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bobref

A Primer on Holding

Question

As the season moves toward its climactic weekends, the officials are coming under more scrutiny (if that's even possible). Calls and no-calls get magnified by the importance of the games. The stakes are very high. So, if you're one of those guys who sits at a game and hollers at the officials about holding ... or if you have the misfortune to be sitting in front of or next to that guy ... this is for you.

Holding: The Most Misunderstood Foul

 

Holding is, without a doubt, the foul that is most misunderstood by players, coaches, fans, media … and yes, sad to say, by officials, too. The barrier to our more complete understanding of the holding foul is our desire for simplicity, clarity, and consistency. The complex nature of the holding foul is unlikely to satisfy that desire. Recognizing and calling the holding foul requires a disciplined “mental checklist.”

 

The first item that must be checked off is “illegal technique.” The blocking rules are fairly complex, when applied to 7 or 8 blocks on each play, many of them occurring simultaneously. A thorough knowledge of what is permitted and what is not is essential for properly calling this foul. Notably, the rules do not distinguish between holding that occurs inside the shoulder pads and holding that has the hands outside the pads, although the latter is much easier to detect.

 

The second essential element of holding is a “restriction” imposed on the movement of the player being held. This includes the concepts of “disengagement” and “superior legs.” It is never enough to simply hold an opponent. There must be restriction of movement to consider a foul. If a player is content to merely maintain his position while the opponent has a handful of his jersey, and never attempts to disengage from the hold, there’s no foul. Similarly, if an offensive lineman has a grip on an opponent’s jersey, but is simply driving him away from the point of attack through superior leg position and drive, the fact that he is holding the opponent’s jersey becomes irrelevant.

 

The third item on the checklist is “effect on the play.” Location is key. To be called a holding foul, the contact must normally include not only all the preceding elements, but also be located at or near the point of attack. Keep in mind, there can be several distinct points of attack in a single play. I once spent an entire playoff game watching the visiting team’s right tackle, who was badly overmatched by the home team’s all-state defensive end, hold on virtually every pass play. I never threw the flag once. The reason, the shotgun QB never held the ball for more than 2 seconds. It was strictly a rhythm passing game. When he wasn’t doing that, he was rolling away from that side. There’s no way the defensive end could have gotten anywhere near the QB before the ball was long gone, even if his rush had been unopposed. Therefore, since the fact that he was held had no effect on the play, no foul. I hope I have more luck explaining this concept to you than I did telling it to the all-state defensive end and his coach that night.

 

Since each of these elements involves a degree of judgment on the part of the covering official, with so many judgments to make on a single potential foul, it is no wonder that consistency is a concern. A few  guidelines can help officials call this foul more consistently:

 

  1. Call holding well away from or behind the play only when absolutely necessary and then, only with reluctance. What do you do when two guys get locked up well away from the play and one just obviously takes the other down, right out there in front of everybody? Do you lose credibility if you pass on such an obvious foul? You can help the situation by using “preventive officiating,” talking loudly to the players as they lock up and encouraging them to disengage. You can also term this “unnecessary roughness,” since it’s well away from the play, and make it a personal foul, instead of holding. But you’re probably going to need a takedown to sell that calla. If at all possible, the situation should be handled with a “talk to” instead of a flag.

     

  2. Ditto for calling holding on a double team block.  The theory here is that the offense is committing two players to a single opponent and, therefore, any advantage gained by the holding is negated by the fact that there is another player unblocked. This is only a guideline, and defensive players have been known to defeat a double team on occasion. So questionable contact on a double team simply requires an extra pause to more carefully scrutinize the action to determine if the criteria are met.

     

  3. Make It Be There. As an official, you always get in more trouble for calling the foul that wasn’t there, compared to missing one that was. If you’re going to throw the flag for a  holding penalty, remember: we’re fishing for whales, not minnows. There is so much hand contact in blocking that if you get nitpicky about holding, you are only opening yourself up to claims of inconsistency. So when you call a hold, make sure it’s one that will jump out at you on the video.

     

    Because of both the nature and the number of judgments needed, calling holding penalties will never be free from controversy. I hope this helps explain why.

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Well explained sir. Holding calls away from the play make me unhappy.

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On 11/13/2017 at 11:29 AM, bobref said:

The third item on the checklist is “effect on the play.” Location is key. To be called a holding foul, the contact must normally include not only all the preceding elements, but also be located at or near the point of attack. Keep in mind, there can be several distinct points of attack in a single play. I once spent an entire playoff game watching the visiting team’s right tackle, who was badly overmatched by the home team’s all-state defensive end, hold on virtually every pass play. I never threw the flag once. The reason, the shotgun QB never held the ball for more than 2 seconds. It was strictly a rhythm passing game. When he wasn’t doing that, he was rolling away from that side. There’s no way the defensive end could have gotten anywhere near the QB before the ball was long gone, even if his rush had been unopposed. Therefore, since the fact that he was held had no effect on the play, no foul. I hope I have more luck explaining this concept to you than I did telling it to the all-state defensive end and his coach that night.

