Football Illegal Cut Block Penalty

Football Illegal Cut Block Penalty

Certain types of blocks in American football have very specific regulations. The rules for blocking are intended to make the game less dangerous with player safety in mind. Learn about the illegal cut block penalty here.


This penalty occurs when a player blocks below the waist more than five yards downfield. It is common for players, specifically offensive lineman, to block below the waist as the play starts. When offensive lineman do this, it is called a cut block. A cut block is not illegal unless executed outside of the confines of the rule book. Cut blocks are typically executed when a block is being made on the perimeter. Cut blocks can also occur in quick pass plays when the quarterback is supposed to deliver the ball quickly.

If a player blocks someone below the waist more than five yards downfield, or the block comes from anywhere outside the front of the player, it is considered illegal.

When the official sees this penalty occur, they will throw the flag and the penalty is assessed from the spot of the foul at the end of the play.


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This penalty looks different across several leagues. For example, in the NFL, cut blocks are common when plays are on the perimeter of the field. Often lineman will pull out in front of the ball carrier and execute cut blocks less than five yards downfield. Skill position players may cut as well within the confines of the rule book.

In college, players may not block below the waist unless they are offensive linemen that are initially lined up inside of the tackle box. Additionally, in college, once the ball has left the tackle box and gets to the perimeter, players can no longer perform a cut block.

In the Canadian Football League, it is illegal for players to block below the waist on any plays involving kicking or a turnover. Players may not block below the waist more than three yards outside of the tackle box or five yards downfield.

The Arena Football League rules for blocking below the waist are similar to the other leagues, except that the penalty for blocking below the waist is a 10-yard penalty opposed to a 15-yard penalty in other leagues.

In high school football, players are not allowed to cut block at all.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal block below the waist

When a player illegally blocks below the waist, the referee will throw a flag and signal the penalty after the play by swinging their hands in front of their knees as illustrated.


  • An offensive lineman going farther than five yards downfield and executing a block below the waist.
  • An offensive lineman starting to block above the waist and then blocking below the waist. This is often called a "high-low."
  • A wide receiver blocking a defender below the waist.

Similar Penalties To Illegal Cut Block