Beginning this season, as part of a continued emphasis on player safety, the definition of illegal blindside blocks will be expanding. The new rules — proposed and voted on this spring — define an illegal blindside block as when a player initiates a block when he is moving toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm or shoulder. Under previous rules, blindside blocks would have drawn a flag only if it was targeted to the head or neck area of the player receiving the block. According to NFL Football Operations, a third of all concussions suffered by players on punts last season were caused by blindside blocks.
Blockers may still legally use their hands and their bodies to initiate blocks in the direction of a blindside block.
Blindside blocks are also legal when the block takes place in the tackle box, the area between the offensive tackles, and three yards in front of or behind the line of scrimmage, until the ball leaves that area. Once the ball leaves the tackle box, the box disappears, and any blindside block in that area becomes illegal. The tackle box provision is not actually an exception, but rather an interpretation that there can’t be forcible contact in the confines of the “mixing bowl” that exists around the location of the snap. Additionally, incidental contact (defined as an absence of forcible contact) is also not a foul for a blindside block, even though the other provisions may be present, although it may still be an illegal crackback or peel-back block.
A handful of plays from last season illustrate the new rule and the mechanics of when to call or not call a block an illegal blindside. These all illustrate illegal blindside blocks when there was contact to the head or neck area, however the trajectory of these blocks using the helmet, shoulder, or forearm, are illegal regardless of the targeted area.
In a play from a Patriots-Bills game last season, a Buffalo receiver contacted a New England defender with his shoulder while running back toward Buffalo’s end line. Under the expansion of what constitutes an illegal blindside block, this block is illegal and would draw a flag for an illegal blindside block.
Similarly, following an interception in the Browns-Buccaneers game, a block occurs when a member of the intercepting team heads back toward his own end line to hit the shoulder of the Tampa Bay player with his own shoulder. This is an illegal blindside block since the Cleveland player was running in the direction of his own end line, and hit the receiver of the block with his shoulder, which is one of the three parts of the body that if contact is first made with it, it constitutes a foul.
In this play from last season’s Dolphins-Packers contest, a Green Bay receiver blocked a Miami defender using his head and shoulder while running toward his goal line. This block resulted in an injury, and is a foul under the new rule for an illegal blindside block.
Finally, from the second meeting between the Rams and Cardinals last season, an Arizona offensive lineman used his shoulder and head to block a Los Angeles linebacker to allow the quarterback to scramble. This is a foul for an illegal blindside block since the lineman was running toward his own end line. This is the only play from the four highlighted that was not flagged in the 2018 season.
Prior to this season, the main focus was on blindside blocks that were delivered to the head of the player receiving the block or by the head of the player initiating the block. However, many other blindside blocks, especially those initiated with the shoulder in all examples above, are causes of significant injury, especially since there is no real ability to brace for the imminent contact. Blockers may still legally block with their hands when approaching their own end line, which is still is quite effective, as it retains the surprise element without a potential infliction of severe injury.
In another example from 2018, Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka was contacted following a blocked kick. The kicker is fair game when he exhibits some active intent to make a play. The blindside block that was delivered to him was legal in 2018, because there was no forcible blow to the head or neck area; this is a 15-yard foul in 2019.
Contact within the tackle box as a result of these blindside blocks remains legal since it is not a significant cause of injury, as there is more of a risk with forcible contact taking place in the open field. A block thrusted from the head, shoulder, or forearm is enough of a blow that, when going against the flow of the play, creates an injury risk.
As pictured from these plays, illegal blindside blocks can occur on any type of play, including run plays, pass plays, and plays on special teams. With this emphasis on player safety, we can expect to see a decrease in these blocks, and hopefully resulting in a decrease in injuries. Data will be compiled by the league at the end of the season to determine the effectiveness of this rule, but as always the case, the emphasis is placed on player safety, which is the impetus behind this rule change for the 2019 season.
Ben Austro contributed to this report.