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Steelers defense concerned about cut blocks

| Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

The NFL has emphasized player safety during the past year, but the Steelers are questioning whether the league is doing enough to protect defensive linemen from cut and chop blocks.

At least their defensive linemen.

A number of players voiced concerns about what they described as illegal chop blocks by the Baltimore Ravens — notably to 325-pound nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Hampton said he was continuously cut blocked from the backside by Baltimore right guard Marshal Yanda, some of which were blatant illegal chop blocks.

"You can get hurt from an illegal chop block, but I guess it isn't an illegal chop block if they don't call it," Hampton said.

No penalties were called Sunday, and the Ravens gained the most rushing yards against the Steelers in 22 games.

A cut block is a block below the waist when a player is not engaged with another player. It is illegal to cut from behind. A chop block occurs when a player is engaged with another player and is hit below the waist.

"Some of the things they were doing were questionable rules wise and dangerous," nose tackle Chris Hoke said.

Referees called 21 chop blocks called last year league-wide. Baltimore wasn't called for one.

The Steelers' defensive linemen said they believe cut blocks are just as bad as chop blocks.

Kansas City safety Eric Berry tore his ACL on Sunday when he was legally cut by Buffalo receiver Steve Johnson downfield.

"It is dangerous," safety Ryan Clark said of the low blocks. "Until offensive players start getting hit low — because we can't hit them high — and some of those guys go out, an equivalent can't be drawn."

Defensive end Aaron Smith agrees.

"They made rules to protect guys from so-called chop blocks," he said. "I don't know if it is hard for the referees to see that stuff because there are multiple people falling on the ground to determine what happened."

Hampton said he was blatantly chopped by Yanda on the first play of the game that resulted in a 36-yard Ray Rice run that set up Baltimore's first touchdown. Hampton was either cut or chopped on Baltimore's first four run plays.

"There is really nothing you can do when you are engaged and fighting with a guy and they come chopping at your legs," Hampton said. "If it keeps happening, something is going to have to happen. I can't keep getting chopped up like that when I am engaged."

But it could continue Sunday against Seattle, considering the Ravens' success.

Baltimore rushed for 170 yards on a defense that allowed just over 62 per game last year, and Rice was the first to go over 100 yards against the Steelers in 50 games.

"That is just how football is played right now," Hoke said. "A lot of teams cut."

Even the Steelers' offensive line employs cut blocks on occasion, usually on specific run plays or quick-hitting pass plays. "Not to the extent that (the Ravens) did," Smith said.

"That's what everybody is doing now," Hampton said. "That's the tactic now. If you can cut a guy when he is engaged and the referee is not calling, why not do it• Hopefully my knees don't get blown out."

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