Football Illegal Crackback Penalty

Football Illegal Crackback Penalty

An illegal crackback penalty is called on an offensive player in football when a block is not executed properly. Crackback blocks are a strategy used in football, most often by receivers, to free up the edge for a running back. The receiver begins wide and then runs back towards the ball after the ball has been snapped.


An illegal crackback block penalty occurs when an offensive player comes from more than two yards outside the offensive tackle or from the backfield and makes contact below the waist, above the neck, from a blind side, or from behind. The forces involved in a crackback block put the player getting blocked at risk for a gruesome injury. Crackback blocks aim to stop defenders in their tracks in order to allow an offensive player with the ball to get around the defender.  Therefore, this penalty is called on offensive players during a play.

In the past, offensive players were allowed to completely take out defenders in order to commit a successful block and free up the edge for their running back or ball carrier. This resulted in countless injuries to defenseless defenders who were blindsided by the hit. This penalty was created to protect defenders.


PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Illegal Crackback15 Yards15 Yards15 Yards15 Yards

When an illegal crackback penalty is called, the result is 15 yards. This means that the offense is moved back 15 yards from where the previous play began.  

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal crackback

When an illegal crackback penalty is called, the referee uses their right hand to signal the penalty. The referee opens his right hand so that their palm is facing outwards, extends their arm out laterally, and then moves it directly down against their thigh.

An illegal crackback block is considered a personal foul, so prior to signaling the illegal crackback block, the referee signals a personal foul. To signal a personal foul, the referee puts their left arm above their head and uses their right wrist to strike it.


  • When the ball is snapped, the ball is pitched to a running back, who then heads to the right side of the field. A wide receiver on that side of the field sees a linebacker that is running toward the running back. The receiver runs back toward where the ball was snapped from and dives toward the linebacker’s legs. The receiver makes contact with the linebacker’s knees. An illegal crackback block penalty would be called on the receiver, and the offense would lose 15 yards from where the previous play began.
  • A receiver goes in motion from one side of the field to the other. When the ball is hiked, the ball is handed to the running back, who runs toward the receiver. In an attempt to clear the edge for their running back, the receiver dives at a player running full speed. The defender does not see the hit approaching, and unfortunately, the receiver makes contact with the defender’s ankle. This is very dangerous, and an illegal crackback block penalty is called on the receiver.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Crackback


What is an illegal crackback penalty in football?

An illegal crackback penalty in football is assessed when an offensive player quickly moves towards the middle of the formation from far away in order to hit them from the side or behind. In order for it to be an illegal crackback block, the tackler must be set more than two yards outside the offensive tackle or come from the backfield. Additionally, contact must be made below the waist or above the head and from the side or behind.

Why are crackback blocks dangerous in football?

Crackback blocks have often been cited as dangerous plays in football because they rely upon a lineman hitting a defender on their blind side. This means that defenders rarely see crackback blocks coming and thus have little or no time to prepare for the impact. This can result in serious injury, and it is estimated that approximately one-third of concussions on punt returns result from crackback blocks. 

What are the consequences of an illegal crackback penalty in football?

At all levels of football, an illegal or improper crackback block is a penalty that results in 15 yards against the player responsible for the block. Illegal crackback blocks are called against the offense of a football team, as they are blocks intended to prevent defenders from stopping a play.