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An illegal block in the back penalty (officially known as illegal block above the waist) is called when a player makes contact with an opposing player, who does not have the ball, above the waist from behind. A block in the back penalty costs the team (generally on offense or receiving a kick / punt) ten yards from the spot of the foul.
There are certain exceptions to the rule where contact against an opposing player from behind is permitted. One exception is when there is a loose ball and the contact was made in an attempt to recover the ball. Or, if the contact was made because the opposing player turned their back at the last second as contact was near. Finally, if both of the defenders’ hands are on the sides of the opponent it is not a foul; however, if one of their hands is on the opponent’s back a flag should be thrown. Unless one of these situations arises, any contact to the back of an opponent should be considered a foul.
Block in the back penalties are most commonly called on special teams, as the receiving team is chasing gunners down the field who get behind them. One example of a block in the back penalty on special teams can be seen below, courtesy of Seattle Seahawks reserve linebacker Brock Coyle (#52):
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Coyle clearly makes contact with the Miami player from behind, and a flag is thrown, negating the return from Tyler Lockett and costing the Seahawks 10 yards.
A block in the back penalty is one of the most commonly called penalties on special teamers. To avoid these penalties, the team receiving the punt or kick needs to get down the field quicker than the opposing team, so they can turn and make contact head on with the opposing players.
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Ryan Dukarm wrote this entry. Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm.
Video courtesy of NFL GamePass.
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