INDIANAPOLIS --- NFL officials are emphasizing the rules in 2014 in multiple facets of the game but defensive holding and illegal contact are getting the most attention.
Through the first 22 preseason games, 494 penalties had been called. That's 22 penalties per game. 27% of those flags were for defensive holding, illegal contact, or defensive pass interference. No NFL team in 2013 even averaged 8 penalties per game.
For those that are unfamiliar, illegal contact is called on a defender who makes contact farther than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Defensive holding is called when a defender holds a receiver at any point before the ball is released by the quarterback. Both are five yard penalties and an automatic first down.
"For players getting their hands on them, we need to keep on doing that underneath five yards," said Colts Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky this week. "It's not a healthy five. It's five yards. We have to make sure we teach it in practice and during the game we implement the same thing."
In previous seasons, officials, at times, were lenient on some contact beyond five yards. They are promising to crack down on it, and the results in the preseason have illustrated that.
The Colts had an interception called back Saturday against the Giants due to an illegal contact penalty. The very next play Indianapolis recovered a fumble only to have that also reversed by another illegal contact call.
"They're emphasizing contact after five yards," said Colts safety Mike Adams this week, who is entering his 11th season in the NFL as a defensive back. "As DBs, we're taught to get our hands on them under five (yards). It shouldn't affect us too much, but obviously with all the flags it's a little different. It's a little adjustment we have to make."
The Steelers and Eagles kicked off week three of the preseason Thursday night, with 27 more penalties called in the game. On 10 occasions (although some were declined), either defensive holding, illegal contact, or defensive pass interference was called.
"We expected it. I think there's an adjustment period for our officials, for the coaches and our players," NFL vice president of officiatingDean Blandino said Thursday night on NFL Network's NFL Total Access Postgame. "When the regular season rolls around, I think everybody will be on the same page, and I think you'll see those foul totals go down."
It should also be noted that officials are also emphasizing offensive pass interference, especially when receivers push off at the top of their routes, but the defensive penalties in pass coverage has been front and center this preseason.
"You want clean offensive plays, and you want clean defensive plays," Colts tight end Coby Fleener said. "With the holding and pushing back and forth, it really kind of leads to a less fun game to watch for the fans, a less fun game to play for both sides. Hopefully, it really goes back to technique."
And don't forget these aren't new rules. They are rules that previously haven't gone by the letter of the law...until now.