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Stop the chop? Broncos called out

ROGER MILLS
Published October 31, 2004

A below-the-knee block by Broncos right tackle George Foster on defensive tackle Tony Williams during the Bengals' 23-10 win Monday night has created a brouhaha across the NFL.

The Bengals believe Foster's block, which dislocated and fractured Williams' left ankle and ended his season, was unnecessary and another example of the Broncos' unsavory blocking methods.

Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer was lost earlier this season with a broken leg after being blocked by Broncos left tackle Matt Lepsis. The league determined Lepsis' block, like Foster's, was legal.

"I've been talking about it for 10 years," an annoyed Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said at a news conference last week. "It's one of those situations where the average football fan really doesn't understand that all teams do that. All teams do it. In the game, Cincinnati had a number of them."

At his news conference last week, Bill Cowher was asked what he thought of the block. The Steelers coach said it was uncalled for and warned the Broncos to "do unto others as you want them do onto you."

Shanahan was "a little offended" by Cowher's remarks and invited members of the Denver media into the film room. He took particular care to show footage of Steelers guard Alan Faneca cutting down Raiders tackle Ted Washington on opening weekend.

There is a gray area between the legal cut block and the illegal chop block. The cut block occurs when a player (usually an offensive lineman) blocks another (usually a defensive lineman) below the knees with his helmet in front of the player. The chop block occurs when the same block comes from the side or the back, or when the defensive player is engaged with another offensive player and therefore defenseless.

Many suggest the league outlaw the cut block and eliminate the potential for the chop block, which can cost up to $20,000 in fines.

"It's unfortunate, and I'm sure it's something the competition committee will look at," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "From what I understand, this is the second player that was injured against the Denver Broncos on blocks supposedly legal, but not really needed, not necessary."

Offensive linemen argue that the difference between the legal and illegal block is difficult to gauge.

"The only difference between the chop block and the cut block is where you have your head," Bucs center John Wade said. "Ahead or on the side of him, it's a matter of inches."

The problem is some teams, like the Broncos, have a long-standing reputation for being particularly adept at the below-the-knee block. In just the past four seasons, five players have been severely hurt by a similar block while playing against the Broncos.

Interestingly, Denver has traditionally had one of the best running games in the NFL and is at it again, ranked second in the league at 147.6 yards per game.

"The left tackle for the Broncos (Lepsis) has to be about 280 pounds and he's really quick," Bucs defensive end Greg Spires said. "That's his main thing, it's to cut. He's the best at it. He does it the legal way, but sometimes (the illegal way) happens and when it does, he should be punished."

As long as legs and ankles continue to be broken, the cut block likely will be revisited by the league in the offseason, and there appears a growing sentiment against it.

"I've been in the league 27 years now, and from the first year to this year I've never taught a block below the waist," Redskins veteran offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "I think the integrity of the game is, if you're an offensive lineman, you block above the waist, you block on your numbers, you block on the hips - but you don't block anybody's knees."

Information from other news organizations was used in the report.

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