Forward progress in football refers the furthest most point the ball carrier travels before his forward momentum is stopped by a defender. Forward progress is a call that the referee will make on the field to declare the play dead.
In most instances, this play occurs when a player is wrapped up by one or multiple defenders. It is important to know that forward progress is a subjective call by the referee. It is not called every time a play is no longer travelling towards the goal line.
The call of forward progression is used on plays in which it is clear that the ball carrier is no longer going to advance the ball or has been tackled behind his furthest point of progression. If a player is simply hit towards his own goal line yet stays on his feet the play will not be blown dead due to forward progress.
But if a player is pushed back three or four yards while wrapped up by a defender then forward progress would cause the ref to call the play dead.
The official NFL rulebook states this as the rule of forward progress.
“The Forward Progress of a runner or airborne receiver is the point at which his advance toward his opponent’s goal ends and is the spot at which the ball is declared dead by rule, irrespective of the runner or receiver being pushed or carried backwards by an opponent.”
What Is the Purpose Of This Rule?
There are two main purposes to the forward progress rule in football. The first being the safety of the players. And the second being finding the furthest point the ball advanced on the play.
The purpose behind this rule is to provide safety to the players. If forward progress was not a rule then all ball carriers would have to be brought out of bounds or tackled to the ground.
This means if you wrap up a quarterback in the pocket you would likely have to throw him to the ground to get the sack. In many cases, a defender can clearly have the quarterback in his grasp. These quarterbacks often have no real chance of him getting away.
In these cases, it is helpful to have forward progress to establish where the ball carrier is. That is without having to tackle him to the ground.
The other reason the forward progress rule is in place is for plays in which a player is tackled at a point behind his forward progression. In other words, sometimes a player reaches a point on the field but is tackled behind it. This occurs when they are carried or pushed backwards before falling to the ground.
Due to forward progression, this player will be marked at the furthest point on the field they reached. Without forward progression, this player would be marked down where he fell. This would then incentivize the defense to carry offensive players backwards.
Since this would negatively affect the game play this rule was put into place.
Can Forward Progress Be Reviewed?
Since forward progression calls in the NFL are subjective they cannot be reviewed. They are one of the few calls by officials in the NFL that cannot be reviewed.
Essentially it is up to the ref’s opinion whether forward progress is called. This means a ref is attempting to protect a players safety by calling them down by forward progress. Similar to a ref calling a boxing match this isn’t really something that can be overturned. A call of this type is not black and white like an inellegible receiver. This call requires the ref’s subjective opinion.
If the ref makes a split-second decision to call the play down then there is no reviewing this play or the spot of the ball.