Offside vs Encroachment vs Neutral Zone Infraction

If you’re an avid football fan you’ve likely heard these penalties called out hundreds of times while watching tv. Offside, encroachment, and neutral zone infractions all occur when a defensive player starts the play early or in the wrong position.

But what exactly are the rules behind each penalty?


Offside is the easiest of these three penalties to remember. When a player is offside that simply means he lined with part of his body on the wrong side of the ball.

When starting a play all offensive players should be behind the ball while all defensive players should be in front of it. If a player lines up so that part of his body is past the point of the ball that means he is lining up offside.

An offside penalty is called once the ball is snapped. The opposing team is awarded five yards but more importantly, the team will have a chance at a free offensive play.

An offside in which the ball was snapped gives the offense an opportunity to take a risk. As throwing an interception can be cancelled out by accepting the offside penalty.


This penalty is similar to offside in that it is assessed for being on the wrong side of the ball as well. Encroachment occurs when a player jumps the snap early then either makes contact with a player. Or has an unabated path to the quarterback.

You know those plays where a defensive end jumps so early the refs blow the play dead right away? This is encroachment.

On these plays, you won’t have any chance at a free play. As the play is usually blown dead almost immediately after starting.

This is why you should have blockers ready to contain whichever defensive player you are baiting to jump the snap. So long as the defensive player doesn’t have a free path to the quarterback. And does not contact another player before the ball is snapped then you can ensure an offside call instead of encroachment.

Both encroachment and offside are five yard penalties but an offside carries the potential of a free play.

Neutral Zone Infraction

The neutral zone infraction is another common penalty you will often see on Sundays. A neutral zone infraction occurs when a defensive player comes into the neutral zone and the offensive players react in order to draw a penalty.

These plays are noticeable because you will often see linemen standing up and pointing to a defensive player if he enters the neutral zone.

There are several reasons why this happens. It is not illegal for a defensive player to be in the neutral zone but it is illegal to be in the neutral zone when the ball is snapped. It is also illegal to enter the neutral zone and cause an offensive player to react.

If the offensive player reacts to the player in the neutral zone the play is blown dead. And a five-yard penalty is awarded. If the ball is snapped while the player is in the neutral zone. Then the offense has a chance at a free play.

Meaning they have the five-yard penalty which they can decide to accept or decline. As well as an opportunity to take a risk on offense. As the neutral zone, infraction flag will protect them from any turnovers.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope that this guide to offside vs encroachment vs neutral zone infraction taught learn more by reading our guides on delay of game penalties or illegal touching penalties.

Leave a Comment