Cardinals’ defensive end Calais Campbell bolted off the line of scrimmage and right into the hands of Broncos’ tackle Ryan Clady. Campbell knew that if he could just get past Clady, he could get into the backfield and make a game-changing play. What Campbell didn’t know was that Broncos’ tight end Julius Thomas was about to come out of nowhere and lay a devastating hit towards his knees, while Clady continued to block him up high. This shocking play, which happened during the 2014 season, left Campbell with a strained MCL and forced many fans to wonder how such a dangerous play could exist in a league that prides itself on player safety. This technique is known as the “chop block,” and after much controversy, it will finally be eliminated for the 2016 NFL season.
The chop block was a key discussion during the NFL’s Annual Meeting last Tuesday, and after much debate, team owners came to the realization that the technique no longer belongs in professional football. Though the league has made redundant and pointless rule changes in recent offseasons, the elimination of the chop block was the best decision that they have made in years.
A chop block occurs when one offensive player engages a defender up high, around the chest area, while a second offensive player attacks the same defender at, or below their knees. As expected, when a 300 pound offensive lineman hits a player’s lower legs with all their force, injuries are bound to happen. Because of the rampant risk surrounding the infamous technique, the move has been widely seen as controversial among fans and dangerous among athletes.
Because of the notorious nature surrounding the chop block, the move has been on life-support for years. Recent rules and regulations have allowed the skill to only exist within the running game. If a player tried to perform a chop block on a passing down or a kickoff return, it would result in an automatic 15-yard penalty. The fact of the matter is that the chop block, by nature, is designed to be a dirty play. It’s intended to bring a large defender crashing to the ground with minimal effort. Whereas a technique like a “pancake block” takes both talent and practice to master, a chop block is nothing but a cheap move. Every time a player gets hit below the knee from a chop block, they are rolling the dice on a potentially career-threatening injury. The technique was an ACL injury waiting to happen, and nothing ends a season faster than an ACL tear.
It’s obvious that player safety has become the top priority in the NFL. Nowadays, wide receivers can barely be touched without drawing a penalty, and rules treat quarterbacks like they are playing backyard flag football, rather than a full contact professional sport. Yet for the longest time, the league has turned a blind eye towards safety for linemen, especially those along the defensive line. If a player ever hit low on a quarterback, in a similar fashion to a chop block, fans would be outraged. The player would be fined, suspended and forever shunned as a “dirty player.” So then why should defenders be exposed to all this unnecessary injury? The beauty of this new rule change is that it protects the long ignored defensive linemen, who deserve safety from cheap hits where they cannot defend themselves. With so much protection going to all the skill positions, it’s good to finally see that the league still cares about the big defensive linemen in the trenches, the ones who already take the most abuse in the course of a game.
The NFL has been evolving for years, and as a result, the chop block finds itself in a precarious situation. It is nothing but a relic left from the days when football was filled with brutal hits, run first offenses and far less rules and regulations. In modern football, where there is so much emphasis on player safety, it’s a shock that the move survived this long. Heading forward into the 2016 season, some teams will need to adapt as the technique has been a fundamental aspect of the running game for years. But with so much focus on the passing game in today’s league, it’s likely that the chop block will not be missed within the next few years. With this rule change, one thing is certain. If offensive linemen want to stop defensive ends like Campbell from wreaking havoc in the backfield, they’ll have to do it with brute strength and talent, rather than a cheap trick like a chop block.