Intentional grounding in football occurs when a quarterback purposely throws an incomplete pass in order to avoid a loss of yardage.
In other words, when a quarterback knows he is going to be sacked he may opt to throw the ball away to avoid the sack. If the quarterback throws the ball away legally he will not lose any yards on the play.
If the quarterback throws the ball away illegally he will be given an intentional grounding penalty resulting in a loss of yardage and down.
Throwing The Ball Away vs Intentional Grounding
The most confusing part about intentional grounding is determining whether the quarterback threw the ball away or committed a penalty.
In order to legally throw the ball away, quarterbacks need to meet several criteria.
First off they must be out of the pocket. The pocket is the area of the offensive backfield between the two tackles on the offensive line.
Once the quarterback is out of the pocket he must then throw the ball so that it lands past or at the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage is the area of the field in which the ball was snapped.
To avoid the intentional grounding call as a quarterback you must escape the offensive pocket and then throw the ball out of bounds but past the line of scrimmage. If you meet all these criteria you will have legally thrown the ball away.
Other Ways To Avoid Intentional Grounding
Intentional grounding can be a serious penalty in football. With the loss of a down and yardage, it is common that this penalty can stop a drive. This is why quarterbacks have found other ways to avoid it.
Not So Intended Receivers
One way to avoid these calls is to not throw the ball at the ground but rather towards a receiver. If there is a receiver in the area of your pass then it cannot be considered intentional grounding.
QBs tend to take advantage of this rule by throwing the ball to a teammate’s feet when they are in trouble. Say a blitz is coming, the quarterback may throw the ball at the running backs feet in order to avoid a sack.
Since the running back is in the area this would simply be considered an incomplete pass.
Taking A Hit As You Throw
This is less of a strategy and more of a coincidence but taking a hit as you throw is one way to avoid intentional grounding.
Say a player attempts a throw and is hit while throwing resulting in a pass to an empty section of the field. This would not be considered intentional grounding as the contact with the defender affected the throw.
Why Spiking The Ball Is Not Intentional Grounding?
Since a spiking the ball is done in the pocket and the pass does not reach the line of scrimmage this play should be considered intentional grounding.
The reason it isn’t is due to a specification in the rules. Spiking is considered an exception to this rule and is included in the game in order to allow the offensive team a way to stop the clock.