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Dissecting blindside blocks: when is it legal or illegal?

An analysis of how blindside blocks are determined according to the rules.



Analysis by Rich Madrid

There has been a great deal of confusion among fans as to what constitutes a blindside block. Part of that confusion stems from the fact that in 2019, the NFL competition committee changed the rules on blindside blocks. Originally, the rule covered only forcible contact to the head or neck area of an opponent while moving toward or parallel to his own end line to an opposing player; it changed to be a foul when forcible contact is initiated with his head, shoulder, or forearm anywhere to a player’s body. This does not mean that players can’t initiate contact at all, they may still use their hands or bodies while moving toward their own end.

First, the current rule on illegal blindside blocks as written in Rule 12-2-7:

It is a foul if a player initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.

Note: It is not a foul for a blindside block if the forcible contact occurs in “close-line play” prior to the ball leaving that area. The ball is not considered to have left that area if the player who takes the snap, either from a shotgun position or from under center, retreats in the pocket immediately or with a slight delay, and hands the ball to another player, or runs with the ball himself. This exception does not apply to any action other than a designed play. Any forcible contact in “close-line play” is still subject to the restrictions for crackback and peel back blocks.

Football Zebras has learned that this season the league is emphasizing to coaches that they should be encouraging players to shield with their bodies or push with their hands rather than trying to initiate a full blown block of an opposing player. Special emphasis is being placed on actions that are 1) not forcible/actions by the defender, 2) actions that meet the directional requirements but are not deemed forcible contact, and 3) actions where the defender braces for impact or even initiates contact himself.

Illegal blindside block

Below is an example of an illegal blindside block.

In the clip from the 2018 Packers vs. Dolphins game in week 10, Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (No. 19) initiates an illegal blindside block on cornerback Bobby McCain (No. 28) as receiver Devante Adams turns up field after catching a pass near the sideline. Notice that St. Brown is moving directly perpendicularly and back toward his own goal line when he throws a crushing block that ends up injuring McCain and removing him from the game.

This was not a foul at the time, since there was not contact to the head or neck area, but it was one of the plays that was the impetus for the rule change in 2019.

Legal blocks

The following illustrate legal blocks that were flagged as illegal on the field. Because these have teachable aspects — and in some cases reflect a slight refinement in interpretation after the fact — they are good examples of what the officiating department is instructing its officials. This information is also sent to the teams so they can properly coach players.

Actions that are not forcible

Players can still initiate contact if moving in the direction toward their own goal line if the contact is not forcible but used to screen or disrupt the path of the player.

In this clip from week 14 of 2020 in the Patriots vs. Chiefs game, the Chiefs offensive lineman uses his body to shield the quarterback from a hit from behind but does not make forcible contact to the defender. His actions are more of a screening movement and should be considered legal in that case. Offensive lineman Austin Reiter was flagged for this block in that game but the play itself is used as a teaching point for officials to show that it is not considered illegal and should not be flagged.

Actions that meet the directional requirements

Contact with an opposing player can be forcible but not meet the criteria for the blindside block if the blocker who initiates is moving downfield toward the opponent’s goal line.

In this example, the Saints blocker initiates contact with his shoulder, is forcible, but is not considered a foul because he is moving toward his opponent’s goal line. There is also no contact to the defender in his head or neck area so it would not be covered by any other rule. Thus it is a clean block.

Actions where a defender initiates contact

Contact with a defender where the defender initiates most of the contact is also not considered a foul.

Browns receiver Jarvis Landry (No. 80) was flagged for an illegal blindside block when he and Seahawks defender Marquise Blair (No. 27) collided along the sideline during a play in their week 6 game in 2019. The blindside block criteria for the block was not met in this collision since Landry was not traveling toward his own goal line and contact was initiated by Blair.


The league’s intent is to emphasize the spirit and intent of the rule and to focus specifically on those acts that are clearly and obviously forcible in nature while moving in the wrong direction, acts that could cause injury due to the nature of the contact.

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