What Is a Clipping Penalty In Football?

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What Is a Clipping Penalty In Football?

Clipping is a foul in American football involving an opposing player’s illegal block. It can occur on any play and is classified as a personal foul, meaning it carries a 15-yard penalty. This makes it one of the most severe penalties in the game. But what exactly is clipping, and why is it so penalized? Let’s take a closer look at this infamous penalty. 

What Is Clipping? 

Clipping occurs when an offensive player blocks a defender from behind, below the waist, and outside the tackle box. This type of block has been outlawed since the 1920s because of its dangerous nature—it can cause serious injury to both players involved. Essentially, it’s a block that takes out an opponent’s legs instead of aiming for their shoulder pads or body. 

It can also be used to set up blockers for running plays by taking out defenders who would otherwise be able to make tackles or disrupt plays. Due to this strategic use, many coaches have become accustomed to having their players clip opponents to open up lanes for running backs. 

Penalties for Clipping 

The penalty for clipping is 15 yards, with an automatic first down awarded if there was no previous penalty on the play (i.e., if you clip someone during an incomplete pass, you receive 15 yards and a first down). If there was already a penalty on the play (such as holding), then you only receive 10 yards and no automatic first down—but still enough yardage to make it worthwhile for some teams, depending on their field position.

The referee can eject players from games for repeated violations of this rule and flagrant infractions like blind-side blocks or high hits with the intent to injure another player.  Clipping has also been known to result in fines from the NFL if they deem it worthy of further punishment after reviewing game footage (this usually happens if there are multiple instances of clipping during one game).  

How To Avoid a Clipping Penalty

Run Interference For The Ball Carrier: If you are blocking for a teammate with the ball, make sure you do not get in their way and accidentally clip them. Instead, try to stay in front of them and provide protection.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings: Always be aware of where the defenders are when you are on the field. If you see a defender coming up from behind, adjust your block so you do not clip them.

Use Proper Technique: When you are blocking, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and bend at the knees. This will help you stay balanced and improve your leverage, making it less likely that you will accidentally clip a defender.


Clipping is one of the most dangerous penalties in American football and should always be avoided whenever possible. Players must be aware that there are severe consequences ranging from 15-yard penalties to fines and ejections—so they must always practice safe blocking techniques when playing defense or offense.

By understanding what constitutes a clip and how strictly referees enforce this penalty, players will ensure they don’t suffer any unnecessary repercussions while protecting themselves and their opponents from potential injuries associated with this type of block.