NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw is now on record as saying he will push again for the banishment of "cut blocks" from the game after the Denver Broncos have KO'd two defenders with lower leg injuries in their most recent games.
Upshaw's opinion counts for a lot. He represents all players. He also is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who doesn't see the necessity of cut blocks.
He might be wrong. The game is different than when Upshaw played.
"Nobody on defense lines up and plays head-on anymore," said Green Bay Packers line coach Larry Beightol. "[Bill] Parcells was the last two-gap coach in the NFL [where a defensive lineman is directly across from the offensive lineman]. These guys are shifting, moving, jumping in the gaps. If we can't cut block, we can't play football."
||Nobody on defense lines up and plays head-on anymore ... if we can't cut block, we can't play football. ”
||— Larry Beightol,
Packers line coach
"You're just not going to be able to run the ball without cut blocks," said Beightol, who is the dean of NFL line coaches. "I mean, zero yards. And if you can't run the ball, it's all over for the quarterbacks. They will be fair game, even moreso than they are now."
Cut blocks are legal under NFL rules. They are below-the-knee blocks within a tackle-to-tackle zone, extending three yards on both sides of the line of scrimmage. In 1998, the NFL modified the rules to make illegal any block that strikes the defender below the knees from behind.
The illegal block that Broncos tackle Matt Lepsis delivered to Chargers defensive tackle Maa Tanuvasa on Oct. 21 broke Tanuvasa's ankle, ending his season. Lepsis was fined $15,000.
The play in which Patriots linebacker Bryan Cox suffered a broken leg on Sunday against the Broncos is a little different. It came on a pass play outside the tackle-to-tackle zone. Broncos guard Dan Neil's block is potentially a classic clipping penalty. However, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan says he has seen the play "51 times" and isn't sure there is even contact. He believes Cox broke his tibia (a small bone that will keep him out only three or four weeks) trying to jump over Neil.
While the cut block (as defined above) is currently legal, some of its variations are illegal. A blocker who starts with a legal cut block, but then rolls up on the defender, is in violation of the rules.
Cut blocks have become routine with the advent of zone-blocking schemes that are now the norm in the NFL. Coaches like Beightol and Alex Gibbs -- who is working this season on a part-time basis for health reasons -- teach cut blocks to effectively stop pursuit of a running play from backside defensive linemen.
One thing is for sure: Blocking within the interior line evokes plenty of emotions. It was no surprise that Cox, perhaps the NFL's most emotional player, has threatened to "get Neil" if they ever play on the same field again. He has softened his comments somewhat, but it is old-school to retaliate on the field.
Cox also again dressed down the NFL for not caring about the health of defensive players. The league notes that Lepsis was fined (Neil's block is being reviewed) and that the rules were changed in '98 to limit a defender's exposure.
Beightol himself is aware that players become emotional. This Sunday, his Packers play the Bucs, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp. A few years ago, when Beightol was the line coach in Miami, Sapp confronted him in the tunnel after the game for numerous cut blocks directed at him.
Sapp already had confronted the guard, Jeff Buckey, who delivered the cut block.
"Buckey told Sapp that if he didn't cut him, he'd probably be cut -- by me," said Beightol, who then chuckled. "Nice of Buckey to finger me, huh?"
Will the Packers cut Sapp this Sunday?
"Whatever's legal, we're doing it," Beightol said.