FanPost

Why Willie Smith's Chop Block was Legal

In the 4th quarter, the Raiders are at the Steelers' 26 yardline with 0:27 remaining in the game. They are setting up position for about a 43 yard game winning field goal. That is well within Janikowski's field goal range and so all Dennis Allen/Greg Knapp want now is to set the ball up on Janikowski's preferred hashmark (apparently the left one) and on the grass (instead of the dirt).

On 1st-and-10, the Raiders run McFadden to the left.

On the backside of this play, the Raiders get a High-Low block on talented and up-and-coming Steeler's DE Ziggy Hood. Raiders RG Mike Brisiel engages Hood high and while they are flowing towards the ball (to the left), new Raider's RT Willie Smith dives into the back of Hood's leg. Low Blow (literally).

In real time, and on replay, that play looks bad. Worse than that, it looks DIRTY. Was this a form of Street Justice payback for the hits on Rod Streater, DHB, and Brandon Myers?

But this is the worst time for payback, since a 15 yard penalty would push the ball back to the 41 yard line and set up a last second field goal attempt of 58 yards. While Janikowski CAN make that distance, you certainly don't want to depend on that.

But there is no flag. 43 yards is nearly automatic for Janikowski and the Raiders win the game.


The High-Low block is what is known as the "Chop Block" and there's been a little bit of confusion about Chop Blocks. Last year, these same Steelers (well, actually it was Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke) were complaining about the Ravens using the chop block against them, claiming that the Ravens were using illegal chop blocks. And many years ago (mid 90s), many teams were complaining about the Raiders using Illegal Chops (more on this later).

In this case, Willie Smith's Chop Block is actually LEGAL.

Yes, there is such a thing as a LEGAL chop block in the NFL Rulebook. Why is any High-Low Block legal? That's a question for the NFL Rules Committee, but apparently they believe that in some cases engaging high and then low (or low and then high) is dangerous but at other times it is NOT dangerous.

Here's the section from the 2012 NFL Rulebook that deals with Chop Blocks:

Rule 12, Section 2, Article 2 : Chop Block

A Chop Block is a block by the offense in which one offensive player (designated as A1 for purposes of this rule) blocks a defensive player in the area of the thigh or lower while another offensive player (A2) engages that same defensive player above the waist.

Legal Chop Blocks
A Chop Block is legal in the following situations on Running Plays.
(a) A1 and A2, both offensive linemen, who are initially aligned adjacent to each another (sic) on the line of scrimmage, may chop a defensive player
(b) A1 and A2, both offensive linemen, who are initially aligned more than one position away from each other on the line of scrimmage, may chop a defensive player when the flow of the play is toward the block.
(c) A1 is lined up in the backfield at the snap and subsequently chops a defensive player engaged above the waist by A2, and such block occurs outside the area occupied by the tight end on either side.

Illegal Chop Blocks
All other Chop Blocks are illegal, including in the following situations :
Forward pass plays and kicking plays:
(a) A1 chops a defensive player while the defensive player is physically engaged above the waist by the blocking attempt of A2.
(b) A2 physically engages a defensive player above the waist with a blocking attempt, and A1 chops the defensive player after the contact of A2 has been broken and while A2 is still confronting the defensive player.
(c) A1 chops a defensive player while A2 confronts the defensive player in a pass-blocking posture but is not physically engaged with the defensive player (a "lure").
(d) A1 blocks a defensive player in the area of the thigh or lower, and A2, simultaneously or immediately after the block by A1, engages the defensive player high ("reverse chop")

Running Plays :
(e) A1 is lined up in the backfield at the snap and subsequently chops a defensive player engaged above the wiast by A2, and such block occurs on or behind the line of scrimmage in an area extending laterally to the position originally occupied by the tight end on either side.

(f) A1, an offensive lineman, chops a defensive player after the defensive player has been engaged by A2 (high or low), and the initial alignment of A2 is more than one position away from A1. This rule applies only when the block occurs at a time when the flow of the play is clearly away from A1. Example : C and RT on NT on sweep to left.

Penalty : For an Illegal Chop Block : Loss of 15 yards

The relevant bit is this :

(a) A1 and A2, both offensive linemen, who are initially aligned adjacent to each another (sic) on the line of scrimmage, may chop a defensive player

On Running Plays, offensive linemen who line up next to each other, CAN chop block a defensive player. In this case, Mike Brisiel engaged Ziggy Hood high while Willie Smith went low. Brisiel (RG) and Smith (RT) are aligned adjacent to each other and so the Chop Block is legal despite the fact that the flow of the run play was away. If this were a PASS play, it would have been illegal. That is one reason this rule is confusing.

But was this a dirty play? It 's hard to say because we cannot measure intent from a TV screen. What is damning is that Willie Smith went into the BACK of Hood's leg. That is what caused the injury (and it is amazing that Hood was walking off the field). In Smith's defense, the flow of play is away (to the offensive' left side) and Ziggy Hood is pursuing. In the middle of Smith's Chop Block, Hood crosses his left leg over his right as he turns slightly. It appears that this is what causes Smith to strike into the back of the leg. In this, it appears that Smith's intent was for a legal chop block and that the injury occurred incidentally as part of the play, NOT as an intentional attempt to injure. Chop Blocks are just dangerous and as long as they are legal, offensive lines will use them (especially against the better defensive linemen) and injuries are difficult to predict.

Now as a side note to Chop Blocks, The "Lure" and the Disengagement rules always make me chuckle. That rule is a result of the Raiders' offensive line blocking tactics of the early and mid 90s.

(b) A2 physically engages a defensive player above the waist with a blocking attempt, and A1 chops the defensive player after the contact of A2 has been broken and while A2 is still confronting the defensive player.
(c) A1 chops a defensive player while A2 confronts the defensive player in a pass-blocking posture but is not physically engaged with the defensive player (a "lure").

The Raiders used to use these techniques all the time and opposing teams would complain vigorously. It was a case of find a slight loophole in the rule as written. The INTENT of the rule was to protect the defender from basically a Blindside low block and what the Raiders did was to set up the defender FOR that block while technically following the rule by Not Engaging (physically) or by disengaging. In fact, what they did was to VISUALLY and MENTALLY engage the player without physically enagaging him.

(d) A1 blocks a defensive player in the area of the thigh or lower, and A2, simultaneously or immediately after the block by A1, engages the defensive player high ("reverse chop")

And a tertiary note, while most people think of a Chop Block as ONLY a "High-Low" block, Low-High is also Illegal and is written as a "Reverse Chop." During a 49ers game last year, the TV analyst went ballistic proclaiming that there is no such thing as an illegal "Low-High" block. That was, of course, incorrect (the Reverse Chop is in the 2011 Rulebook as well as the current 2012 one).

(From NinjaGoro's blog [link])

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