How to defeat the cut block

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have historically played very well against the run. One of the main reasons why is their ability to not get cut. What goes into the ability to hold off the cut block of an offensive lineman.

Let's face is: there is a lot of crying going on amongst defensive players nowadays. Most of it revolves around the now prevalent use of cut blocking. Cut blocking is not new in the NFL, and neither is the technique used to prevent it. First, it is interesting to note why so many teams utilize cut blocking.

The last stop before the bus stop

The biggest mismatch every Sunday is an offensive lineman versus a defensive lineman. No comparison. Most college offensive linemen are kids that were recruited to play defensive line, but did not pan out because they were not athletic enough to play defense. Hence the phrase last stop before the bus stop. If you can't make it on offensive line, then you're taking the bus home.

Therefore, cut blocking is popular because it helps to level the playing field. Simply, the thinking goes that if you can't block him, just cut him. I've read countless times over the past few weeks that smaller, more athletic offensive linemen are perfect for zone blocking. Meh. Not really. Alex Gibbs preferred smaller linemen because they cut better. I think it's one of nature's laws that fat guys hate diving on the ground repeatedly. Regardless, it is somewhat illogical to say that more athletic guys are needed to cut block because they are so unathletic they cannot block the vastly more athletic defensive linemen. Got it?

Anyways, it's important to point that out because it is the first step in understanding how to defeat a cut block.

Proprioception

I am not a doctor and I did not recently stay at a Holiday Inn Express, so please don't think I'm getting too technical here. Proprioception simply means an awareness of your body in space. Think of an infielder in baseball turning a double play. He doesn't have to look at the runner trying to take his legs out as he throws to first. He can feel the runner and jump to avoid him while keeping his eye on his throwing target.

Or, think of Floyd Mayweather slipping a punch while throwing, and landing, a punch of his own. He doesn't have to aim the punch. If he did, he would never be able to avoid the opponent's punch.

For defensive linemen, you have to be able to avoid the cut block without seeing. Do you remember the drill at the combine when the coach would point either to his left or to his right, and the defensive lineman would have to move over the bags accordingly? The defensive lineman can't look at the bag to avoid them, he has to keep his eyes on the coach. Moreover, the other coaches are watching how longs it takes the athlete to get his foot off the ground. Oftentimes, you'll hear coaches cue thier players by telling them that the ground is hot. If it takes a long time for you to transition and move your feet, you are going to gut cut.

Coaches will sometimes also lock of the two defenders to simulate a block. While locked up, the defender has to move over the bags.

Good coaches do these drills every day. Defensive coaches constantly roll those big physio balls at their players to make it intuitive for them to push down with thier hands at anything at their knees.

Fundamentals

Before the ball crosses the line of scrimmage, every defensive player should keep their shoulders square. If you turn your shoulders, you are basically telling the running back to please run here because you have lost gap integrity. Turning your shoulders will also lead to you getting cut.

Along those lines, your initial pop off of the ball should come from your hands and your hips; not your feet. If you are playing with leverage, you are playing behind your hands. This will also make it very difficult for you to get cut.

Finally, read your key. If you are aligned on the outside shad of guard, you can't let him jump through and climb on the linebacker. You need to squeeze him, stay parallel, and work behind your hands. By squeezing the guard, you make it almost impossible.

A little love for Hines Ward

When the NFL was ready to put James Harrison in jail for his hit on Mohamed Massaquoi, it was left to Hines Ward to be the voice of reason. Ward put the blame solely on Colt McCoy and said he should've known not to throw the ball late over the middle. To wit, why Brian Cushing decided to undercut the guard while pursuing an outside zone play is beyond me. If he would have played the game with proper leverage and fundamentals, he would've never been in a position to get cut. Play the game the right way and good things happen. Sometimes the most simple things are the most difficult to grasp.

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