Block In The Back Penalty Explained With Examples

Block In The Back Penalty Explained With Examples

It’s a fast-paced world of football, where penalties often determine the difference between touchdown celebrations and frustrated groans from the bench. The block in the back is one such penalty that seems confusing to casual fans. However, for players and coaches, it is a way of ensuring fair play and player safety. In this article, we delve into the block in the back penalty by giving its definition, common instances where it happens, and types of blocks that may cause it.

Block In The Back Penalty Explained With Examples

What Exactly is a Block In The Back Penalty?

Think of a situation where a defender is trying to chase down a ball carrier to tackle him. Imagine an offensive player approaching from behind the defender and pushing him, which would constitute a simple block in the back penalty.

Here’s a breakdown of the key points:

  • Definition: A block in the back occurs when an offensive player illegally blocks a non-ball carrier from behind, above his waistline.
  • Trigger: This penalty safeguards against scenarios wherein defenders are unaware of incoming blocks and hence lack time for reaction, leading to potentially dangerous consequences.
  • Impact: A block in the back is worth 10 yards of loss on offense. Sometimes this penalty can cause the scoring drive to stall, completely leaving momentum in the opposing team’s hands.

Remember: This rule only applies to players not actively carrying the ball. Defensive blockers engaging in active play are usually immune.

When Does This Penalty Show Up in a Game?

The block in the back flag can be thrown in different game situations during football match-ups. Here are some of the most common cases:

  • Kick Returns: Whenever there are kickoffs or punt returns, kickers will want to open up running lanes for their returners by blocking defenders on their way down the field. Contacting an opponent from behind above his waist zone by a blocker warrants throwing a yellow hankie.
  • Punt Returns: Blocking on punt returns is just like blocking on kickoff returns—it’s difficult but double as long as anyone doing it does so legally, which means that it doesn’t incur a flag.
  • Running Plays: During running playsoffensive linemen blocking for running backs may inadvertently clip defenders from behind. This can be a penalty if the defender is not actively engaged with another blocker.
  • Passing Plays: On passing plays, there’s also a possibility of having a block in the back penalty. Imagine a screenplay in which a receiver must block after being released on his route. If the receiver makes contact above the waistline from behind, then this amounts to a penalty.

Types of Blocks Resulting in a Penalty

Understanding what types of blocks trigger a block in the back penalty is crucial for players and fans alike. Here are some major culprits:

  • Blindside Blocks: A blindside is when an opponent does not expect to see them and is concentrating on any activity across from him. Particularly dangerous are the ones that often lead to penalties too.
  • Low Blocks: Legal blockers, often called clipping or tripping penalties, are those below the waist; however, in certain circumstances, even low blocks of this sort might happen to be considered as “block in the back.
  • Head Blocks: Head and neck blocks are strictly prohibited. High blocks, even unintended ones, can lead to severe penalties and a possible player ejection.
  • Engagement from Behind: Merely engaging a defender from the rear end by pushing them off balance is enough for the foul, regardless of how weak the block itself was.

Players can adjust their techniques accordingly to avoid penalties and keep their opponents safe by understanding these different types of blocks.

Spotlighting Foul: Block in the Back Scenarios

Consider the following real-life examples where block in back penalties may occur:

Scenario 1: Kickoff Return

  • Description: The kicking team kicks off, while the receiving team looks to return the ball. One member of the returning team throws a block on a defender from behind so that he can clear a path for his teammate coming up behind him during kickoff.
  • Penalty Explanation: This is simply a block in the back. When someone unfairly stops a ball carrier, the obstructed person does not participate in the run.
  • Impact: The assessment will shift the receiver’s return position towards their own goal line by ten yards. It can change field position greatly, as well as momentum.

Scenario 2: Punt Return

  • Description: Just like in the kick-off return, one player on the punt return team attempts to block downfield defenders who have been chasing him since he picked up punted football out of the air.
  • Penalty Explanation: Similar to what just happened during the kickoff situation, this is an obvious block in the back foul here. The person being obstructed has no chance at all of getting hold of the punt receiver and is then blocked illegally.
  • Impact: As a result, there will be a penalty of ten yards against the receiving side, and it can make them start with poorer starting field positions on downs when they must receive the ball from the opposition’s punter.

Scenario 3: Running Play

  • Description:running back breaks through the defensive line and heads towards open space. A teammate, aiming to block a pursuing defender approaching from behind, makes contact above the waist.
  • Penalty Explanation: This becomes complicated. If the defender has a clear shot at the running back and attempts to make a tackle, the block might be considered legal. But if the defender is beaten and the block happens above the waist from behind, it’s going to draw a flag.
  • Impact: Similarly, in those previous scenarios as well, a ten-yard penalty can cause a significant loss of momentum for an offense that was perhaps close to making first down yardage.

Scenario 4: Passing Play

  • Description: During a passing play, the quarterback tosses a pass downfield to one of his receivers, who is pursuing him from behind. In this case, one of his teammates blocks him from behind with the intention of separating him from another teammate who is chasing him from behind during passing plays.
  • Penalty Explanation: Another situation where context matters. The defender stands firmly behind the receiver, preventing any opportunity to make a play on the ball. However, if he had the opportunity to intercept or tackle before the receiver’s reception, his backward push with one hand, while blocking his receiver’s running pattern, would be considered an illegal push.
  • Impact: Having a block in the back penalty on passing plays has major consequences; it eliminates a potential completion, resulting in negative yards and possibly an incomplete pass.

How to Avoid Block in The Back Penalties

Knowing what situations that lead to block in back penalties are important, but how do you avoid them on game day? Here are some key tips:

  • Proper Technique: Focus on blocking defenders below the waist and to the side. This allows you to interfere with their movements without resorting to illegal methods.
  • Awareness is Key: Always be aware of the position of the defender you’re blocking. If they’re behind the ball carrier or receiver, adjust your block accordingly to avoid a penalty.
  • Discipline and Timing: A well-timed, legal block can make all the difference. Don’t get overeager and commit a penalty that negates your hard work and hurts your team. Patience and discipline are essential.
  • Know the League Rules: While most leagues have similar definitions for “block in the back,”  there might be differences in terms of specific regulations concerning this foul play. Get yourself familiarized with these complexities within your league so as not to be caught unawares.


Understanding block in the back penalties and how to avoid them is crucial for football fans and players alike. Recognizing what triggers this penalty can help minimize fouls and boost your football IQ. By knowing situations that lead to penalties and applying the tips discussed, you can prevent frequent penalties and enhance your understanding of the game. Clean blocks create opportunities, but blocking from behind halts progress, leading to frustration. Stay focused, play smart, and let skill, not penalties, shape your strategy.

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