Crackback - Definition and Explanation

Hines Ward was considered a dirty player in his NFL career. Getty Images

Crackback is a block by an offensive player who is usually positioned away from the main body of the formation and runs back in towards the ball at the snap, blocking an opponent back toward the original position of the ball at the snap.

Blocking below the waist or in the back in this situation is illegal.

The Difference Between Crackback and Clipping

Some people get crackback blocks confused with clipping.

Clipping is an illegal block in which a player hits an opponent from behind, typically at waist level or below.

The National Football League defines clipping as “the act of throwing the body across the back of the leg of an eligible receiver or charging or falling into the back of an opponent below the waist after approaching him from behind, provided that the opponent is not a runner.”

Rolling up on the legs of an opponent after a block is also considered clipping.

Clipping was initially banned in college football in 1916 due to the potential severity of injuries, and other leagues followed suit in the years that followed.  

A Dangerous Penalty

Clipping is one of the most dangerous, and potentially injurious penalties in football. Clipping has the potential to cause a wide variety of injuries to the player that is clipped. Some such injuries can be career-ending, and in some severe cases life-altering, as the player that is clipped is unaware of the incoming hit and thus has no time to physically prepare for the hit.

Steve Wisniewski was one of the worst crackback offenders in the NFL. He was also expert at the cut-back and other illegal and brutal blocking techniques.

In close quarters, he was an effective eye-gouger. He'd go for the knees and hit you with sneak shots from behind.

Another dirty player who used these techniques was Hines Ward. Ward liked to get even with defenders who messed with him.

There's even a rule named after him, after he broke the jaw of a rookie linebacker with a vicious, blindside block.

That was his specialty, hitting defenders when they were focused somewhere else. Other players hated him so much they put bounties on him.

Close Line Play

Although in all other cases it is illegal, clipping is allowed in what is referred to as “close line play.” The close line is the area between the positions traditionally occupied by the offensive tackles.

Then there are thos eplays that are illegal that fall between strict definitions, which are called unnecessary roughness penalties.

Definition: An illegal play where a player, in the judgement of the officials, uses tactics that are above and beyond what is neccesary to block or tackle another player.

Examples: Unnecessary roughness is a personal foul and results in a 15-yard penalty against the offending team.