About Football Glossary - Running into the Kicker

Running into the kicker is a penalty. Getty Images

Running into the kicker is a penalty called as a result of making incidental contact with a placekicker or punter after the ball has already been kicked. Running into the kicker is a less severe version of the roughing the kicker penalty.

Roughing the Kicker

Roughing the kicker is an action where a defender contacts the plant leg of a kicker while his kicking leg is still in the air, or contacts the kicker when both of his feet are on the ground.

Kickers during, and immediately after their kicking motion are extremely vulnerable to big hits from the defense, and thus the rule is in place to help protect them. This protection also extends to the holder of a place kick. Improper contact with the holder is known as roughing the holder.

Penalty Yardage

Roughing the kicker results in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the kicking team. Thus, when a roughing the kicker penalty is called, the team about to give up possession via kicking the ball will instead retain possession of the ball and get a fresh set of downs as a result of the penalty.

If a roughing the kicker penalty occurs on a successful field goal kick, the penalty yardage is assessed on the following kickoff. The offense however can opt to accept the penalty and continue with the drive, in turn nullifying the successful field goal, in hopes of scoring a touchdown.

This technique is referred to as “taking points off of the board.”

Unlike a roughing the kicker penalty, a running into the kicker penalty results in only a five-yard penalty and does not result in an automatic first down for the kicking team.

It is not considered a foul if the contact made with the kicker is not severe, or if the kicker is able to return both feet to the ground prior to the contact and then falls over a grounded defender.

Roughing vs Running

There is often confusion regarding the difference between a running into the kicker penalty and a roughing the kicker penalty. In general, it is considered roughing the kicker if the kicker’s plant leg, which is used for balance while he kicks, is contacted. It is also considered roughing the kicker if a pursuing defender collides with the kicker when both of his feet are on the ground. It is a running into the kicker penalty when the kicker’s kicking leg is contacted. It is also considered running into the kicker is a defender positions himself underneath the kicker and prevents him from returning both of his feet to the ground.

The official NFL rulebook has a portion dedicated to the difference between roughing the kicker and running into the kicker:

Article 10: Roughing/Running into the Kicker. No defensive player may run into or rough a kicker who kicks from behind the line unless such contact:

(a) is incidental to and occurs after the defender has touched the kick in flight;
(b) is caused by the kicker's own motions;
(c) occurs during a quick kick or a rugby-style kick;
(d) occurs during or after a run behind the line;
(e) occurs after the kicker recovers a loose ball on the ground; or
(f) occurs because a defender is pushed or blocked (causing a change of direction) into the kicker; or
(g) is the result of a foul by an opponent.


Item 1: Roughing the kicker. It is a foul for roughing the kicker if a defensive player:
(a) contacts the plant leg of the kicker while his kicking leg is still in the air; or
(b) slides into or contacts the kicker when both of the kicker's feet are on the ground. It is not a foul if the contact is not severe, or if the kicker returns both feet to the ground prior to the contact and falls over a defender who is on the ground.

Note: When in doubt, it is a foul for roughing the kicker.

Item 2: Running into the Kicker. It is a foul for running into the kicker if a defensive player:
(a) contacts the kicking foot of the kicker, even if the kicker is airborne when the contact occurs; or
(b) slides under the kicker, preventing him from returning both feet to the ground.

Penalties:

(1) For roughing the kicker: Loss of 15 yards from the previous spot (personal foul) and an automatic first down.

The player may be disqualified if the action is flagrant.

(2) For running into the kicker: Loss of five yards from the previous spot (not a personal foul). There is not an automatic first down.

Example: Running into the kicker carries a five-yard penalty while roughing the kicker results in a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.