chop block football

The Rules in Brief: What Is a Chop Block in Football?

There are many football rules around blocking. Players can make legal and illegal blocks. A good example of an illegal block is the chopping block.

So, what is a chop block in football? A chop block in football is an offensive play where a player in offense blocks a player in defense on the lower or thigh while the defensive player is engaged by another offensive player on the waist.

It is a case of two defensive players engaging a defensive player at the same time. In the situation, the first offensive player engages the upper body while the other engages the lower body. The block is quite similar to a cut block.

In this post, I’ll explain what chop blocks are and why they are illegal. I’ll also discuss the chop block penalties. Keep reading.

What Is a Chop in Football?

We’ve already seen a chop as an illegal block where two players in the offense simultaneously block an offensive player. The first offensive player attacks the lower body while the other blocks the upper body.

We can also define a block in a few other ways as follows.

High Low Block

This is the most common chop block in football. It’s called high-low since an offense blocks a defender player on the high, while another one comes and blocks him on the low.

In this block, an offensive player, let’s say the lineman, will engage a defensive player above the waist. You’ll also have a second lineman engage the same defensive player below the waist.

It was a successful block that upended the defensive players. However, it also resulted in a lot of injuries making it illegal.

Toward the Play

The next chop block is towards the play, which occurs towards the flow of play. The start of the offense is similar to the high low above. However, it occurs when two offensive players lining up close to each on the scrimmage line block a defender.

The first offensive player blocks above the waist while the second offensive player blocks below the waist. The NFL ruled the play illegal in 2016. It’s illegal as long as the block occurs when the flow of play is towards the block.

It’s a rule that lowers the risk of injury as the block would not bow the defender’s lower body.

Outside The Tackle Box

The third version of the chopping block is the one happening outside the tackle box. It is a block mostly initiated by wide receivers.

football players at the line of scrimmage

It is a type of chop block where wide receivers would move inside or outside of the sideline. The wide receiver will then surprise a defender with a blind block to open a big hole for the ball carrier.

Such a block is illegal. However, there is a legal version of the same called the crackback block.

The outside tackle box chop block is considered illegal as it bends the defender’s body in a violent or unnatural manner.

Why Is It Called a Chop Block?

A chop block is called so because it tends to “chop” the defender. It engages the defender simultaneously after a high block. The second offensive player coming will then chop the defender by engaging him below the wrist. 

The second engagement is considered a chop since you’re engaging someone that is already engaged over the wrist.

What Happens When a Chop Block Occurs

When a chop blocker occurs, the referee throws a penalty flag. Any penalty in the NFL, no matter the version, results in a major penalty.

The penalty is usually a 15-yard penalty and a down, no matter the version. A down and a distance on the second and ten results in a 12-yard gain for the offense.

A penalty results in the cancellation of play, and then the offense will start play from 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The offense’s next play will be a 2nd and -25 starting from 15 yards.

What Is the Penalty for a Chop Block

The penalty for a chop block is 15 yards. The offending team is forced to move 15 yards away from the goal line. If the defensive team also creates a chop block, then the two offenses cancel each other.

In general, a chop block penalty is a 15-yard loss for either the offense or defense. The NFL rules a major foul off a chop block taking precedence over minor defensive penalties.

In other leagues like the CFL, two penalties cancel each other out. Take an example where the offense commits a foul, and the defense commits a 10-yard penalty. The two offenses can cancel each other out.

NFL Rules on Chop Blocks

The NFL rules chop blocks as illegal with a penalty of 15 yards. Before the start of the 2016 season, chop blocks were legal. As of now, the official NFL rules on chop blocks are as follows:

football player with the ball being tackled

A chop block is an offense where an offensive player blocks a defensive player on the lower or thigh while another offensive player engages the same player on the high.

Chop blocks can also be illegal during running and passing plays in the following situations:

  • A defensive player chopped while another player engages him high on the waist. 
  • An offensive player blocks a defensive player on the lower or thigh, and then another offensive player engages on the high.
  • When an offensive player cuts a defender in a block-passing posture but is not engaged with the defensive player

You can also have a chop block during run plays when an offensive player lining deep in the backfield cuts a defender at snap while he is engaged high on the waist

It can also occur when an offensive lineman chops a player in defense after the defensive player that’s engaged on the thigh or low.

Why Is Chop Block Illegal

Chops are illegal in football because they pose a huge risk of injuries. Knee and ankle injuries are very common with chop blocks. Common knee and ankle injuries like the ACL and MCL require surgeries.

After chop blocks were made illegal, the number of knee and ankle injuries dropped drastically.

What Is the Chop Block Penalty Signal?

The signal for a chop block penalty is the referee dropping both arms straight down and to the outside of their body. The referee will then palm both hands upwards and then point forward.

Examples of Chop Block Penalty

  • When two of the offensive players block a player in defense; one above the waist and one below the waist
  • A lure where a blocker chops the defensive player where another blocker will immediately or soon after block him
  • A reverse chop where one player blocks at the thigh or below while another offensive player chops above the waist

Similar Penalties To Chop Block

football players offense and defense

Similar penalties to a chop block include:

  • Blindside block
  • Illegal crackback block
  • Use of helmet
  • Roughing the passer
  • Unnecessary roughness

When Was the Chop Block Made Illegal?

The chop block was made illegal to help protect players from injuries. Chop block injuries are serious, affecting the knees and ankles.

Can You Chop Block in College?

You cannot chop in college, as chop blocks in the NCAA lead to a 15-yard penalty.

What’s the Difference Between a Chop Block and a Cut Block?

The difference between a chop block and a cut block is that a chop block is another offensive player engaging the defender above the waist. 

Both involve blockers throwing themselves at a defender’s lower body. However, in a cut block, only one player engages the defender, while a chop block involves two players simultaneously.


Overall, a chop block in football can be quite dangerous and cause a lot of injuries. It’s an offense where two offensive players engage a defensive player at the same time on the upper and lower part of the body. 

The NFL has outlawed all forms of chop blocks in the NFL to protect players and prevent injuries. All chop block offenses result in a major penalty of 15 yards.

The chop block offense does not prevent players from blocking. Teams can still double team when blocking while still avoiding a chop block.

By the way, we wrote other offense tactics that you might be interested with like triple option offense, and wing T offense.

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