"An offensive player is permitted to block an opponent by contacting him with his head, shoulders, hands, and/or outer surface of the forearm, or with any other part of his body. A blocker may use his arms, or open or closed hands, to contact an opponent on or outside the opponent's frame (the body of an opponent below the neck that is presented to the blocker). If a blocker's arms or hands are outside an opponent's frame, it is a foul if the blocker materially restricts him. The blocker immediately must work to bring his hands inside the opponent's frame, and as the play develops, the blocker is permitted to work for and maintain his position against an opponent, provided that he does not illegally clip or illegally push from behind."
- Rule 12, Section 1, Article 3 of the 2007 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League
In the unlikely event that your eyes did not glaze over while reading the paragraph above, congratulations. For everyone else, here is the quick-and-dirty summary:
In the NFL, defensive linemen are out of luck.
The key is how they deal with it.
"I don't even worry about it," said Trent Cole, the Philadelphia Eagles' best pass rusher this season with seven sacks and four hurries. "For me, it can lead to me making excuses. If offensive linemen are holding you all the time, you can't worry about it. If you do, it will tear your game apart.
"There are times you have to let it be known, but you can't be crying about it. You just have to play through it."
But it is getting so hard to rush the passer. Consider: In the six games played by the Eagles, there have been 410 passes thrown by both teams, and 45 sacks. Given all of that throwing, and all of those charging defensive behemoths, how many offensive holding penalties do you think have been called on those pass plays?
Try six. Total. Six in six games. By both teams. There have been almost as many offensive holding penalties on running plays (five), and it didn't used to be that way.
On the Chicago Bears' game-winning play Sunday, Eagles defensive end Juqua Thomas might have splattered Bears quarterback Brian Griese if not for a holding penalty that went unflagged; that is, what most people used to consider a holding penalty, but the kind of play that is increasingly going uncalled in the NFL.
The Eagles have allowed a ton of sacks, and gotten a lot of sacks as well, but that is not the league-wide norm. Sacks are harder to come by because the holding penalty is becoming extinct. (Pause for a moment of silence.)
In 2006, offensive holding penalties were down by one-third, which was attributed to a clarification of the rules during the offseason. This season seems to be more of the same, if the Eagles' games are any indication.
"I really don't think it's just because they want to help the offenses score more points," Eagles defensive lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen said.
"I really think the offensive linemen are just getting better," he said. "They're better coached. They're using better techniques. I think that's the reason."
That is one opinion.
"I really think they need to start calling more holding, throwing more flags, that's my opinion," said Cole, who is tied for third in the NFL in sacks. "People can get hurt. You're messing with people's careers."
But the rule is the rule, and anything that happens within the frame of the pass rusher's body is pretty much OK. If you've got a handful of a guy's shirt between the numbers, and you and he are locked up and moving together, you can legally keep your handful until the whistle blows. It is when you are outside his frame, when you are reaching and lunging, that you can get flagged.
But there seems to be less of that than ever. Just as defensive linemen are more disciplined in their rush lanes, offensive linemen are now more expert at grabbing a legal handful. If the result is more scoring and healthier quarterbacks, the league will be happy.
In the meantime, though, there was Juqua Thomas and Brian Griese and a game in the balance and a flag unthrown.
"I still think that last one was a penalty," von Oelhoffen said. "From the way I saw it, the guy altered JT's path to the quarterback, and I believe that's a penalty - at least that's my understanding from talking to officials over the years. But the offensive linemen are getting good. It's just the way it is."
Rich Hofmann writes for the Philadelphia Daily News.