What is the Definition of Blocking in American Football?

In American football, blocking plays a crucial role in both offensive and defensive strategies. Understanding what a block is and how it works is essential for fans and players alike. At its core, a block is the act of a player legally using their body to obstruct an opposing player’s path to prevent them from reaching the ball carrier or the quarterback.

There are two primary types of blocks: pass blocking and run blocking. Pass blocking usually involves offensive linemen stopping defensive players from sacking the quarterback, giving them time to find an open receiver. On the other hand, run blocking is more aggressive and aims to pave the way for the ball carrier to advance down the field. In both scenarios, proper technique and positioning are crucial for effective blocking.

Key Takeaways

  • Blocking is the use of one’s body to obstruct an opposing player’s path, protecting the ball carrier or quarterback.
  • Two primary types of blocks are pass blocking and run blocking, each with different goals and techniques.
  • Proper technique and positioning are crucial for effective blocking in American football.

The Basics of Blocking

Purpose of Blocking

In American football, the main goal of blocking is to create a clear path for the ball carrier or to protect the quarterback during a pass or other offensive play. By positioning their bodies strategically, offensive players can obstruct the paths of defenders, thereby preventing them from tackling the ball carrier or disrupting the play. Blocking is essential for a successful offensive execution and is performed on nearly every play in a football game.

Types of Blocks

There are several types of blocks used in American football, each serving a specific purpose and requiring specific techniques. Here are some of the most common types:

  1. Man-on-man blocking: This is a straightforward, head-to-head style of blocking in which the offensive player is tasked with blocking a specific defender. The blocker aims to drive straight into the defender to keep them away from the ball carrier or quarterback.
  2. Double-team blocking: In this scenario, two offensive players work together to block a single defender. This is often used when blocking a particularly strong or skilled defender to ensure they are neutralized during the play.
  3. Zone blocking: Instead of assigning specific defenders to each blocker, zone blocking involves dividing the offensive line into specific areas or zones. Each offensive lineman is responsible for blocking any defender that enters their designated zone during the play.
  4. Pulling: Pulling occurs when an offensive lineman, typically a guard, vacates their initial position and moves towards the opposite side of the line to block for a running back or to execute a specific offensive play. This type of block is often used in running plays and requires agility and quick footwork from the pulling lineman.
  5. Cut blocking: This blocking technique involves the offensive player blocking the defender by striking them below the waist, essentially cutting their legs out from underneath them. The objective is to get the defender off balance and unable to pursue the ball carrier. However, it is crucial for the blocker to execute this move legally to avoid penalties.

By understanding the basics of blocking and the various techniques used, players can effectively protect their teammates and contribute to a successful offensive play.

Offensive Line Roles

The offensive line in American football plays a crucial role in protecting the quarterback and creating opportunities for successful offensive plays. The primary job of the offensive line is to block opponents, preventing them from reaching the ball carrier or disrupting the quarterback’s ability to pass or hand off the ball. The offensive line consists of several key positions: the center, guards, and tackles.


The center is responsible for snapping the ball to the quarterback at the start of each play. Their role includes making adjustments and calls to coordinate the blocking schemes of the offensive line. The center must be quick-thinking, able to analyze defensive formations, and communicate effectively with their fellow linemen. Additionally, the center should be skilled at executing different types of blocks, including drive blocks and double-team blocks, to maintain control of the line of scrimmage.


On either side of the center are the guards, responsible primarily for blocking defensive linemen and linebackers in both run and pass plays. Guards are expected to be aggressive, agile, and have excellent footwork. Their duties include executing pull blocks, in which they move horizontally along the line of scrimmage, and trap blocks, where they block an opposing player at an angle. Together with the center, the guards form the interior of the offensive line, creating a fortified barrier against the defense.


The tackles, positioned outside the guards, are essential in protecting the quarterback’s blind side and securing the edges of the offensive line. There is a left tackle and a right tackle, with the left tackle often being more skilled to protect the blindside of a right-handed quarterback. Tackles need to be particularly strong and agile to counter the speed and power of defensive ends and outside linebackers. Their main responsibilities include performing slide blocks and handling edge rushers while maintaining the integrity of the pocket for the quarterback to operate effectively.

In conclusion, the offensive line is a critical component of any successful offensive play in American football. The center, guards, and tackles each bring unique skills and responsibilities to the table, working together to create space and protect their teammates from the opposing defense.

Techniques and Tactics

Hand Placement

In American football, hand placement is crucial for effective blocking. An ideal hand placement involves placing the hands on the opponent’s chest, with thumbs up and elbows tucked in. This position allows the blocker to maintain control over their opponent while maximizing their own power and movement. It is essential to avoid grabbing onto the jersey or pads since it is illegal and may result in a penalty.


Proper footwork plays a significant role in successful blocking. A blocker must maintain a solid, balanced stance while engaging with their opponent. Typically, the offensive player will take a short, aggressive step towards the defender to initiate contact. Throughout the block, the offensive player should keep their feet moving, constantly adjusting to maintain position and leverage.


Leverage is a key element for successful blocks in American football. A blocker must use their body position and strength to gain an advantage over the defender. Achieving leverage involves staying low, bending at the knees, and keeping the hips beneath the shoulders. This helps the blocker generate maximum force and maintain a strong base, making it difficult for the defender to push through or disengage from the block.

Body Position

Correct body positioning aids in achieving leverage and controlling the opponent. It is essential to keep the head up and look straight ahead when engaging in a block. By staying square to the opponent, the blocker can apply equal force in both directions, increasing their overall effectiveness. A common mistake is lunging forward, resulting in a loss of balance and control. Maintaining proper body position throughout the play ensures the blocker remains in control and effectively impedes the defender’s path.

