Blocks Below The Waist Explained

Blocking Below The Waist – Clarity

One of the most difficult rule areas to get right, for both players and officials, are the rules relating to Blocking Below The Waist.

So I’m going to break this area down and try and answer some of your questions. For a breakdown on high-hits, take a look here.

First, let’s be clear on when you can’t block below the waist on anybody (except the ball carrier):

  • Anytime after a change of possession
  • Anytime on a kicking play

Here are the rules for Team A (the team that put the ball into play)

The following Team A players may legally block below the waist inside the tackle box until they or the ball leave the tackle box.

  • (a) players on the line of scrimmage completely inside the tackle box at the snap; and
  • (b) backs who at the snap were stationary and at least partially inside the tackle box and at least partially inside the frame of the body of the second lineman from the snapper.

So let’s break that down, firstly we need to define the Tackle Box. It is:

A “rectangular area enclosed by the neutral zone, the two lines parallel to the sideline five yards from the snapper, and Team A’s end line”

As soon as the ball leaves the tackle box the tackle box no longer exists.

Now those players defined in (a) while the ball is still in the tackle box, block below the waist from any angle to the player they are blocking (except to clip (Clipping=from behind and at or below the waist)). Category (a) players may also clip if they are in the Free Blocking Zone (five yards laterally and three yards longitudinally from the centre) but they can’t block below the knee from behind.

All players including (a) and (b), once the ball has left the tackle box can only block below the waist if the force of the initial contact is directed from the front. “From the front” is understood to mean within the clock-face region between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock forward of the player being blocked.

Players not covered under (a)  may not block below the waist toward the original position of the ball at the snap until the ball carrier is clearly beyond the neutral zone.

You can’t block towards your own goal line except if you were an (a) and the ball is still in the tackle box.

New for 2019: The rule on blocking below the waist has been amended to place additional restrictions on backs within the tackle box. They must now engage opponents from the front like players in other parts of the field and they may not “crackback” (i.e. block below the waist towards where the ball was snapped from). Importantly, no offensive player can block below the waist more than five yards beyond the neutral zone.

Now I think you might see why this rule is so hard to understand and even harder to officiate. In order to know who can do what, you first need to establish where the player lined up at the snap and were they stationary.

Next you need to know if the ball and/or the player in question has left the tackle box.

Then you work out the angle to the player being blocked and potentially the angle to the field as well as establishing if the ball is past the original line of scrimmage!!!

Here are the rules for Team B

It’s simpler for Team B (you’ll be pleased to know!)

Players of Team B may block below the waist only within the area defined by lines parallel to the goal line five yards beyond and behind the neutral zone extended to the sidelines.

There are two further exceptions,

  • Players of Team B may not block below the waist against an opponent who is in position to receive a backward pass.
  • Players of Team B may not block below the waist against an eligible Team A pass receiver beyond the neutral zone unless attempting to get to the ball or ball carrier.

Cut Blocks; what are they?

First let’s be clear what they are. A cut block is when you block low on a player (from the front).
Here’s an example:

Watch the slot back on the near side.

Cut blocks aren’t Chop Blocks!

A cut block when it’s executed by one player is legal. If another player blocks the same person high then this is known as a chop block and is illegal. A chop block is any high-low or low-high combination block.

Here’s an example; watch the Right Guard who engages high, when the Right Tackle blocks below the waist. This is a 15 yard penalty.

Headline photograph (c) Ree Dawes