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NFL defensive linemen get away with holding penalties. Here’s how.

Offensive holding is the nemesis of players, coaches, and fans alike. But defensive linemen get away with holding plenty, too, as NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz explains.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

“THAT’S HOLDING!!!!” is the favorite line of any disgruntled fan watching a football game. It also happens to be the most common complaint made by defensive linemen. Every play is a holding to them.

Yes, we do hold, at times. Holding is considered a restriction of the defender. It is only supposed to be called if it happens at the point of attack on running plays — or in laymen’s terms, where the back is going. In the pass game, it’s more arbitrary. The white hat, head referee, is watching the quarterback and left tackle. The umpire is looking at the rest of the lineman. The hold needs to be blatant enough that the referee sees it, and determines that the defender would have gotten to the quarterback without the restriction.

This article isn’t about offensive linemen holding. It’s about the ways a defender does the same exact things they constantly bitch about, to us. They hold us, they throw us to the ground, they cut us, and they flop. You’d think as much as they publicly complain about the officiating, they would never dare break the rules themselves. LOL. Yeah right. So this article will be less on Xs and Os, and more showing all the ways defensive linemen like to “cheat” and bend the rules.

Same as us.

* * *

In 2010, the cheating was made easier by moving the umpire’s position from just behind the defensive line to behind the offense. Just look at the numbers. The year before the umpire moved, in 2009, there were 27 defensive holding calls on defensive linemen. Since the move, there has yet to be a season with more than 14. Conversely, offensive line holding is way up. In 2009, 262 holding calls. Since then, the lowest number of holding calls against offensive linemen has been 313 in 2013.

Let’s start with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their head coach is a Seattle guy, Gus Bradley. The Seahawks are notorious for playing just at the line of breaking the rules. Their defensive backs are uber physical and basically dare referees to flag them every play. That culture has made its way to Jacksonville, where defensive linemen constantly hold offensive linemen.

Against teams that play that way, offenses build in fold blocks. If you’re running a zone play, and get held, you’re not going to get to the linebacker, so one thought is to block down and pull around — a fold block. Well, that’s not so easy for the Raiders center here. Rodney Hudson is attempting to pull around and instead gets held and spun around, springing No. 51 free to make a tackle for loss.

Here’s a double whammy. Cowboys center Travis Frederick is working to the second level. He gets blatantly held by the nose guard, works off that, then gets a flag for blocking the linebacker in the back.

All interior linemen know that being held is possible. It’s not an excuse for missing a block, and there are ways we can avoid getting held. That’s by being strong with the shoulder and arm closest to the defender. Here’s the same game, and notice the center here. Frederick is forceful with his right arm, ripping through the block and staving off the hold.

To be fair, here is a defensive lineman being called for holding in the Falcons-Buccaneers game. Notice the defensive tackle over the right guard. It’s clear, and I’m glad it got called.

Here are two more run plays from the Cowboys-Vikings game. The first illustrates how defenders can sell a hold by flailing their arms to show they are being “held.” This isn’t illegal and it’s a smart move by defenders. It works well.

Here, Doug Free of the Cowboys is executing an excellent cut off block on the backside of a toss. His body is in front of the defender and the ball carrier. He’s using his hands to chop down the linebacker’s arms. If you notice, his hands are inside the entire time. The defender gets his arm caught in the body of Doug. This is not a hold, but by flailing his right arm, he gets the call.

Second, defenders complain endlessly about our use of the cut or chop block. I totally agree that we need to eliminate blocks below the waist that are from the side or behind. However, a legal chop or cut block should remain in the game. It’s one method for us to combat being held. If a defender is scared his legs are going to be cut down, he won’t hold.

That leads me to this clip. Here the Vikings’ safety, No. 22, flies downfield and cuts the offensive lineman trying to block him. This is equally as dangerous as our form of cut blocking. If they want to eliminate our style of cut blocking, they need to eliminate this as well.

On third-and-longer passing situations, or in the two-minute drill, the defensive line will run line games. Line games are hard to block even when we aren’t being held. There are two basic forms of line games. The first is when the 3-technique, the player over the guard, charges hard upfield while the defensive end wraps around inside. The hard charging 3-technique can hold the guard, allowing the defensive end to run free to the quarterback.

This is called a T/E stunt. An example of this happened Sunday in San Diego.

The Chargers are lined up with No. 94 on the right guard. He sprints off the ball and tries to chop down the arms of his blocker. By doing this, it’s easier for him to hold the guard and not be caught. It’s clear on the film. Tampa Bay’s right tackle quickly notices the twist and tries to switch it off, but it doesn’t work. Sack for Joey Bosa.

One way to combat this move is punching in pass pro. If you time up a punch, it will throw off the rush of the defender and he won’t be able to hold.

The next stunt is an E/T stunt where the DE goes inside first, picks the guard, and the tackles wraps around. Here are two examples of offensive linemen being held on these twists.

The first is near the end of the Chiefs-Broncos game. Von Miller rushes inside on Mitchell Schwartz, grabs his outside pad to hold him, and the tackle wraps around. The coaching point here would be for the tackle to punch Miller “better,” but he’s doing his job. If you punch and get extended too far, the defender will beat you.

Another clear holding — and this one got called — is on Seattle’s Cliff Avril. He’s doing the same thing as Miller and the umpire saw it.

In the end, everyone holds.