Could not disagree with you more.  It is not necessarily the job of the official to determine if a play at the line of scrimmage could be made/effected by a held player or not.  If you determine that the DE could not make/effect the play, then the hold should not be needed either.  

So if the DE opposite of the DE being held every play knocks a pass into the air, you have eliminated the held DE from being in the area for the interception.  My scenario might be a little out there, but I feel that you determining that a player 3-4 yards from the snap of the ball being held cannot not have an effect on the play is crazy.  I can understand 15 yards from the play.  

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I think the main part of the article is not calling holding on backside of plays, or if run is to left...not calling hold on rightside.  I also think the college trainers and observers do not want holding called on a double team 99.9% of the time....that is just from clinics and on field comments I have been involved in.

But if you are wanting the opposite DE called for holding every time, even if the play is not going that way.....probably not going to happen.  As a coach,  I dont think you want 50 flags in a game....heck most of the state final games MIGHT have 5 flags entire game...and those are officiated by the coaches voted best crews.

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1 hour ago, punttheball said:

Could not disagree with you more.  It is not necessarily the job of the official to determine if a play at the line of scrimmage could be made/effected by a held player or not.  If you determine that the DE could not make/effect the play, then the hold should not be needed either.  

So if the DE opposite of the DE being held every play knocks a pass into the air, you have eliminated the held DE from being in the area for the interception.  My scenario might be a little out there, but I feel that you determining that a player 3-4 yards from the snap of the ball being held cannot not have an effect on the play is crazy.  I can understand 15 yards from the play.  

Sorry, but that analysis goes into every holding call or no-call. Officials are also taught to give every benefit of the doubt to the offended team. But in the final analysis, this call, like so many others, requires a fair amount of judgment. There’s just no way to take that out of the game. You can certainly quarrel with the decision that flows from that judgment. But that judgment is a critical part of the process cannot be denied.

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1 hour ago, bobref said:

Sorry, but that analysis goes into every holding call or no-call. Officials are also taught to give every benefit of the doubt to the offended team. But in the final analysis, this call, like so many others, requires a fair amount of judgment. There’s just no way to take that out of the game. You can certainly quarrel with the decision that flows from that judgment. But that judgment is a critical part of the process cannot be denied.

But in your analysis you are punishing a player for being better.  You have decided that an overmatched player gets to hold every play that is a pass play. Sorry but I don’t think you should do that.  Call a hold one time and maybe he will stop holding and try to block him in a legal manner.  I’m not sure the rules allow for you to make judgements like that. 

1 hour ago, falconsfbref said:

But if you are wanting the opposite DE called for holding every time, even if the play is not going that way.....probably not going to happen.  As a coach,  I dont think you want 50 flags in a game....heck most of the state final games MIGHT have 5 flags entire game...and those are officiated by the coaches voted best crews.

I don’t want 50 flags, that is not my argument. And we aren’t talking a state championship game either.   

But I would not want to have a player go through an entire game frustrated at being held every play and have bobref just shrug his shoulders and say “sorry son, you have him outmatched, deal with it”. 

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Just now, punttheball said:

But in your analysis you are punishing a player for being better.  You have decided that an overmatched player gets to hold every play that is a pass play. Sorry but I don’t think you should do that.  Call a hold one time and maybe he will stop holding and try to block him in a legal manner.  I’m not sure the rules allow for you to make judgements like that. 

It has nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with exactly what the rules are directed to: preventing someone from gaining an advantage using an unfair technique. No advantage -- no foul.

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2 hours ago, punttheball said:

But in your analysis you are punishing a player for being better.  You have decided that an overmatched player gets to hold every play that is a pass play. Sorry but I don’t think you should do that.  Call a hold one time and maybe he will stop holding and try to block him in a legal manner.  I’m not sure the rules allow for you to make judgements like that. 

I don’t want 50 flags, that is not my argument. And we aren’t talking a state championship game either.   

But I would not want to have a player go through an entire game frustrated at being held every play and have bobref just shrug his shoulders and say “sorry son, you have him outmatched, deal with it”. 

As a coach, you have input on the officials vote.  I know this is more for throughout the season, but if you look at playoff games, there are few flags.  Just guessing, but the crews probably throw less flags throughout the year, and coaches must like this....they get higher votes.  But I think bobref is right....no advantage, no foul.  That is officiating 101.  Maybe have the DE, if being held, have him twist or try and turn and then jersey pull might get noticed.....Holding is tough to call.....and again, judgement is a big factor of advantage/disadvantage.

