Dirty Laundry: Cutler's crackback

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

It didn’t take long for Angry Tom, a noted Bears fan, to point out the shaky crackback block assessed to quarterback Jay Cutler in the first quarter of Chicago’s 25-19 victory in Seattle. Nick of Chicago was more polite, however, so he gets the floor:

I would like to see this for this week's Dirty Laundry feature. Jay Cutler was whistled for an illegal crackback in Seattle. However, in the replay he clearly hit the defender in the waist. I know Favre was the subject of the same call in the preseason, but what is the true definition of a crackback? Doesn't he have to go for the knees?

For those who missed it, the Bears ran a reverse to receiver Devin Hester, who turned the corner on the left side of the Bears’ line and made it 19 yards downfield. The play was nullified when officials called Cutler for an illegal crackback block on Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry. (The official gamebook referred to it as a “chop block,” which is technically different. But we’ll go with “crackback’ because that’s what referee Don Carey announced.)

When you watch the replay, you see Cutler scanning the left side of the line for defenders and then swiveling inside when he spotted Curry. Cutler bends as if he is going to go low on Curry but ultimately makes contact with his upper thigh/waist area.

Alex, the NFL rule defines a crackback block as below the waist -- not the knees. We’ll get to that issue in a second. First, here’s the full wording of the rule:

At the snap, an offensive player who is aligned in a position more than two yards laterally outside an offensive tackle, or a player who is in a backfield position at the snap and then moves to a position more than two yards laterally outside a tackle, may not clip an opponent anywhere, nor may he contact an opponent below the waist if the blocker is moving toward the position where the ball was snapped from, and the contact occurs within an area five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage.

I think we can agree that the secondary conditions were in place for a crackback call. The primary question, however, is whether Cutler hit Curry below the waist. After watching it a bunch of times, I think Cutler was too close to Curry’s waist to make the call -- especially when you consider that Curry bent to take on Cutler’s block. Cutler certainly seemed to apply a waist-high block, if not a block that made first contact at the waist or above.

As with many of the calls we’ll examine this year, there is some gray area and room for debate. But the purpose of the crackback rule is to prevent offensive players from diving at the feet or knees of defensive players. It’s an injury hazard, among many other things. Cutler didn’t come close to doing that.

On to our Challenge Tracker, where the only change this week was Bears coach Lovie Smith’s reversal of a red zone fumble by Matt Forte to set up the Bears’ first touchdown.