In football, the neutral zone refers to the area in between the offensive and defensive lines prior to the ball being snapped. The neutral zone is roughly the length of a football and runs across the entire width of the field.
This area of the field moves with the line of scrimmage. The neutral zone will always be one length of the football starting from the line of scrimmage.
The neutral zone is considered no mans land as neither team is able to enter this area of the field before the play.
This area effectively the space between the offense and the defense that ensures the players do not line-up right on top of each other.
What is a neutral zone infraction?
A neutral zone infraction is a penalty that occurs when a player enters the neutral zone prior to the snap. This penalty carries a sentence of five yards and has no loss of down.
There is only one player that is allowed to enter the neutral zone before a snap and that is the center. This position is only able to enter this area in order to take hold of the ball and snap it.
Positional players that are not touching the ball cannot enter the neutral zone until the ball is snapped.
If a defensive player enters the neutral zone causing an offensive player to move a neutral zone infraction will be called by the referee.
If a player enters the neutral zone then gets back out of it without any movement from the opposing team occurring then no penalty will be called.
In other words, neutral zone movement must cause a false start in order for it to be an infraction.
Can An Infraction Be Called On The Offense?
No, a neutral zone infraction cannot be called on an offensive player even if he enters the zone. Instead, an offensive player will be called with a false start penalty.
If an offensive player goes into this area or even ten yards past it the call on the field will be a false start penalty.
For this reason, the NFL does not need to call neutral zone infractions on the offense as there is already a penalty that covers that purpose.
What Is The Difference Between Neutral Zone Infraction And Offsides?
The difference between these two penalties is that an offside occurs when the ball is snapped while the other occurs when an offensive player reacts to movement.
An offside call occurs when the ball is snapped while a defensive player is over the line of scrimmage. A neutral zone infraction occurs when a player enters the zone and causes an opponent to move.
These two infractions both carry a five penalty and no loss of down.
Another difference between these two penalties is their effect on a free play. When a player lines up offside oftentimes this player does not have a clear path to the quarterback. This allows the offense a free play as any mistake can be forgiven by accepting the offside penalty.
When it comes to zone infractions this is not the case. This penalty occurs as a dead ball foul meaning that the ball has not yet been snapped. Therefore this penalty will not allow a free play and the yards will be given prior to the snap.