For the 2019 season, offensive holding is a point of emphasis NFL officials are focusing on. Specifically, the officials are looking at the backside of running plays for holding that can occur as the defender shuffles down the line of scrimmage. Several examples in the video below show offensive linemen in an almost bear hug or “lobster” block on their defenders.
As this was described in a preseason rules seminar to the media, umpire Paul King said, “The running backs have become such great athletes that the backside pulls [the defender] and then he cuts back. It made an impact on that play.” By issuing a point of emphasis, it reduced the offense’s advantage where holding was not called being so far away from the play, but it opened up the field for the runner.
As a result, according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, in weeks 1 and 2, there were an average of 5.6 offensive holding penalties per game called. In the week 3 Thursday Night Football game, there were 10, and it led the now infamous Tom Brady tweet where the Patriots quarterback said the game was filled with “ridiculous penalties.” After the game, senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron held a conference call with officiating crews heading into the Sunday games, where holding penalties dropped to just 3 per game.
Final numbers on what might be the end of the spike in @NFL offensive holding flags:
Weeks 1-2: 5.6 per game
Week 3 TNF: 10
(@TomBrady tweet/conference call interlude)
Week 3 remainder: 3.0 per game
Story from Monday: https://t.co/aXutz38p5S
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) September 24, 2019
Sources close to Football Zebras are saying that there is internal disagreement among officiating supervisors about just how strictly they should be interpreting the offensive holding penalties. Some supervisors think there should be tighter interpretation while others think they need to stick to the point of emphasis on backside holding penalties,
In the conference call with the officials prior to week three’s slate of Sunday games, Seifert is reporting that Riveron also stressed the need for officials to let the blocks develop before immediately throwing a flag for holding. Offensive linemen will typically engage the outside frame of the defender at the shoulder/arms before following their hands inside the defender’s chest plate. On the backside of plays, Riveron stated that he wanted officials emphasizing this point with players to immediately get their hands inside.
It seems there is a mounting confusion with more than one area of rules interpretation this season with the holding issue at the forefront. In the first three weeks of the season, there have been 122 flags for offensive holding on the offensive line position and 178 overall. There were 144 overall at the same at the end of week 3 in 2018.