards

Instead of spot of the foul, league may follow college model with 15-yard maximum for penalty.
Bucs receiver Mike Evans draws a pass interference penalty in the end zone against the Saints in 2016. The NFL is considering changing the penalty to be a maximum of 15 yards.
(TIMES FILES -- 2016)
Bucs receiver Mike Evans draws a pass interference penalty in the end zone against the Saints in 2016. The NFL is considering changing the penalty to be a maximum of 15 yards. (TIMES FILES -- 2016)
Published Feb. 27, 2018
Updated Feb. 27, 2018

The NFL's competition committee is considering a major change to the defensive pass interference penalty, with the possibility of capping the penalty at 15 yards, no matter how far downfield the flag is thrown.

As it stands, pass interference is one of the key difference between college football — where such a foul is no more than 15 yards — and the NFL, where a long penalty is awarded at the spot of the foul, sometimes for 50 yards or more.

It's a move that might make NFL teams less likely to throw deep — with the new rule, a defensive back who knows he's been beaten deep has incentive to maul a receiver and concede 15 yards rather than risk a long touchdown.

The Bucs did not have a good pass defense at all in 2017 — they gave up a league-worse 260 passing yards per game, with the lack of a pass rush giving opposing quarterbacks ample time to find open receivers.

Tampa Bay, did, however, do a remarkable job of avoiding pass interference penalties — they were flagged for just six all season (only the Cardinals and Jaguars, with five each, had fewer) for an NFL-low 50 yards, total. Jacksonville was next-best with 52 yards, but that came impressively along with the NFL's No. 1 pass defense in yards allowed.

Only one of those flags against the Bucs was more than 15 yards — an 18-yard penalty on Robert McClain in Week 11.

Which NFL teams would benefit the most from their defenses not being accountable for long pass interference penalties? Eight NFL teams had at least 200 yards in DPI penalties — the most was the Giants, with 273 yards, including eight flags for 20 yards or more. The Bengals — who had a league-high 18 DPI penalties accepted — were next with 267 yards, followed by the Chiefs (236), Lions (221), Texans (212), Saints (210), Cowboys (210) and Seahawks (207).

The Patriots, as mentioned, had only six DPI penalties last season, but five were longer than 15 — for 20, 21, 30, 34 and 34 yards — and the kind that would go away with the rule change.

In theory, taking away the threat of a long penalty reduces the value of a deep-play receiver — defensive backs have less risk in playing more physical with contact downfield, knowing the damage done by a flag is less.