It turns out even in the preseason the Detroit Lions find their way in the middle of an officiating controversy. Late in the third quarter of the Lions’ second preseason game against the Houston Texans, offensive guard Oday Aboushi was called for a blindside block on this play:
The next morning, this clip went viral with several analysts and former players bemoaning the call and some (see: T.J. Lang) calling it—and I quote—“Grade A horse s###.”
Blindside blocks are something the league is focusing on in 2019, as it continues to try and create and clarify rules to make the game safer (or at least to give the appearance they are trying to make the game safer). Here’s the league explaining why this was a point of emphasis this year and what exactly has changed:
Owners voted to expand protection of defenseless players by eliminating the blindside block. It is now prohibited for a blocker to initiate forcible contact with his head, shoulder or forearm when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line. The penalty for an illegal blindside block is a loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.
Prior to this year, blindside blocks were only a foul if contact was to the opponent’s head or neck area. Now all blindside blocker are illegal no matter where the point of contact. There is one exception, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
So does that mean the correct call was made on Aboushi?
Let’s take a look.
First, here’s the definition of a blindside block according to the NFL 2019 rulebook. Emphasis is mine:
“It is a foul if a player initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.”
Now let’s look at the point of contact between Aboushi and the Texans defender:
There is no doubt that contact is towards Aboushi’s own end zone, so it meets the first criteria. The second is up for debate, but it certainly seems like Aboushi leads with his shoulder... maybe his chest. Also worth noting that it appears Aboushi is intiating contact with the opponent’s head/neck area, meaning it would have been a foul last year, too.
Either way, you can see why the official threw the flag here, as it meets both of the two main criteria of a blindside block.
There is the aforementioned loophole. Because things get crazy in the tackle box, you’d expect some blocks along the offensive line to be either parallel to towards the offense’s end zone. Players get turned around, and the only way for a lineman to protect his quarterback is to make these “blindside blocks.” We see it, especially, from tackles who are dealing with speedy rushers around the outside. The league knew that and allowed one stipulation for the rule:
“A player may initiate forcible contact in an area between the offensive tackles and three yards on either side of the line of scrimmage (until the ball leaves that area)”
So, as long as you’re between the tackles and within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage, these kind of blocks are allowed.
Unfortunately, for Aboushi, his block didn’t qualify.
The line of scrimmage was at the 24-yard line, and it’s clear Aboushi’s block is initiated at least 5 yards beyond that point.
So by the rulebook, this was the correct call. Although you have to wonder if the league will consider adjusting the rule a little bit, perhaps extending this 3-yard safe zone to 5 or 6 yards. It’s a new rule, and the league often fidgets with the wording and the specifics after a test run of a year or so.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia talked about this specific rule on Wednesday and said his team is still in the process of learning the nuances from officials.
“How close you are to the line of scrimmage, there is a limit to how far you can do some of that,” Patricia said. “So we’re working to get clear clarification on that ourselves. But it’s something that we’re in contact with (NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating) Al Riveron and his office and trying to make sure that we’re coaching it the right way.”