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Intentional Grounding In Football Explained

It’s common to watch a football game on Friday, Saturday, or even Sunday and see the referee call intentional grounding. What is intentional grounding, and why is it important in football?

Intentional grounding is when the quarterback throws the football to an area without receivers while still in the pocket. This results in a 10-yard penalty and a loss of down.

This article will show you all the scenarios that a referee may call intentional grounding.

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Intentional Grounding Rule

The intentional grounding rule was put into place to protect the quarterback. Now that the game of football is a much more finesse game, quarterbacks are throwing 30-40 times a game. This high volume of passing means the quarterback is more susceptible to getting hit.

To protect the quarterback, league officials created a rule that allowed quarterbacks to throw the ball away (this means throwing the ball out of bounds) if no receivers are open. This means the quarterback wouldn’t have to get hit and could safely end the play without any negative results.

However, quarterbacks can’t just throw the ball away whenever and wherever they want, there are a set of rules to which the quarterback must adhere when throwing the ball away.

The Football Must Be Thrown Outside Of The Pocket

The first rule when throwing the ball away is that the quarterback must be outside the pocket. The pocket is an imaginary line determined by the referees that form from left offensive tackle to right offensive tackle.

Intentional Grounding Pocket In Football
The Red Box Above Demonstrates The Pocket

If the quarterback decides to throw the ball away, they must physically be outside of the pocket. The referee ultimately has the final say if the quarterback was out of the pocket or not.

Once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he is free to throw the ball out of bounds if he feels the need to.

The Ball Must Be Thrown Beyond The Line Of Scrimmage

The next rule to avoid intentional grounding is the quarterback must throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. As they move out of the pocket, this means the quarterback needs to throw the ball out of bounds and beyond the line of scrimmage.

Too often do quarterbacks feel pressure from a defensive lineman, start running out of the pocket, and flip the ball out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.

The side judge will determine if the football crossed the line of scrimmage or not. If the side judge determines the ball did not cross the line of scrimmage, they will deem is intentional grounding.

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Receivers Must Be In The Area

The last rule for intentional grounding is a receiver must be in the area of the throw if the throw does not go out of bounds.

For example, if the quarterback is rolling out of the pocket and cannot throw the ball out of bounds, they need to ensure that a receiver is in the area.

The referee may call intentional grounding if the ball doesn’t go out of bounds and there are no receivers in the area.

It’s key for the quarterback to be out of the pocket and throw the ball out of bounds and past the line of scrimmage to avoid intentional grounding.

Referee Sign For Intentional Grounding

The referees will typically meet before they throw a flag for intentional grounding. This is to discuss all the rules above unless the penalty is clear and obvious.

Intentional Grounding Referee Signal In Football

When the referees decide it’s intentional grounding, the referee will move his hands diagonal to signal intentional grounding.

You may see the second sign when both hands go behind his head at the same time. This is to signal that there is a loss of down on the play.

See a complete list of referee signals here.

How To Avoid Intentional Grounding

We recommend practicing throwing the ball away in practice. Too often, younger quarterbacks will panic in a game and not know when to throw the football away.

Work on rolling out of the pocket and throwing the ball into the stands or on the track. This will give the quarterback enough confidence to throw the ball where they are not typically comfortable throwing it.

These types of drills will help your quarterbacks avoid intentional grounding during the chaos of the football game.

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