Ken’s Column: No excuse for false start penalties

Published 3:29 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

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I was watching the Atlanta Falcons play the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. The Falcons committed 16 penalties in that game. In my view, that was the main reason why they lost. One of those penalties they committed was a false start penalty. To me, there’s no excuse for a false start penalty. The offensive linemen know (or should know) the snap count and when the ball is to be snapped. If they’re not sure, all they have to do is watch the ball and wait until it is snapped before they move to block. Can someone explain to me why this penalty is committed over and over again when there is no need for it?

It’s a five-yard penalty and can be very costly. It can mean the difference between third down and five and third down and 10. It may seem like an insignificant penalty considering that other penalties, like offensive holding and pass interference, carry more yardage, but at the end of the day, in a close and hotly-contested game, it can mean the difference between winning and losing.

To be fair, I’ve never played organized football. However, I have played recreational flag football and two-hand touch football. We all knew that we weren’t suppose to move on offense or defense until the ball was snapped and we all knew that we weren’t suppose to move until the quarterback said “hut” or “hut hut”. We knew we were not supposed to move before then. I’ve also watched enough high school, college and NFL football to know that false start penalties need not happen.

Yes, I know that in high school, college and the NFL, the snap count is much, much more involved and complex than in a simple recreational flag football or two-hand touch game. However, the principle is still the same. You don’t move until the ball is snapped. There are several teams at every level from Pop Warner to the NFL that have lost close games. If they were to look back at what went wrong, more than likely, they would see that a false start penalty here and there in critical points of the game ended up proving costly.

Committing a false start penalty is simply the result of a lack of concentration and a lack of discipline. There’s no need for it. I’m a little more sympathetic to those on the defensive side of the ball. They don’t know the snap count and the quarterback can use cadence that can cause a defensive lineman to be jumpy. However, the defensive linemen need only watch the ball and hold their positions until it is snapped. Jumping off sides is also the result of a lack of concentration and a lack of discipline. I’m sure that these types of penalties (particularly false start penalties on offense) drive Ross Couch, Rod Murray and Darren Alford crazy on Friday nights.

Other penalties, such as offensive and defensive holding, pass interference and blocks in the back are physical mistakes in the heat of battle. While they are drive killers as well, it is more understandable to me why they happen.

However, I will reiterate my point again. False start penalties are inexcusable because the offensive line knows the snap count and when the ball is supposed to be snapped. All they have to do is watch the ball until it is snapped. That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.

Ken Gustafson is the sports editor for the Americus Times-Recorder. To contact him, email him at, or call 229-924-2751.