In gridiron football, intentional grounding is an incomplete pass thrown by a quarterback toward an area of the field where there is clearly no eligible receiver. The penalty usually results in the loss of a down as well as 10 yards.[1] If the quarterback threw the pass from his team's own end zone, the penalty results in a safety being scored by the defense.[2]

In order for intentional grounding to be called, several factors must be confirmed. It is common for the penalty to be reviewed after the play, as there are numerous things to consider.

The first is location. The quarterback must be behind the line of scrimmage, and inside the 'tackle box.' The tackle box is the space between the two offensive tackles on the line. This way, if the quarterback scrambles to either side, he can throw the ball away with no penalty. The second factor is where the ball goes. If the player has left the tackle box, and throws the ball away, it must still reach the line of scrimmage before going out of bounds. Simply spiking it at the ground while running is a penalty. The third factor is "imminent pressure." If the officials determine that the quarterback did not throw the ball away in an attempt to avoid the pressure of a pass rush, then no grounding penalty will be assessed. This is commonly seen when a quarterback and his receiver are "not on the same page," e.g., the quarterback is expecting his receiver to run an out route (towards the sideline), but the receiver cuts to the middle of the field. This is also why a spike to stop the clock is not considered grounding.

If an eligible receiver is near the ball, it does not matter where the ball goes. As a result, a short screen pass could be attempted, and if it hits the ground, no penalty would be called as a receiver is nearby.

Possible examples:

  • The quarterback receives the snap, doesn't move, and throws the ball deep to the right side. Not a single receiver is close to the ball. The penalty should be called for intentional grounding, as no receiver was near the throw.
  • The quarterback is chased out of the pocket, and throws the ball out of bounds. The ball does not cross the line of scrimmage, and no receiver was nearby. This should also be a penalty.
  • The quarterback escapes a tackle and scrambles away to the right, he throws the ball short behind the line of scrimmage. It falls at the feet of a receiver. No penalty should be called as a receiver is nearby.
  • The quarterback scrambles away again, this time to the left. He throws the ball out of bounds, past the line of scrimmage. No receiver is nearby. No penalty should be called, he was out of the 'tackle box' and the play is legal.
  • The quarterback throws a pass which is quickly tipped and falls on the ground. No penalty should be called on a tipped ball in any situation.

Pro BowlEdit

In the NFL Pro Bowl, intentional grounding is legal in order to make the game safer.[3]


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.