Defensive Strategies

Pass Rush

A fundamental component of defensive strategies in American football is the pass rush. The primary goal of the pass rush is to apply pressure on the opposing quarterback, forcing them to make mistakes or take sacks. This is accomplished by defensive linemen, linebackers, or sometimes safeties, who use various techniques to penetrate the offensive line and disrupt the quarterback’s timing.

There are different methods of pass rushing, including the use of stunts (pre-planned movements by two or more defensive players, to confuse the offensive line) and blitzes (sending extra players to rush the passer). The effectiveness of a pass rush relies on the ability of the defense to mask their intent and execute their rushes in unison.

Run Defense

Another crucial aspect of defensive strategies is stopping the opponent’s running game. Run defense requires disciplined positioning, gap control, and proper tackling technique. The aim is to close off running lanes and prevent the opposing team from gaining yards on the ground.

In run defense, the defensive line is responsible for maintaining their assigned gaps and controlling the line of scrimmage. This often involves engaging blockers using their hands and leverage to control their opponents. Meanwhile, linebackers play a key role in run defense as well. They must quickly read and react to the play, filling gaps, and tackling ball carriers. The secondary (safeties and cornerbacks) also contributes to run defense by providing support and containment on the outside.

Both pass rush and run defense contribute to a well-rounded defensive strategy. By effectively handling these two areas, a defense can force the opposing offense into difficult situations, creating opportunities for turnovers and limiting their overall effectiveness.

Blocking in Special Teams


Blocking in special teams plays a significant role during the kickoff phase of American football. The purpose of the blocking in this scenario is to create clear paths for the kick returner. As the ball is kicked and the returner receives it, his teammates, known as blockers, will position themselves to obstruct the paths of the opposing team’s players. This helps prevent an immediate tackle on the returner, giving the team an opportunity to advance the ball downfield and create better field position for the offense.

Blockers on kickoff special teams must simultaneously prevent defenders from closing in on the returner and avoid committing any illegal actions, such as holding or clipping. The key to executing effective kickoff blocking is for each team member to quickly identify and engage their target in legal and precise manner, while maintaining awareness of the returner’s position on the field.


In the punt phase of American football, blocking is similarly crucial as it serves to protect the punter while ensuring that the punt is executed without being blocked by the opposing team. The punter’s teammates, primarily the offensive linemen and any other players involved in the protection unit, will perform blocking duties to prevent defenders from reaching the punter.

The blockers need to be strategic and agile, as they must form a protective shield around the punter and keep opposing players at bay. In this context, blockers often utilize techniques such as the “slide” and “big-on-big” methods to counter the pass rush of the opposing team. Maintaining proper positioning and footwork is crucial for these blockers, as is communication among teammates.

In the return phase of a punt, blockers are responsible for creating openings for the punt returner to advance the ball. Similar to kickoff blocking, they must effectively obstruct defenders without committing any penalties. These blocking techniques require focus and attention to detail, resulting in increased chances of a successful and significant punt return.

Penalties and Rules


Holding is a common penalty in American football that occurs when a player grasps or pulls an opponent to gain an unfair advantage. This penalty typically occurs during blocking, where a player is not allowed to grasp another player or extend their arms beyond the line of their armpit. When a holding penalty is called, the offending team is usually penalized 10 yards from the spot of the foul.

Illegal Blocks

Illegal blocks in American football involve blocking another player in a manner that is not allowed by the rules. Some examples of illegal blocks include:

  • Blocking in the back: This penalty occurs when a player pushes an opponent from behind in an attempt to block them. An illegal block in the back results in a 10-yard penalty from the spot of the foul in the NFL, NCAA, high school, and CFL.
  • Blocking below the waist: This penalty happens when a player blocks an opponent below the waist under certain situations. For example, it’s illegal for a defensive player or for an offensive player after a change in possession. Blocking below the waist is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “chop block.”

Chop Blocks

A chop block is a specific type of illegal block in American football. It occurs when an offensive player blocks a defensive player below the waist while another offensive player engages the same defensive player above the waist. This dangerous play can lead to serious injuries and is subject to a significant penalty. In the NFL, a chop block results in a 15-yard penalty and may also result in fines or suspensions for the offending players.

Notable Blockers

When discussing American football, one aspect of the game that is often overlooked is the significance of blockers. These players are responsible for providing protection to their teammates, either by preventing opponents from tackling the ball carrier or shielding the quarterback during a pass attempt. In this section, we will focus on some notable blockers in the sport’s history.

Anthony Muñoz is widely considered one of the greatest offensive linemen of all time, known for his exceptional athleticism and impeccable technique. As a tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1980 to 1992, Muñoz was a dominant force on the offensive line, earning 11 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and nine First-Team All-Pro selections. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

Another outstanding blocker in NFL history is Jim Parker, who played for the Baltimore Colts from 1957 to 1967. Parker was a versatile player, excelling at both tackle and guard positions and contributing to the success of quarterback Johnny Unitas during their time together. With eight consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and five First-Team All-Pro selections, Parker was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

Bruce Matthews is another legendary blocker, having played a remarkable 19 seasons for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1983 to 2001. Displaying extraordinary versatility, Matthews played in all five offensive line positions during his career, earning 14 Pro Bowl selections and nine First-Team All-Pro honors. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

In the realm of blocking fullbacks, Lorenzo Neal stands out. Neal played for various teams, including the New Orleans Saints and the San Diego Chargers, during his career from 1993 to 2008. He was known for his impressive blocking ability, setting up numerous 1,000-yard rushing seasons for his teammates and being selected to four Pro Bowls.

To summarize, blockers play a vital role in American football, and the players mentioned here represent some of the finest examples of this position. Their dedication to being the best blockers they could be helped create success for their teams and secured their places in football history.