DENVER — Julius Thomas is a fan favorite around Denver in large part due to his graciousness with Broncos Country — especially on social media — and is generally considered one of his team’s most cordial players by members of the media.
But Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians sees the tight end in a far different light — or at least he did on Sunday.
When asked about the chop block that Thomas was flagged for in the first half of his team’s 41-20 loss to the Broncos on Sunday — a block that knocked Cardinals’ defensive team captain Calais Campbell out of the game with an apparent torn MCL — Arians called it the “dirtiest play I’ve seen in the National Football League.”
“I’ve been coaching for 37 years,” Arians said. “It was a flat chop block and it put him out of the game. I’ve never seen anything like it. I know John Fox. He’s a great coach and a great guy. But somebody has got to answer to that. A fine isn’t going to do it when he’s going to miss three to four weeks on a blatant chop block.”
Cardinals All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was also asked about the block. Another typically mild-mannered player, Fitzgerald called the block “bullsh…” before catching himself.
“I mean, it was a bad,” Fitzgerald said, amending his choice of words. “It was terrible, man. We all saw it. We lose our defensive captain, and the guy (Thomas) goes on to catch two touchdowns in the game. I feel like he (Thomas) should have been thrown out of the game. That could have been a career ending injury. We obviously lost (Campbell) for the game. We don’t know how long he’s going to be down. But that was a big turning point in the game for us.”
The block may also have drawn the ire of some Denver residents, considering Campbell is a Denver native who attended South High School.
Though Arians told reporters he thought the Broncos planned the chop block, Thomas told a different story when asked about it after the game, saying a miscommunication with offensive tackle Ryan Clady led to the penalty. Clady went for a high block on the play while Thomas went low below Campbell’s waist, eventually making contact with his knee.
“I guarantee that being dirty is not a part of my game, and to intentionally hurt somebody is not something I would ever do,” Thomas said.
As of Monday morning, the NFL confirmed through a spokesperson that the block was indeed illegal, and said a decision on possibles fines for Clady and Thomas was forthcoming. There is, however, no precedent for a suspension for this sort of penalty.
Blocks below the waist in and of themselves — known as cut blocks — are not illegal. The process of cut blocking becomes illegal and defined as a chop block when one offensive player engages a defender in a block above the waist while another player blocks the same defender below the waist.
Slow-motion replays showed that Thomas blocked Campbell below the waist before Campbell was engaged in a high block with Clady, and that Clady did little more than come into contact with Campbell as he fell to the turf.
Given what he saw and his interpretation of the NFL rule book, ESPN writer Kevin Seifert wondered “whether the play was even illegal, much less dirty.”
“But one interpretation suggests this was still an illegal ‘lure block,'” Seifert wrote.
The NFL describes lure blocks under Rule 12, Section 2, Article 3 of its rule book, whereas “A1 (Thomas) chops a defensive player while A2 (Clady) confronts the defensive player in a pass-blocking posture but is not physically engaged with the defensive player.”
For what it’s worth, the penalty also hurt the Broncos, as it negated a 77-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on the play.
This isn’t the first time a Broncos blocker has been maligned for a block below the waist. Former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs became somewhat infamous for implementing the chop block as a regular part of the team’s offensive scheme in 1995.
However, the Broncos also won two Super Bowls in the Gibbs era, helping pave the way for running back Terrell Davis, now a perennial Hall of Fame candidate.
As former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson explained in a guest editorial for DeadSpin.com, the Broncos offensive line “got a bad rap” for consistently utilizing the chop block.
He also described his own trepidation with being asked to cut block as a member of the Broncos.
I hated cutting. It wasn’t good gamesmanship, in my mind, and I wasn’t a natural in-the-trenches guy. I felt like a punk even trying it. I almost imagined myself whimpering as I shot out of my stance and aimed for another man’s patella. Also, I would’ve hated it if someone had done it to me. But that wasn’t the main deterrent. Empathy dies a silent death in the NFL. You do what you have to do to get the job done. For the most part, offensive linemen are fine with cut blocking because they know that sometimes it’s necessary. They’ll do whatever they have to do. O-linemen are notoriously content with that aspect of the game. Call me dirty? I don’t care. I did my job. You don’t put yourself in another man’s shoes. You don’t try to feel his pain. Your own pain is enough.