Block In The Back Penalty Explained With Examples

Written By: Ryan Swingle
Updated: February 12, 2024

There is a wide variety of blocking techniques used for varying schemes across football, but the underlying theme is that they all fall within the legal framework of the game. If a blocker does not use a legal blocking technique, a penalty flag will be thrown, and a loss of yardage ensues.

A legal block occurs when the blocker strikes the opponent, attacking the front side of the body, with his strike landing within the body’s framework. There are many intricacies to consider when identifying an illegal block, but they tend to fall outside of this definition of a legal block.

This article will show the difference between legal and illegal blocks in football.

The two ways to engage an opponent are striking through the chest on his feet or cut blocking as he attempts to drive through the opponent’s legs.

Upper Body Block

The first legal block we will examine is striking through the chest while still on our feet. This block is common in most run and pass schemes and can be identified in any football gameplay.

The player must engage the defender while attacking the front of his body with his hands landing in the inside framework, ideally the breastplate, of the defender’s body. If the block does not follow these criteria, a penalty will be issued.

Cut Block

The cut block is often used in space, and its legality can often be difficult to understand. The cut block has been banned at some levels, so examine your league rules before deciding to utilize this block.

When cutting, a blocker must attack the defender’s front side of the lower body without contact from another player. If there is contact coming from the side or rear while cutting, a flag will be thrown. If another player is already engaged with the defender and decides to cut block, a flag will be thrown.

Illegal Blocks In Football

When a block falls outside of the framework explained above, a penalty flag is thrown. However, some details go into each illegal block that determines the type and severity of the penalty that accompanies the block.


Holding occurs when the hands go outside the framework of the defender’s body during the block. Excessive grabbing of jerseys when striking on the inside of the body can also warrant a holding penalty.

holding in football

It is important to work on “re-fitting” your hands back inside to avoid this penalty as the defender attempts to put a move on to disengage the blocker.

The result is a ten yards penalty for committing this infraction.


Clipping occurs when a blocker engages the defender’s lower half from the backside. This tends to deal with cut blocking for the most part, but some severe blocks from behind above the belt will also warrant a clipping penalty from the official.

clipping in football

There is a lot of overlap and even misinterpretation with clipping and blocking in the back, but the main difference is the severity and where the block occurs. Clipping is more severe and usually occurs below the waist.

This penalty consists of a loss of fifteen yards when called.

Illegal Block In The Back

An Illegal Block in the Back is the less harsh version of clipping. It deals with a strike above the waist to the defender’s backside instead of clipping, which occurs below the waist.

The important thing to remember with this block is that if you are engaged with a defender who gives you their backside, it is legal to continue engaging them even though you are striking them in the back. This only applies to the initial engagement occurring in the open field.

It’s important to take a proper angle to the opposing team. The offensive team should be able to see the eyes of everyone they need to block, that way you can avoid a ten yard penalty.

When blocking for a ball carrier, block or push the player from the front or side to avoid penalties and keep everyone safe.

With it being less harsh than clipping, this infraction only carries a ten-yard penalty.

Illegal Hands To The Face

Illegal hands to the face is what it sounds like. This penalty occurs when the player strikes the face or helmet of the opponent.

To avoid this penalty, it is important to remember to once again “re-fit” your hands throughout the block. This tends to get called as the hands travel up the breastplate when the blocker tries to lift. Re-fitting your hands inside and on the breastplate will take your hands away from the head and prevent holding and allow for better leverage on the defender.

This penalty carries a ten-yard loss, but it can be a fifteen-yard loss if severe enough to warrant a full face mask penalty.

Chop Block

A High-low block is one of the most dangerous blocks in football. It occurs when two players engage a defender, and one of the blockers is cutting. It can cause severe injuries, and player safety needs to avoid this block.

Chop block in football

To avoid this penalty, communicate pre-snap who is cutting with whatever terminology you may use. This way, all linemen know who is cutting and do not engage the defender on the receiving end of the block.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

Keep Learning

Now that you know what kinds of blocks are illegal and legal, it’s important to play with consistency.

If you’re looking to learn more and grow your football IQ, we recommend you check out our Ultimate Football Guide.

Below are articles to help you learn more about the rules of football.

Rules Of American Football – Beginner’s Guide

Illegal Contact With Wide Receivers Explained

What Is A Flag In Football? Penalty Flags Explained

Can A Football Game End On A Penalty?

Football Overtime Rules: NFL Vs. College/High School

Understanding the 5 Yard Contact Rule In The NFL

Learn Offsides, Neutral Zone Infraction, and Encroachment

Complete Guide To Referee Signals In American Football

What Is A Safety In Football? Explained

When considering the legality of a block, it is important to consider what portion of the defender the blocker is attacking and if the strike lands in the body’s framework.

If it does not land on the front side and within the body’s framework, it can fall into the categories of holding, clipping, block in the back, hands to the face, or a high low.

This is a crucial teaching point when teaching younger players. It’s important to make sure that they always see their face before making contact.

Successfully running a play but having it called back because of an illegal block can stall an offense and put your team in a bad situation. Field position is often won through positive plays. Negative plays not only lose field position but can often drain a team mentally.

Study the legal blocks and make sure that everything you do is above the waist and efficient.

About the author 

Ryan Swingle

Coach Ryan Swingle is the current offensive line coach at Hamilton College in New York. Coach Swingle has also coached for the Cleveland Browns and Cornell University.