An illegal double team block is a penalty called on kickoffs in order to improve player safety in the game. This penalty was changed in 2018 along with several other rules regarding kick returns.
This rule states that a double team block is not allowed unless it occurs in the fifteen-yard setup zone(within fifteen yards of the kick). This means if you are not in the fifteen-yard setup zone and two players block a single player this penalty will be called.
This rule was made in order to stop wedge blocks from occurring on kickoffs. These blocks consisted of several players holding hands and blocking in front of the returner as a unit.
The Setup Zone
At this point, you may be wondering what the setup zone is. In 2018 when these rule changes were made the NFL created the setup zone.
This zone is fifteen yards in length starting from the line of scrimmage where the kickoff starts. The new rules state that at least eight of the eleven kick return players must start the play in the setup zone.
All of these eight players in the setup zone are allowed to double team block.
It is the players that are not in the setup zone that is going to be called for an illegal double team block.
Stopping The Wedge
The main that this rule was put into place was in order to stop the wedge on kick returns. If you think back to older kick returns you may remember several players running hand in hand in front of the kick returner.
These several blockers moving together was referred to as a wedge. Stopping the wedge is the reason that the illegal double team rule was put into place.
In 2009 the NFL put in a place a rule to reduce the number of players allowed in a wedge from two down to three. The reason for this rule was to improve player safety.
Often times on kick returns the kicking team realized in order to bring down the returner they would have to take out the wedge. One of the best strategies for doing this was to send a single player to blow up the wedge.
This player would run full speed and contact the wedge in an attempt to knock them apart. This was quite a violent play and often led to injury. This is why the NFL reduced the wedge.
Now, by adding the illegal double team block no players will be able to form a wedge. Previously the wedge was always formed by players close to the kick returner.
With the new rules regarding the setup, zone player will no longer be able to form a wedge. Since there are only three players outside the setup zone only two will end up acting as blockers.
If these two blockers work together they will be called for an illegal double team penalty. This effectively has stopped wedges from being created on kick returners.
This rule paired with the increased touchback distance has led to increased player safety on kick returns in the NFL.