What Is Illegal Use Of The Hands In Football

An illegal use of the hands penalty in football occurs when a player makes forceful non incedental contact to another players facemask. This penalty can be called on both offensive and defensive players though the outcomes of these penalties are different.

What To Know

The illegal use of the hands penalty is almost always called around the line of scrimmage. It is the skirmishes between offensive and defensive lineman that typically lead these calls to occur.

Previously illegal use of the hands was only called if their was prolonged contact. Now, due to the NFL’s focus on improving player safety this penalty will be called if any forceful contact occurs to the head or neck area.

These penalties are often committed accidentally. When using a pash rush manoeuvre such as a bull rush it is easy to misplace your hands. As the player’s jockey for position it is not unlikely that your gloves will slip from the shoulder pads up into the neck or head area resulting in an illegal hands in the face penalty.

Aside from the health concerns placing your hands into another player’s facemask offers a major disadvantage. To understand the effect a play like this might have you need to remember the strength of a defensive lineman.

If a three hundred fifty pound d-lineman place his hands on your face mask and begins to push you are going to have a lot of trouble blocking him.

The same goes for an o-lineman who could easily subdue a pass rusher by pushing him back via the facemask. It is this effectiveness and injury concerns that led to this play being illegal.


Now that we know how and why an illegal use of the hands penalty is called let’s get into the result.

Illegal Use Of The Hands On The Offence:

When this penalty is committed by the offense there is a ten-yard penalty with the down being replayed. This is the same outcome as a holding call.

Illegal Use Of The Hands Defense:

An illegal use of the hands penalty on the defense is going to result in a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

The automatic first down is the portion of this penalty that really hurts. This is especially true if this penalty takes place on third down.

Illegal Use Of The Hands Vs Facemask Penalty

So we know that the illegal use of the hands penalty occurs when a player makes contact with another players facemask or neck area. But what exactly is a facemask penalty?

According to the NFL rulebook a facemask penalty occurs when a player “twists, turns, or pulls the facemask of an opponent in any direction.”

This is of course different from illegal use of the hands as that is more of a pushing motion. To identify the difference between these two penalties remember a facemask is pulling or twisting of the mask. And illegal use of hands is the pushing or hitting of the facemask or neck.

The other difference between these penalties is the outcome. A facemask is a personal foul on both the offense and defense. This results in a fifteen-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

While illegal use of the hands is a five or ten-yard penalty. The yardage depends on if it was committed by the offense or the defense.

When Does Illegal Use Of The Hands Get Called?

Like most penalties in the NFL, there are specific actions that tend to generate these sorts of calls. Below we will cover the situations in which illegal use of the hands is often called.

Pass Rushing An Offensive Lineman

Pass rushing against an offensive lineman is a situation which can often result in an illegal use of the hands penalty. As the defensive players hand-fight with the offensive lineman a hand can easily end up wedged against a helmet.

Typically this is going to be called when the defensive player gets his hand onto a players helmet and continues to hold it there. Previously the NFL only called this penalty if extended contact to the helmet occured.

Now they are able to call this penalty if any contact between the hand to the helmet occurs.

Blocking A Defensive Lineman

This penalty can also be called on an offensive lineman when trying to block a defensive tackle or end.

The same as when this is called against the offense any contact onto a defensive linemans helmet with your hand can earn a player this penalty.

In order to avoid this penalty offensive lineman need to be sure to keep their hands on the players shoulder pads.

This situation is one that is resposible for a large portion of theillegal use of the hands penalties called in the NFL.

Receivers Getting Off The Line

Another situation in which this penalty can occur is when a receiver is attempting to get off the line of scrimmage.

When a play starts cornerbacks will often contact the receiver. This makes it more difficult for the receiver to start his route and may throw off his timing with the quarterback.

The cornerbacks are allowed to contact the opposing receiver within the first yard of the line of scrimmage. For this reason the cornerbacks will try and hold them within this one yard for as long as possible.

On some occassions as the receiver trys to work his way around the defensive back he will have his helmet contacted.

Usually this is accidental contact that happens as the receiver passes by the corner. A referee is usually situated right at the sideline at the line of scrimmage. This means they will easily be able to see this take place and will often be called.

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