20+ Differences Between Offside And Encroachment (Explained)

American football is one sport that keeps everybody on their toes. Any side can gain momentum at any point, changing the entire environment. On the other hand, the energy can lower immediately as well, especially when there is a penalty.

The team on the defense has to take care of certain penalties that can happen from their end – two of them being offside and encroachment. While these can be strategically used, it affects the flow for both sides, with the defense suffering a bit more.

Key Differences Between Offside And Encroachment

Comparison Between Offside And Encroachment

Time of HappeningOffside happens simultaneously when the ball is passed. It can be called after the play at the quarterback’s discretion.Encroachment happens before the ball is successfully passed. It is always called by the referee.
The ConsequenceA 5-yard penalty to the defense and a replay whenever the foul is called. However, it may not be called if the offense covers enough ground.An immediate 5-yard penalty to the defense and a replay. 
Who can CommitAn offside is possible from the defense as well as the offense.Only the defense can commit an encroachment.
The Advantage to the OffenseThe offside allows one free play without losing a down(play) by way of continuation. On the other hand, it offers yardage when called.Encroachment only offers a yardage benefit to the offense.

Major Differences Between Offside And Encroachment

What Is Offside?

An offside happens at the time when the ball is snapped. Both teams can commit this penalty except the center from the offense who is in the neutral zone.

For either team, the penalty is free to play, and a loss of 5 yards, meaning the line of scrimmage will be pushed back towards the side at fault.

In case of an offside, the play can continue, and the quarterback decides to take the penalty or not. He can decline if the team scores.

However, in cases where the defensive player commits an offside and can aim at the quarterback, that is a dead ball, and the play repeats at the same point.

What Is Encroachment?

Encroachment is a penalty that is mainly committed by the team on defense. This penalty happens when the ball has not been snapped yet.

In this case, any player from the defense not only crosses the neutral zone but also makes contact with the player on offense or the ball. 

Encroachment is also called when during an offside, a defensive player can go straight toward the quarterback. The player may also interfere with the snap in case of encroachment.

Under this penalty, the down(the play) is declared dead on the spot, and the play repeats with a yardage loss of 5 to the defense. This penalty is easily identifiable as it involves contact and/or interference.

The Major Differences Between Offside And Encroachment

Contrast Between Offside And Encroachment

Time Of Happening

  • Offside- The time of an offside happening is right when the ball is passed. A team player would be inside the neutral zone at this time and not before the ball is passed. It is called after the play is complete.
  • Encroachment- The time of an encroachment occurring is prior to the ball in play. The contact made with the player or the ball is when the ball is not passed yet. It is called on the spot.

The Consequence

Offside- The defensive team loses 5 yards as a penalty, meaning the new play will start from 5 yards in front of the previous scrimmage line. In general, the play continues, and the quarterback may or may not call the foul.

Encroachment- The team on defense loses 5 yards. However, an encroachment is always a dead ball. The play is called off immediately and repeated at the new line after the yardage loss.

Who Can Commit

  • Offside- Anyone from both teams except the center from the offense can commit an offside. However, the defensive players tend to do this more. In cases when an offensive player commits an offside, it can also be a false start, which calls off the play immediately.
  • Encroachment- Only the defense team can commit an encroachment by making contact. Encroachment by interference or because of a player being able to reach the quarterback is also caused by defense only.

The Advantage To Offense

  • Offside- An offside from the defense gives the advantage of free play to the offense. This allows the offensive team to go for more yardage without losing the down. If the team manages to cover, the down is declared valid. If not, the offside can be called, allowing the offense another attempt with 5 yards awarded.
  • Encroachment- Encroachment has less advantage for the team on offense. While it may earn them 5 yards like in an offside, it would not allow them a free play as the foul is called immediately.
Causes And Consequences Offside Vs Encroachment

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1. What is meant by a false start?

A false start is a form of offside foul committed by any player on the offensive team but the center.

It happens when a sudden movement from the offense causes the defense to enter the neutral zone. Like encroachment, the play is stopped immediately and repeated.

Q2. What is a neutral zone?

A neutral zone is an imaginary strip parallel to the yard lines. The thickness of the strip would be 11 inches.

If anyone except the center is in this area on or before the ball is snapped, an offside or a neutral zone infraction can be called.

Q3. How to avoid offside fouls from happening?

To avoid offsides from happening often, you need to make sure your team stays behind the neutral zone.

You can check with a yard marker and see where the ball sits. Then take your stance about a yard behind the football, which would ensure no one crosses the line. 

Q4. How to prevent encroachments from happening?

Encroachments can be easily avoided if the defensive team takes all precautions to not commit an offside. Other than that, you need to wait for the ball to be passed successfully.

Also, make sure your formation does not allow any player to get the quarterback before the ball is snapped.

Q5. What exactly is scrimmage?

The line of scrimmage is decided from the place where the ball lies after the previous play and calculating the yardage penalty. It is used interchangeably with the neutral zone often.

However, the line of scrimmage is an imaginary line, not a strip like the neutral zone. It is a boundary line for the defensive team.

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