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Defensive pass interference: when it looks like a foul, it isn’t necessarily a foul

Breaking down the lack of a defensive pass interference call on the Packers.



Late in the 3rd quarter (4:30) of the Seahawks at Packers game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson lobbed a pass to the back of the end zone for tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham was covered by Packers defensive backs Kentrell Brice (#29) and Davon House (#31). The three players were engaged in hand-fighting as the ball was in the air and as Graham was came down out of bounds.  

Typically, if there is mutual handfighting between the defender and the receiver, this will not draw a flag as neither player is gaining an advantage over the other, one of the key tenets of the rule. To call pass interference when the contact is mutual is to put either the offense or defense at a disadvantage. The pass also landed four yards out of bounds, making it an uncatchable ball.

(There were officials’ hats on the sidelines, indicating a player out of bounds. However, it appears that was for receiver Doug Baldwin — number 89 — since he has surrendered running his route. If Graham had stepped out, he would be ineligible, and could not be interfered with.)

In a post last year here, former senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said “We put a tape out to both the coaches and the game officials to show examples of what is pass interference and what isn’t pass interference as we continue to strive for greater consistency in this area.”

Players on both sides of the ball cannot play through the back of the opponent to get to the ball before it arrives. Contact as the ball arrives is legal. The act of playing the ball by itself is also not pass interference if the defender does not make contact. The defender can legally face-guard (obstruct the receivers view) but if they make contact, then it shall be pass interference. Defenders may also contact the receiver before the pass but cannot hook and twist or turn the receiver before the ball arrives. The offense also may not block downfield on a forward pass.

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