what is clipping in football

Understanding What Is Clipping In Football

Various terms are used in football to describe fouls committed. Some terms, like holding, are straightforward. However, some terms are a little complicated and need a little explanation to understand. One such complicated foul in football is clipping.

So, what is clipping in football?

According to the NFL rulebook, clipping is when a player blocks an opponent from behind and below the waist as long as the opponent isn’t running. A defensive player approaches an opponent and throws his body at his back leg.

Rolling at opponents after a block is quite dangerous and can lead to serious injuries. For the opponent, the tackle is very dangerous as he’s in a very vulnerable position.

It’s crucial to understand that a blocker can also initiate a clipping penalty when the defender is facing the opposite direction. Players must avoid the first contact being on the other player’s back.

Looking to learn more about clipping in football? Continue reading below.

Why Clipping Is A Penalty

A clipping penalty is a punishment when players block another player that’s not a runner from behind and below the waist. But the more important question is why clipping is a penalty.

Instituted back in college in 1916, clipping was introduced to help prevent more serious injuries. A lot of injuries were happening then due to player tackles from behind and below the waist.

Opponents being clipped are in very vulnerable positions. The penalty was introduced to stop serious clipping injuries. The clipping penalty rule has been in place for over 100 years.

However, players still violate the rule, and major injuries have occurred because of clipping. It’s important to teach players from youth levels about the clipping penalty and how to avoid it.

Learning and knowing everything about a clipping penalty can help save your team from a serious penalty. In addition, it can help avoid injuries to the opponent players.

NFL Clipping Rule

The NLF clipping rule states that clipping is blocking a player from behind and below the waist, provided the player isn’t a runner. But, the action can’t be considered a clipping when the opponent turns his back. This is just about when the block is about to be delivered.

american football teams collided

In addition, if the offensive player makes a legal or illegal block followed by the blocker rolling on the legs or side of the defender, then the action is clipping.

Clipping is also allowed in close-in-play despite being illegal in all other cases. This is the area extending 3 yards back on separate sides of the scrimmage line where offensive tackles occupy.

Clipping in this area is legal but above the knee. Clipping is legal since players are fighting for the same position while facing each other. It’s a useful tactic for pass-blocking.

What Is The Penalty For Clipping

A clipping penalty is 15 yards to the opposing team. It’s a serious penalty in football.

A loss of 15 yards or a gain of 15 yards to the opposing team is a big loss of yards for any team in football.

Take, for example, the offense of committing a clipping foul. The penalty forces them to move 15 yards back from their previous spot, where they repeat a previous down.

If the offense occurred at the 45-yard line in the 2nd or 3rd down, the next play would be on the 30-yard line.

When the defense commits the foul, it’s a personal foul, and the ball moves 15 yards forward with a first automatic down.

Take, for example, the defense committing a clipping foul on the 45-yard line 3rd and -5 from the offense. The penalty takes the next play to the 1st and ten at a 40-yard line from the defense.

Overall, the penalty for clipping is the same at all football levels from high school, college, and the NFL. Fifteen yards are given to the offended team.

What Is The Penalty Signal For Clipping

When a clipping foul occurs, the referee throws a yellow flag to show a clipping penalty. Bending their knee slightly, referees take out their hands and show a chopping motion at the knee. This indicates a clipping penalty.

american football on the line of a football field

The bending just indicates a foul below the waist to mean a clipping foul. In addition, the referee will shout aloud to show the offending team before giving a 15-yard penalty to the offending team.

What Is The Exceptions To Clipping Penalty

Are there exceptions to a clipping penalty? Yes.

When the contact happens in a close-line play, the referee won’t consider it a clipping foul.

A close-line play, as indicated earlier, is an area 3 yards right of the right offensive tackle and 3 yards to left of the right offensive tackle and all the space in between.

The area along the line of scrimmage and between the two borders I’ve just described is what is called a ‘close-line play.’

The exception is that players within this area can block from behind with a slight rule change. The contact has to be above the waist.

Contact below the waist within this area will still result in a clipping penalty.

Additionally, players aren’t allowed to roll into the legs of a defender in this area.

Examples Of Clipping

To get a much better understanding of clipping, let’s see a few examples.

  • When an offensive tackle rolls on the legs of a defensive tackle
  • A wide receiver diving on the legs of a cornerback with the aim of making a block
  • A linebacker gets a hit from a fullback from behind and below the waist when going away from the ball

Clipping In Football FAQs

Is clipping the same as chop block?

Clipping is slightly similar to a chop block but not the same. In a clipping foul, a player blocks an opposing player from the back and below or at the waist. 

football teams in position at the start of a game

But in a chop block, an offensive player blocks a defensive player below or at the waist while the defensive player is already blocked by another player above the waist.

Is Clipping Still Allowed In Football

Clipping isn’t allowed in football because of the high injury risks it poses. It has been banned in football for over 100 years with a severe 15-yard loss penalty.

What is the difference between clipping and block in the back?

Clipping and a block in the back are slightly similar, but a block in the back is considered less severe than clipping. A block on the back involves contact on a non-ball carrier and above the waist.

The block is still dangerous as the player being blocked is unaware. However, it’s not severe as a clipping foul and results in a 10-yard penalty.


In summary, clipping is very dangerous and one of the serious penalties in the game of football. Teams get heavy punishment with a 15-yard loss on the offending team. The penalty aims to stop players from making fouls as it can cause some serious injuries.

Generally, blocking another player from behind at the waist or below the waist is NEVER allowed in all levels of football. A 15-yard and automatic first down are given to prevent players from making such challenges.

It’s crucial that you understand what is clipping in football and ensure players learn it from the youth levels. This can help avert serious injuries and prevent teams from the serious 15-yard penalty.

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