Arguably nothing frustrates a football team like turnovers and penalties.
In the case of the latter, offensive holding infractions have taken center stage through five weeks of the season.
There were 228 such infractions through Week 3, an increase of 60 from the same point in 2018, for an average of 76 offensive holding penalties per week. According to ESPN, the surge prompted a teleconference between the NFL and league referees to provide clarity on what officiating crews should look for.
After the teleconference and Week 5’s games, offensive holding penalties had been accepted a total of 362 times around the NFL.
“The officials gave everybody a head’s up that they were going to be strong in that area and be keeping a close eye on it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I think this past week it let up a little bit, so I think everybody is kind of getting a feel on it — I’m saying league-wide.
“They’re just trying to get the point across that you have to keep your hands in tight and not grab. That’s all of the way around, not just offensive line. That’s all of the positions, offensively and defensively.”
Defenses have certainly had their share of holding infractions, too, but heads are turning on the number of offensive holding calls around the league entering Week 6.
Washington is the most penalized team when it comes to accepted offensive holding infractions, with 19, according to NFL Game Statistics & Information System.
With 13 accepted offensive holding penalties accepted against them this season, the Chiefs are tied with Atlanta, Dallas, the L.A. Chargers and San Francisco for seventh-most in the league. The league average is 11.31 per team.
Coaching staffs around the league are taking different approaches to addressing offensive holding with their players. The Indianapolis Colts, for example — last weekend’s opponent for the Chiefs — discuss such penalties several times during the week.
Colts coach Frank Reich said he ensures his players fully understand what the league is looking at, and for.
“We show film of penalties that get called and why they get called, and areas on the field that they get called,” Reich said during a recent teleconference. “A lot of times we talk about if you’re a tackle or a tight end and you’re out in open space, what that looks like.
“Then, we show examples where you don’t have to hold. For instance, we tell them to trust your running backs ... Or if you’re on special teams, trust your returner. If you can’t make the block, just trust that he’ll make them miss and that’s better than getting a penalty. I think our guys are embracing that.”
Chiefs center Austin Reiter understands the league’s increased emphasis on holding. He said he focuses on technique — keeping his feet underneath him in a tight base and hands close to ensure a “control what you can control” mentality. He said someone on either side of the line of scrimmage is often holding on any given play whether it’s called or not.
“I guess there’s varying degrees of that, but I think everybody holds,” Reiter said. “Defense holds us when they want to run their games on us inside of us, pass rushing and stuff. They’ll hold one of us so we can’t get off and block the other one. I mean, it goes both ways, but call the ones that are blatant, for sure.”
In 2018, the league’s focus fell squarely on the “lowering of the helmet to initiate contact” rule, which resulted in an uptick in penalties through the first quarter of last season before leveling out.
At what point NFL officials eventually pull back on offensive holding calls remains to be seen, but the league likely doesn’t want to average 75.5 such infractions every week.
At least one Chiefs defender enjoys seeing opponents on the offensive line under the watchful eyes of the officiating crews.
“I love it,” linebacker Damien Wilson said. “They’re finally getting caught for doing what they’ve been doing since day one. It doesn’t mean if you’re close to the ball or away from the ball, if the offensive lineman grabs you, that is holding no matter how it impacts the play. It’s just about time, man. We can’t breathe on receivers, they can’t tug at us.”