Under the Microscope: The Cross-Chop Technique
Origin story, technique breakdown, variations, OL's perspective, & player examples
The cross-chop technique is a pass-rush move that has become prevalent across the NFL in recent years. It’s gotten so popular that you’re likely to see it attempted in any given game at least once, with some players featuring it as their signature move. I wanted to take a closer look at the technique from both a big-picture and granular perspective by answering a series of pertinent questions using a combination of player polling across the NFL, my own research, and film study. The goal was to gain a better understanding of why the cross-chop is as popular as it is today.
Where did the cross-chop move originate?
There have been multiple variations of the cross-chop or ‘chop-club’ move over the years, with different versions starting and gaining popularity in different eras. The first known use that I could find was in the mid-1990s by former Saints and Packers All-Pro defensive end (DE) Joe Johnson. Defensive line master trainer and former Falcons DE Chuck Smith told me that Johnson used a version of the cross-chop “without a euro-step.” This just means it was a more straightforward approach without any element of an inside fake to set up the chop portion of the move.
The euro-step and inside fake were added and made famous later by former Giants and Falcons All-Pro DE Osi Umenyiora in 2006. Umenyiora told me he first saw the move used by former Lions DE James Hall in 2005, but Hall’s version was more like Jackson’s, in that neither had any sort of euro-step attached to the technique. “It was effective, but 80% of the time the O-lineman would just run him up the field if he missed with the initial Chop. But I still liked the move,” Umenyiora said.
A modern day example of the cross-chop without any sort of inside fake is here from Browns DE Myles Garrett against Saints LT Terron Armstead.
You can see why the inside fake was such a vital addition for Umenyiora. Garrett missed with his chop and Armstead was easily able to run him up the field, exactly as Umenyiora described when Hall used it back in 2005.
Umenyiora liked the premise of the move but knew it needed some refinement. He started tinkering with it, and with the help of Smith added an inside head fake and euro-step that caused offensive tackles to stop their feet. That process caused offensive linemen to soften their outside shoulder, which shortened the corner for the rusher. “I decided that if I got the tackle’s feet to freeze for a split second, then did the chop club, it may be more effective. That’s where the head fake inside came from. The first time I did it was against Luke Petitgout in practice. Luke had been kicking my ass prior to that for a whole year. He fell down the first time I did that move, because when you fake inside, if executed well, it shifts the tackles momentum that way, then when you come over the top with the chop, then the club, they fall sometimes.”
When Umenyiora was trying to learn the move in 2006, Bob Whitfield — who was then the Giants’ left tackle and a former teammate of Smith - suggested that he approach Chuck Smith and ask for a few pointers. “I taught Osi the cross chop and euro step,” Smith said. “He would head fake in and come out in one step. You don’t have to head fake, there are multiple ways to use this move.”
After experimenting with it for a year, the chop-club became Umenyiora’s signature move beginning in 2007. He went on to have 13 sacks that season, and 56.5 of his 85 career sacks came from 2007 until he retired in 2014 — the period when the chop club was a featured part of his arsenal.
With Johnson and Hall laying the groundwork and Smith offering his guidance, Umenyiora ushered in the pass-rush move that has taken the NFL by storm and created headaches for offensive linemen.
What is the cross-chop or chop-club?
The cross-chop or chop-club in its simplest form is when a rusher chops across his body and traps or ‘pins’ a blocker’s outside or inside arm. The modern version made famous by Umenyiora has an added element of an inside-out fake that precedes the actual chop, meant to sell an inside move or power, causing the blocker to stop their feet and anchor. This is usually followed up with a club move or club-swim combination to secure the edge of the blocker so the rusher can complete the turn.
Umenyiora breaks his version down like this:
Three steps upfield
Inside fake with the left leg
Simultaneously come back across with the chop with the left hand
Finish with a club, which is more like a pull through, with the right hand.
Below is a video example of the cross-chop technique Umenyiora is describing, used here to beat Jets LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson for a sack in Week 5 of the 2013 season:
What makes the cross-chop so effective?
The reason this move works so well is because the inside fake that Umenyiora added back in 2006 screws with the foundational rules of OL play. It is engrained in O-linemen throughout their careers to “play inside-out” on pass-rushers and “establish half-man leverage.” In layman’s terms that means making sure that they split the pass-rusher’s body in half using their own, with their outside knee down the crotch of the pass-rusher. This is meant to ensure the inside pathway to the quarterback is protected because that’s the quickest path home for pass-rushers. Smart opponents know these rules and have ways of unraveling them during the cat-and-mouse game of setting moves up, which is a critical part of any successful pass-rush plan.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Trench Warfare to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.