Report: League could ban below-the-waist blocks starting in 2013

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Writer
Brian Cushing's injury might cause the NFL's competition committee to look at blocks below the waist. (US Presswire)

It appears the NFL's competition committee could be busy the next time it meets in the spring.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King reports the league will look at eliminating all blocks that occur below the waist beginning next season. And, as CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora already has noted, the committee will also likely discuss changing the rule that states a touchdown can't be reviewed if a coach throws a challenge flag to contest it.

An offensive player's ability to block a defender below the waist -- particularly on a cut block, where the offense can take out the knees of a defender -- has been called into question. Most notably, that's because Jets guard Matt Slauson ended Texans linebacker Brian Cushing's season in October with a block like that -- though Slauson's block was later termed an illegal peel-back block.

Defenders around the league were outraged when Slauson only was fined $10,000 for the offense (even though it did border on being legal).



“I probably shouldn't say it, but I thought it was an unnecessary [hit],” Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said a few days later. “Whether it was legal or not ... I think it's just unnecessary to hit a defensive player when he can't see you. If a guy's coming in front and cuts me, he can see that and maybe get away from it. I think the league needs to look at something like that. He was defenseless in that case. If the guy had hit him in the head, it would have been a penalty.”

And it's easy to see why defensive players (routinely fined tens of thousands of dollars for illegal hits but whose injuries from questionable offensive blocks rarely are penalized) would be upset about the continued legality of it all. Especially since it appears all defenseless hits are not treated the same way.

As Vikings defensive end Jared Allen told ESPN the Magazine recently, “My knee is just as valuable as Tom Brady's.”

More outrage came last week, when Ravens safety Ed Reed originally was suspended for one game for repeated violations of the hits rule. That would have cost him roughly $450,000, and that penalty quickly was changed to a $50,000 fine and no suspension. Still, that upset defensive players.

"When Cushing got hurt -- and I just wanna put this out there -- we got a chance to see the discrepancy in fines," Houston's Bradie James told NFL.com's Albert Breer. "That was a season-ending injury; Slauson got $10,000. Meanwhile, [Texans linebacker Tim] Dobbins gets $30,000 for hitting a quarterback [that caused a concussion for Jay Cutler]. That's a discrepancy in the fine system, offense vs. defense. Pretty simple."

But ESPN the Magazine's Dave Fleming also had this to write:

So why not just outlaw blocks below the knees? It's tricky, but teams really don't want the tactic to go away. That's because cut blocking works -- especially in Houston, where the coaches forbid the move in practice but use it in games. "The Texans couldn't say a damn word about what happened to Cushing because they cut more than anyone in the league," says former NFL lineman and cut-block aficionado Ross Tucker, now an analyst for ESPN.com and NBC Sports Network. "I would have done the exact same thing Slauson did, and I have about a million times. I thought cut blocks were a hell of a lot of fun and a great way to knock guys on their ass."



That said, SI's King predicts that a rule to eliminate all of those blocks would not pass.

However …



Here's hoping the league decides to do something about the rule. Because when the NFL discusses keeping players safe, the defensive players should be included as well.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Josh Katzowitz on Twitter here: @joshkatzowitz.

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