NFL teams are afraid to use cutting blocks in practice.  So why can they still use them in games?

NFL teams are afraid to use cutting blocks in practice. So why can they still use them in games?

In a matter of minutes Sunday night, the spotlight made its way onto the NFL’s social media accounts.

The right knee of promising New York Giants defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux bent awkwardly, his foot trapped under a low block of the – Cincinnati Bengals tight end Thaddeus Moss. Thibodeaux collapsed and rolled to the ground after the play, raising reasonable suspicions of a dire outcome. Anyone associated with football has seen how this can happen, often with a cart taking the field and a season ending prematurely. And as is often the case in such situations, Twitter’s instant echo chamber reacted in line with Thibodeaux’s clip, framing the moment through familiar vocabulary.

“Dirty.”

“Suspension.”

“Banishing.”

At first glance, it was understandable. The play looked terrible. Moss went too low on his block and Thibodeaux’s knee bent in a way that predictably grimaces when viewed in slow motion. The replay was tailor-made for a social media debate in this NFL era, when a significant blow to a player’s head or knees triggers an instant discussion about the players involved or league-wide violence legislation. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday night, when analysts and players (current and former) swooped in on the argument.

Dallas Cowboys Defensive star Micah Parsons tweeted: “I don’t know why the cut is still allowed in the NFL!!” The other part of the tweet featured saltier language.

This was supported by former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, who tweeted, “It’s time to BAN THIS BLOCK. Period.”

Of course, there is another side to the debate.

TJ Lang, Former NFL Striker, Strikes Back in requests for retribution against Moss, tweeting, “Why a lockout that happens 10x per game?”

Added free agent offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse“This. Is. Legal. And. Definitely. No. Dirty.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 21: Kayvon Thibodeaux #5 of the New York Giants stands up after an apparent injury during the first half of a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on August 21, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) suffered a sprained anterior cruciate ligament after receiving a block against the Bengals. The injury should keep you out for 3-4 weeks. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The aftermath a day later: Well, the result of the move was a sprained anterior cruciate ligament for Thibodeaux, which could keep him out for up to four weeks. Not good, but much better than fears that his season ended in an instant. The NFL also sided with Lang and Newhouse’s opinion, refusing punishment against Moss because his hit was legal under the letter of league law as it happened inside the tight end box, Thibodeaux and Moss were facing each other when the hit occurred and Thibodeaux was not helpless, as he saw the blockade coming and ducked to deflect it.

It was a collision where one player was lower than the other on impact, exasperated by Thibodeaux’s foot appearing to get stuck under Moss when he was hit.

Of course, that won’t stop the debate over intent and whether Moss was purposefully aiming for Thibodeaux’s knee in the play. Barring an admission from Moss or being able to read his mind, there’s little chance of proving his intent. It also can’t stop the debate about cut blocks in general, which tend to be widely accepted by gamers, although they’re also completely hated due to the degree of difficulty and potential for injury.

The controversy over the bloc is not new. In 2016, when the NFL banned the use of cutting blocks, some in the league silently questioned why the cutting blocks weren’t also eliminated. It made sense at the time, as cut blocks had long been hated since they were popularized by the San Francisco 49ers (and later the Denver Broncos) execution zone schemes during the 1980s and 1990s. zone execution became widespread, as did the use of cutting blocks. Particularly as teams saw the benefits of negating the size and speed of defenders with a simple executed low end block that often left players flat.

Even with the advantage of blocks – which can be immensely useful for forwards, running backs and tight ends – teams still recognize them as dangerous to players’ knees and lower extremities. This is why NFL teams generally never employ cutting blocks in practice as this invites the possibility of serious injury.

And like most things that aren’t practiced regularly, this puts players (usually young defenders) at a disadvantage during games because they face cutting blocks at full speed without having sharpened their instincts to deal with them. Basically, young NFL players learn cutting blocks on Sundays. And it’s your job to retain and develop that information without the promise of any practical exposure to those very blocks.

There is some sensitivity supporting the NFL regarding the ban on cut blocks. First and foremost, the league must stop ignoring the obvious red flag: if teams are too scared to practice blocks because of fear of knee injuries, why are they still part of the game on Sundays? It stands to reason that if teams don’t practice cutting blocks on their own players, they are creating an experience gap that can lead to injuries.

Of course, the answer from those who benefit the most from cutting blocks (usually offensive linemen) is that there aren’t enough injuries to support banning them. Of course, there is the occasional Thibodeaux. Or worse, Washington Commanders tight end Logan Thomas, who missed eight months after suffering a season-ending knee injury due to a block cut last season. But proponents of cut blocks will say that they are necessary parts of schemes and that thousands of cut blocks occur each season without incident.

Where is the NFL in this? Well, it’s on the data side. Part of the reason horse collar tackles and chop blocks were eliminated was because the league studied these tactics and found data that supported a ban. Effectively, what the league needs to see are enough injuries to warrant removal. Unfortunately, this is part of the NFL’s cold calculus when it comes to player safety. As an automaker considering a major recall, someone needs to show that there is enough carnage to make it necessary.

That’s not a great answer when you’re a hyperventilated Giants fan who probably pictured the season on the lawn next to Thibodeaux on Sunday night. But that’s where the NFL stands. And Giants coach Brian Daboll may have summed it up better when asked about blocking at Thibodeaux.

“Well, those are the rules,” Daboll said. “If they allow it, we do it too with tight ends and fullbacks going back to the scrimmage line. So we have to do a good job playing. It’s a tough block, but whatever the rules, these are the rules.”

They probably won’t change anytime soon, even to something universally hated and completely unpracticed.

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