All About Ward and The Crack Back Block


By Matt Bowen – National Football Post and Special to NFL Gridiron Gab

Another week, another question about hits in the NFL. What’s new? This time it is Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Terrell Suggs who has sounded off about the “crack-back” blocks being dished out by Steelers’ wide receiver Hines Ward. Suggs even went as far as to say that the Ravens’ defense has a “bounty” out on Ward. Nice. Make sure you realize that the fine you are going to get for saying that comes out of your pocket before Uncle Sam gets a hold of it.

But, let’s be honest. This isn’t a new discovery. Hines Ward has been blasting linebackers, defensive ends, safeties, corners, equipment guys, fans, etc since he has been in the NFL. He would blast my one-and-half year old son if he lined up at linebacker. So, get over it. In my mind, this is a clear example of a player reacting to something that worries him—the fact that Ward is going to catch him under the chin.

Something that is within the rules of the game.

Hines Ward is not a dirty player. If anything, we should applaud the guy for stepping up and playing football the way it should be played at a position reserved for primadonnas and princesses. If you don’t agree with me, let’s examine what a “Crack Back” block really is.

The block itself happens when a wide receiver (Ward) aligns in a reduced spilt and drives inside to “crack” on a defender. That defender is moving towards Ward, because the man he was over (most likely a tackle or guard in the Steeler offense) is pulling to the outside in the “Toss Crack” play. (The Steelers run this out of a bunch formation or with a reduced split from Ward). Every team in the NFL runs a form of the “Toss Crack” (depending on the formation), but Ward is one of the few guys who actually finishes the play. He is looking, begging, for a linebacker to run his direction with his eyes on the pulling lineman in front of him. This is when he delivers the blow—cleanly. If you still aren’t a believer, check out the game this weekend. He hits above the knees, below the helmet. Perfectly legal. What else is he supposed to do? Pull off? Try not to bring the guy up off the ground? No, he does this because he does it well, while sending a message to the defense that it is going to be a long day at the stadium.

The idea that a defensive player would complain about this shocks me. They watch the tape, they know the possibility exists that Ward could be eyeing them up before the snap in certain situations. Especially for a defense such as the Ravens—smart, fast, talented. They know what to expect. This league is a two-way-highway. You can’t expect Ward to take it easy on a “Crack Back” block while you get to tee off on him when he comes across the middle—defenseless. This is no different.

Defensive coaches are known for saying “Keep your head on a swivel.” Translation—you better watch out when you play this game, because there is always someone who is coming to hit you. And when they get there, you can expect them to bring violence and a nasty attitude with them. Bottom line: defensive guys in the NFL are trained to hit people—and they don’t like it when someone else gets to blast them when they aren’t looking.

I’ve been on the receiving end of many crack back blocks playing down in the box as a safety during my career. I’m not going to lie–they hurt. But, I knew they were part of the game, and mostly my fault that I didn’t recognize the play fast enough. In all of those instances, I put the blame on myself for ending up with a headache, or worse, ending up on my back with a receiver standing over me. Sure, I was upset, but it was a clean hit– what can I do? However, you could be sure that the next time he tried to come in there I put a helmet under his chin. Like I said– it is a two-way street. You give and then you receive.

However, if you play the Steelers, be prepared—you are going to get hit. It is an old cliché, but if you don’t like to get hit, you probably shouldn’t play football.

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One Response to “All About Ward and The Crack Back Block”

  1. Matt says:

    A lot of good points here.

    But something to consider, should any helmet to helmet contact that is intentional be considered a penalty or illegal?

    Since the NFL is still trying to rectify it’s concussion problem for those type of hits, wouldn’t it be prudent for players safety to discourage them.

    Look at Troy Polamalu, he’s out because of a hit he tried to inflict.

    Football is a brutal, violent sport and it’s to be expected that sometimes guys cross the line. But the NFL should make safety a priority for its players.