In football, it’s not just the offensive linemen who block for their team. Skill position players throw blocks too, sometimes with as much force as a tackle – and the defenders don’t even expect it! These forceful, unexpected blocks are called “crackback blocks”.
So, what exactly is a crackback block in football?
A crackback block is a football move where an offensive player delivers a block to the blindside of a defender, usually from out wide. This creates room for the ball carrier to continue moving forward. While anyone can perform a crackback block, wide receivers and tight ends usually do it.
While exciting and useful, the crackback block is one of football’s most dangerous plays. For this reason, football rules officials have banned many crackback block techniques. But before we go over that, we need to dive deeper into…
What Is a Crackback Block in Football?
To better explain a crackback block, let’s see how it’s different from a traditional block. A traditional block is what you typically see right after the ball is snapped. A lineman or tight end plants himself at the line of scrimmage, ready to stop a pursuing defender.
Likewise, a running back may set up behind the offensive line to stop an extra pass rusher or somebody who beat the first blocker.
Crackback blocks don’t usually happen at the line of scrimmage. They’re often utilized in the open field when the ball carrier has more space to run – whether it’s after a catch or a run breaking past the line of scrimmage.
Unlike traditional line of scrimmage blocks, players perform crackback blocks while running at full speed. This creates huge collisions that take defenders out of plays entirely.
Also unlike line of scrimmage blocks, defenders don’t see crackback blocks coming. When they try to break through the offensive line, defenders see exactly who is blocking them.
But while chasing the ballcarrier in the open field, a defender will be focused on making the tackle and probably won’t see an opponent charging in from the side, ready to knock him out of the play.
Lastly, crackback blocks are different from traditional line of scrimmage blocks because they’re often unplanned. In a passing play, each receiver has a route to run.
If a teammate catches the ball, a receiver may stop his route and run toward the ball carrier, looking for the chance to deliver a crackback block on an unsuspecting defender.
Crackback blocks usually come from tight ends and wide receivers because of their location on the field when the opportunity for a crackback block comes.
With that said, crackback blocks don’t always happen on offense. You’ll see crackback blocks on punts, kickoffs, and interception returns. Here are some common scenarios for crackback blocks:
- A run play takes the running back outside, heading toward the left sideline. At the same time, a wide receiver runs from the left sideline toward the middle of the field. The receiver finds an outside linebacker crossing the line of scrimmage in pursuit of the ballcarrier. Before the linebacker can catch the ballcarrier, the wide receiver hits the linebacker on his right side, knocking him out of the play. The ballcarrier now has free space to turn the corner and run down the sideline.
- On a punt return, the return man breaks right after catching the punt. As an oncoming defender turns to pursue the return man, a blocker on the receiving team runs toward the middle of the field and knocks the defender off his feet.
While crackback blocks are effective, they are also very dangerous. One-third of concussions on punt returns come as a result of blindside blocks, which crackback blocks fall under.
Most crackback blocks are now illegal plays, although there are a few ways to set a legal crackback block.
Are Crackback Blocks Illegal in Football?
For player safety purposes, most leagues have banned blindside blocks. Some crackback blocks are legal, although rules changes have rendered most techniques illegal.
According to the NFL rulebook, which refers to a crackback block as a “peel back block”:
“An offensive player cannot initiate contact on the side and below the waist against an opponent if:
- the blocker is moving toward his own end line; and
- he approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.”
The rulebook also specifies that if the blocker’s shoulder hits the front of the defender’s body, the block is legal.
Crackback Block Rule
As a type of blindside block, crackback blocks are mostly illegal. Here is how they’re governed at each level of play:
Crackback Block Youth Football Rule
As of 2018, crackback blocks are illegal in youth football. The NFHS rules committee considers a blindside block to be contact on an opponent who is vulnerable to injury because of their “physical positioning and focus of concentration.”
The penalty for a crackback block, or any other type of blindside block, is 15 yards.
Crackback Block College Football Rule
Starting in 2019, crackback blocks (as a form of “blindside blocks”) are illegal in college football. There is a 15-yard penalty for violating this rule.
If a crackback block includes forcible contact to the head or neck area, targeting may also be called. Targeting results in the disqualification of the offending player.
NFL Crackback Block Rule
In the NFL, crackback blocks are legal, but contact MUST be made between the shoulders and waist. The blocker also can’t be moving toward or parallel to his own endzone.
Until a 2017 rules update, the NFL allowed contact below the waist or above the shoulders if the crackback block was within two yards of the tackle box.
In a video analysis described on FootballZebras.com, an example of a legal crackback block showed a wide receiver moving forward after the snap, then cutting inward to set a crackback block on a defender.
What Is an Illegal Block in Football?
In addition to blindside blocks, there are many other types of illegal blocks. Below are some of them:
- Block in the back: pushing/tackling a defender from behind
- Clipping: blocking an opponent below the waist from behind
- Chop block: blocking below the waist while a teammate engages the same defender above the waist
- Holding: grabbing a defender or pushing from behind to prevent him from tackling the ball carrier
- Hands to the facemask: pushing hands onto the opponent’s helmet or facemask.
Illegal blocks usually result in 5, 10, or 15-yard penalties. For reference, illegal blindside blocks are personal fouls and cause 15-yard penalties).
What Is a Blindside Block in Football?
A blindside block, as defined by the NFL, occurs when “a player initiates a block when he is moving toward or parallel to his own end line and makes contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.”
In 2019, NFL team owners voted to make blindside blocks illegal, citing player safety concerns.
Blindside blocks are illegal at all levels. When the NCAA banned blindside blocks, the Playing Rules Oversight Panel explained that the use of forcible contact was banned.
While there is no specific technique for legally blocking a defenseless player, the NCAA suggested that coaches can now emphasize blocking fundamentals that don’t involve forceful contact to the blindside.
High School rules officials provide similar insight to that of the NCAA. While players can no longer set blindside blocks, they can focus on setting blocks with open hands to avoid forceful contact.
Why Are Blocks in the Back Illegal?
A block in the back is illegal because it falls under the rules for illegal blindside blocks. The NFL rulebook also refers to this move as an “illegal block above the waist.”
When you see block in the back penalties on TV, it’s usually because an offensive player pushed a defender’s back, causing the defender to fall.
Clipping is similar to a block in the back. While both plays involve contact to the opponent’s back, clipping is a block below the defender’s waist.
A block in the back penalty is like holding; the punishment is 10 yards from the spot of the foul. Because blindside blocks are now illegal, you’re less likely to see crackback blocks during football games.
While football is a contact sport, crackback blocks take this to the extreme. There are plenty of other safer, more legal ways to block defenders from getting to the ball carrier.