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20 hours ago, bobref said:

It has nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with exactly what the rules are directed to: preventing someone from gaining an advantage using an unfair technique. No advantage -- no foul.

Agreed 100%.I once officiated a contest in which the entire O-Line was overmatched by a Blue-chip Defensive End.  He went through them like a VERY hot knife through butter.  He had a knockdown on nearly every pass play and if memory serves, had 11 sacks that evening.  I only called holding 3 times - because each time I called it, he was either knocked down, or severely restricted (nearly tackled).  Every other time the O-Line unsuccessfully tried to hold him, they could not restrain him.  It was almost as if he went he faster to his target.  The only time the tackles and gaurds were called for it was when they actually knocked him down, or held him so badly that he appread to be in a straight jacket.  

You know what - he never griped once - at least that I could hear.

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22 hours ago, punttheball said:

But in your analysis you are punishing a player for being better.  You have decided that an overmatched player gets to hold every play that is a pass play. Sorry but I don’t think you should do that.  Call a hold one time and maybe he will stop holding and try to block him in a legal manner.  I’m not sure the rules allow for you to make judgements like that. 

I don’t want 50 flags, that is not my argument. And we aren’t talking a state championship game either.   

But I would not want to have a player go through an entire game frustrated at being held every play and have bobref just shrug his shoulders and say “sorry son, you have him outmatched, deal with it”. 

If the QB is getting rid of the ball before the defender could have gotten there what advantage was gained by the restriction? If the QB doesn't throw it then the action could gain an advantage and it could be a hold. That's how the same block could have different results depending on what happens on the play.

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"Similarly, if an offensive lineman has a grip on an opponent’s jersey, but is simply driving him away from the point of attack through superior leg position and drive, the fact that he is holding the opponent’s jersey becomes irrelevant".

I've had several experiences with this over the past few years...OL fit's up a defender with hands inside the frame...drives him thru "superior leg position" 5-10 yards off of the football and puts the defender on his back by basically running him into the ground (Pancake)...only to immediately be called for holding. Some quotes from officials have been, "ANY time an OL "pancakes" a defender, it is AUTOMATICALLY holding", and in one fun exchange, the official had angrily told one of our OL about 8-10 plays in a row, "#56, I'm going to toss you out of the game...I'm going to RUN you"! When I asked the official what #56 was doing to warrant such a repeated warning (which only serves to make a kid hesitant and usually ineffective at doing his job), the official told me, "he is blocking excessively to the point of being unsportsmanlike". 

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10 hours ago, Coach Shipp said:

"Similarly, if an offensive lineman has a grip on an opponent’s jersey, but is simply driving him away from the point of attack through superior leg position and drive, the fact that he is holding the opponent’s jersey becomes irrelevant".

I've had several experiences with this over the past few years...OL fit's up a defender with hands inside the frame...drives him thru "superior leg position" 5-10 yards off of the football and puts the defender on his back by basically running him into the ground (Pancake)...only to immediately be called for holding. Some quotes from officials have been, "ANY time an OL "pancakes" a defender, it is AUTOMATICALLY holding", and in one fun exchange, the official had angrily told one of our OL about 8-10 plays in a row, "#56, I'm going to toss you out of the game...I'm going to RUN you"! When I asked the official what #56 was doing to warrant such a repeated warning (which only serves to make a kid hesitant and usually ineffective at doing his job), the official told me, "he is blocking excessively to the point of being unsportsmanlike". 

I've never heard the pancake is always holding one before. No idea where that would come from. The other one I can see (somewhat)and that one goes back to the old coaches adadge "block til the whistle", which no coach should still be saying. Although I wouldn't use the word  unsportsmanlike, flagrant would be the word to use a lineman could be ejected for flagrantly blocking after the play(even if no whistle). 

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He wasn't using the term "excessively" to indicate that it was beyond the whistle....his objection, if you will, was to #56 grinding the defender off the ball and putting him on his back during the play.

Also, it goes without saying EVERY time we play in Owensboro, KY, we will be assessed 7-8 holding penalties...MINIMUM. This is NOT an exaggeration. In 2007, after our 6th or 7th, John Hart asked me to confer with the side judge and ask him what the issue was. That year, there was NF paperwork given to everyone at the rules meeting discussing the need to understand modern pass blocking techniques (paraphrasing)...the official looked at me...smiled, and said, "well, we don't call 'em like that down here in Kentucky".

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2 hours ago, Coach Shipp said:

)...the official looked at me...smiled, and said, "well, we don't call 'em like that down here in Kentucky".

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. This official thought he was being clever. But he just made Friday nights more difficult for a bunch of other officials in the future.

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