The NFL’s competition committee has determined its point of emphasis for the 2022 season will hone in on illegal contact fouls by defensive players, a league spokesperson confirmed to ESPN on Monday.
Illegal contact is when a defender continues to initiate contact beyond five yards while the quarterback remains in the pocket with the ball. It is a five-yard penalty and results in an automatic first down.
The competition committee decided to make this a point of emphasis after the NFL saw a dramatic drop in the number of illegal contact penalties last year with the penalty being called just 36 times. From 2002 to 2020 it averaged 97 calls per season.
The games in preseason and first few weeks of the regular season ought to paint a clear picture on what kind of impact this will have on games for the 2022 season but history shows that there should be a significant spike in these penalties.
The last time the league made illegal contact a point of emphasis was in 2014, when those flags increased to 148 penalties versus 42 the year prior. It also happened in 2004, where illegal contact flags jumped to 191 from 79 in 2003.
The point of emphasis decisions made by the league’s competition committee tend to bring controversy as they are designed to increase the amount of flags on a specific penalty.
Last season, taunting was a point of emphasis with many fans and players taking issue with benign actions drawing flags.
The competition committee has also added clarification to roughing the passer fouls, per Kevin Seifert of ESPN. The penalty now states that contact to the passer's helmet or knee area must be "forcible." The rule had come under scrutiny in recent seasons for drawing flags after light contact.