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PFF Data Study: The rates, factors and impact of holding penalties in 2019

If you’ve noticed more yellow laundry on the field than ever, you’re not imagining things. The rumblings on social media have begun to pick up about the prevalence of holding calls this season, especially after the NFL announced that offensive holding would be a significant point of emphasis for officials in 2019, “particularly on the backside of the run play or line of scrimmage.”

While only two weeks into the season, the effect of the NFL’s updated guidance is being felt in a big way. Offenses have been flagged for holding 141 times versus an average of only 80 during the first two weeks from 2012 to 2018.

This analysis will dig into the numbers on holding penalty rates, the factors that cause holding on run and pass plays and how much of an impact the rule emphasis is having on NFL offenses. Most of the analysis will compare the results this season to Weeks 1 & 2 in previous seasons, as there is typically a higher penalty rate in the early weeks of the year.

The raw numbers

There can be many factors (increase pace of play, the run/pass mix) that influence those counting numbers and could make the increase look worse than it is. When we focus on penalty rates for rushing and passing separately, there’s a similar story of a league focus on legislating holding to a higher degree.

While most headlines on the offseason holding emphasis focused on the so-called “lobster blocks” on running plays specifically called out in the guidance, the dramatic uptick seen in holding looks more like a universal phenomenon.

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