Legal vs illegal blocks what is the difference

Blocking in football is done by offensive players in order to create space for the ball carrier, though going about it the wrong way can result in a penalty flag being thrown.

There are many different penalties for blocking in football. Below we are going to go through a rough definition of a legal block and then break down all the different blocking penalties so you know what not to do when blocking.

Legal blocking in football

When looking to legally block a player in football the safest way is to block them up high in the chest area.

One of the easiest ways to think of a block is as a push. When blocking a player up high you are essentially pushing them in the chest. To keep this block legal players must not place their hands outside the defensive player’s armpits.

Grabbing onto the player and pulling them can also be considered an illegal block so make sure to not hold onto the player too tight.

This is what the 2022 NFL rulebook states about legal blocks:

LEGAL BLOCK BY OFFENSIVE PLAYER. An offensive player is permitted to block an opponent by contacting him with his head, shoulders, hands, and/or outer surface of the forearm, or with any other part of his body that is not prohibited by another rule.

A blocker may use his arms, or open or closed hands, to contact an opponent on or outside the opponent’s frame (the body of an opponent below the neck that is presented to the blocker), provided that he does not materially restrict him.

The blocker must work immediately to bring his hands inside the opponent’s frame, and as the play develops, the blocker is permitted to work for and
maintain his position against an opponent, provided that he does not illegally clip or illegally push from behind.” – source NFL rulebook

Another sometimes legal block in football is the cut block. This involves a player blocking an opponent low by throwing their body towards the defender’s legs.

In high school football cut blocks are illegal so do not attempt them unless you want to be called for a penalty. In the NCAA college football players are only allowed to cut block if they are offensive linemen blocking defenders inside the tackle box.

At the NFL level cut blocks are legal though they cannot be done by receivers who are outside the tight end box.

Illegal Blocks

The best way to understand legal vs illegal blocks in football is to learn the list of illegal blocking penalties. Make yourself familiar with these penalties and you will learn how to avoid getting penalties on the field.


Holding is the main penalty you want to look out for when blocking an opponent. This penalty is generally called several times throughout the course of a football game.

Holding in football is caused when a blocker uses their hands or arms to restrict an opposing player. Actions which are considered to be restricting a player in football include grabbing or tackling an opponent.

Turning, twisting or jerking the opponent in a material way. Or pulling the opponent to the ground.

If any of these actions are done while blocking an opponent a holding penalty will be called.

That is unless this holding occurs at the same time the ball carrier is tackled, travels out of bounds or the action is caused by the defender using a rip technique.

Illegal hands in the face

Another common penalty seen when blocking in football is illegal hands to the face. As we covered earlier when blocking an opponent you want to make contact with their chest area.

If your hands are too high up you are going to make contact with their helmet and facemask. Doing so gives the blocker a large advantage which is why is illegal for the blocker and defender to contact the other player in the helmet.

Illegal block in the back

Blocking in the back is another illegal block in football. If you place your hands on a player’s back and block them from behind it was almost always be called.

There are exceptions when fighting for loose balls or if the defensive player turns his back at the last second.

This penalty results in a loss of ten yards.

Chop Blocks

Chop blocks are a specific type of illegal block in football. A cho block occurs when one player blocks a player in the upper half of his body while another blocks him in the lower half.

This is one of the most dangerous blocks in football and is out ruled for health and safety reasons. If a player is already engaged with another blocker a player cannot then block them in the other half of their body as well.

An illegal chop block results in a 15-yard penalty.

Crackback blocks

Crackback blocks in football are another dangerous illegal block. These blocks occur when a player lined up on the outside of the formation runs towards the middle of the formation to lay a block.

This style of crackback blocking often catch the defender of guard which often resulted in huge collisions. These blocks will be called anytime a player that is lined up more than two yards outside the tackle move towards the location the ball was snapped an lays a block.

Crackback blocks come with a fifteen-yard penalty and should be avoided at all costs.

Illegal cut block

As we stated earlier cut blocks can be legal or illegal blocks based on the league you are playing in. High School footall leagues generally considered all cut blocks to be illegal.

College football allows cut blocks within the tackle box while the NFL is slightly more lenient and allows cut blocks out to the tight end box.

This penalty carries a loss of fifteen yards and an automatic first down.

That is all in illegal vs legal blocks in football, if you want to learn more about blocking penalties see our article on double team block penalties.

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