Twice in the preseason, a high-profile pass rusher has absorbed a low block at the edge of the tackle box, resulting in a knee injury. Giants defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux has missed time, and he will miss more. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt left the game on Sunday against the Lions, but he told reporters on Wednesday that, if it had happened in a regular-season game, he would have kept playing.
The bigger question that Watt tried to address is the broader challenge of avoiding taking the kind of hit he absorbed from Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson.
“It’s a legal play, so there’s not really much we can do at the moment,” Watt told reporters.
There’s still a question of whether it’s clean. Reasonable minds can differ on that point.
The reality is that it’s how the play is drawn up. Plenty of teams use a cut block to knock down the player coming around the edge on a running play.
“What can I do differently so that doesn’t happen again?” Watt said. “And honestly, I haven’t really come up with a good solution. If I try to hurdle the guy and he doesn’t go low, it’s a whole different story, too, because obviously, that’s my gap.”
That’s the problem Watt and all other players in that situation face, especially since the cut block remains legal within the tackle box.
“I don’t know how you can really play that block and get in that ‘C’ gap area effectively, so just gonna have to try to figure it out I guess,” Watt said.
Maybe the only answer is to get rid of the cut block in all scenarios and settings. If that happens, however, smaller players will have a much harder time neutralizing larger defenders.
Over time, that ability of shorter, slighter players to apply a harder-they-fall mentality to larger, stronger guys by taking out their legs has been minimized. The only way to fully protect players like Thibodeaux and Watt would be to get rid of it entirely.