Football Terminology

Across the middle – Refers to running a pass route in the middle of the field. This can be a dangerous area for a receiver if the quarterback throws the ball in a place where the receiver needs to extend his arms to catch the ball because more defenders will be able to put a hit on the receiver. Receivers can prove their toughness by frequently catching passes across the middle.

Audible – A call at the line of scrimmage by the quarterback just prior to snapping the ball where he changes the play because the previous one would have likely been easily stopped by the defense.

Blind side – The side of the field facing the quarterback’s back side when he is dropping back to pass or standing in the backfield looking to pass. For a right handed quarterback, this is his left side or the defense’s right side. Teams put their better offensive linemen on the blind side.  Also a great movie, but didn’t really buy Sandra Bullock’s accent as a woman from the south.

Blitz – An aggressive play by the defense when they attack a specific play by the offense. A blitz can backfire if the offense is not running the play that the blitz was intended to stop.

Bomb –  A very deep pass.

Bootleg – When a quarterback runs out of the pocket with the ball looking to pass the ball as his first priority, but run with it if he can’t find an open receiver.

(in the) Box – The defensive area between the offensive tackles extending approximately seven yards deep in the defensive backfield. The defense will put more players “in the box” the more intent they are on stopping a running play.

Bump and run – A defensive technique where the defender will initially hit the receiver at the snap of the ball and then run with him in coverage. This technique is used against offenses that rely on timing with the expectation that a receiver will be in a spot on the field at an exact time. Defenders may only bump the receiver in the first five yards forward from the line of scrimmage.

Cadence – The words or sounds a quarterback makes prior to receiving the ball from the center. One sound or word is usually the indication to the offense to begin the play.

Chain Gang – The officials on the sideline that hold the yardage markers. Referred to as the chain gang because the first down markers are held together by a 10 yard metal chain.  Not a group of prisoners doing highway clean up work.

Chop Block – An illegal block by the offense in which one offensive player (designated as A1 for purposes of this rule) blocks a defensive player in the area of the thigh or lower while another offensive player (A2) engages that same defensive player above the waist.  Has nothing to do with anything on the Food Network.

Clip/Clipping – A penalty where an offensive player blocks a defensive player in the back. Results in a 15 yard penalty.

Counter – A play where the offense runs the ball in the opposite direction that the defense expects.  Also could be place where player keeps his helmet.

Cover 2 – A defense where cornerbacks cover the wide receivers for the first 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage, but then the safeties take over if the WR continues deep. This allows the defensive linemen and linebackers to contain a running play, short dump-off passes and get after the quarterback. This defense requires players that are fast and good at covering receivers. This defense can be beaten with deep passes up the middle of the field, as long as the quarterback as the necessary time for the receiver to get that far.

Crackback Block – On a running play, this is when a wide receiver comes from the outside and blocks to the inside. A Crackback block is legal as long as it is not in the back, below the waist, or above the shoulder pads.

Dime – Similar to the nickel defense, but where the defense removes another linebacker or defensive lineman and replaces him with a sixth defensive back. Only used in obvious passing situations. Very similar to a prevent defense.  Also what coffee used to cost at the concession stand…in 1952.

Dink and Dunk – A short passing game. Passes that can frustrate a defense as they are usually less than 5 yards, but a succession of short passes lead to first downs and uses up the clock.

Dive Play – A run up the middle where the offense is hoping for at least minimal yardage. Usually used when the offense needs 2 yards or less to gain a first down or touchdown.

Double (teamed/coverage) – Two defenders covering one receiver.

Downhill Runner– Term for a straight-ahead running power back who hits the hole quickly.

Drag – A route where the receiver runs downfield and breaks in towards the center of the field on a 90 degree angle. The opposite of an out.  Also…no comment.

Draw – An offensive play where the quarterback drops back or stands in the pocket as if to pass and then runs the ball himself or hands it off to a running back.  Also opposite of fade in golf…both of which my brother thinks he can hit on demand…but can’t.

Down by Contact – The ball carried is ruled down when any part of his body is touching the ground (other than his feet or hands) and he is touched by a defender.

Eligible Receiver – A player who is legally allowed to touch the ball when thrown forward over the line of scrimmage. Eligible receivers are any player who is not lined up at the offensive center, guard or tackle position, unless they first tell the referee that they are an eligible receiver for that play only.

Encroachment – A penalty where a defender is in the neutral zone before the ball is snapped. Result upon acceptance of the penalty is 5 yards.

End Around – A running play where a wide receiver carries the ball around the end of his offensive line.

Fair Catch – A call by a kick returner where he waives his arm in the air prior to catching the ball to indicate that he will not run after catching the ball and that he can not be touched by a defender. It is a penalty if the receiver makes any motion to advance the ball after calling a fair catch. If the receiver touches the ball and drops it, contact may then be made by the defender.  See also 4lb Striper caught off coast of Chatham.

Flag Pattern – The course that a wide receiver runs where he starts running straight downfield and then turns and runs diagonally toward the back corner of the end zone.

Flea Flicker – A trick play where the quarterback hands the ball off to the running back straight up the middle, but then the running back stops, and tosses the ball back to the quarterback behind him who then throws the ball deep downfield to a receiver.

FG – The abbreviation for a field goal. A play where the ball is place kicked through the uprights. Results in three points for the kicking team.

Field Position – The yard line that the ball is on. Many games are won because a team continually has better starting field position.

Flanker – A receiver who doesn’t line up on the line of scrimmage. May line up just a step behind the line or in the offensive backfield.

Flat – An area on the field outside the hashmarks and 0-10 yards forward of the line of scrimmage to the offense.  See also UK Apartment.

Flood – Multiple receivers in the same area of the field.

Front Seven – The linemen and linebackers in a defense. Does not include the four defensive backs.  Also how many holes of golf played before brother starts to really annoy me.

Fullback – The running back closer to the offensive line when there are multiple running backs in a formation. Usually used as a blocker for the tailback, but can also carry the ball and catch passes.

Fumble – A fumble is the drop of a ball that a carrier had under their control.

Gap – The space between offensive linemen. Gaps are usually specified areas where a running back will carry the ball, or a defensive lineman/linebacker will attempt to run through when chasing the ball carrier.  Also see David Letterman.

Hail Mary – A passing play where the offense is usually more than 40 yards away from the end zone. Receivers will run into one area of the end zone and the quarterback will just throw it up for them and pray one catches it.

Half the Distance – The amount of yardage penalized when the normal distance would exceed half the yards between where the ball is spotted and the end zone. For example an offensive holding penalty would ordinarily result in a 10-yard penalty, but if a team is on its own 15 it would result instead in only half the yards to the end zone assessed and the penalty would take the ball back to the area of the 7 ½ yard line.

Halfback – A running back. Usually referred to as a halfback when there’s only one in the backfield. Can also be referred to as a tailback.

Hands to the Face – A penalty where a defender uses his hands to strike an offensive player’s face mask.  Also common coach position when suffering agonizing youth football defeat.

Hang Time – The amount of time that a punt stays in the air. Longer is better for the punting team as the tacklers then get more time to get to where the ball will be coming down. A combination of a long punt with a long hang time is optimal on most punts.

Hashmarks – The marks just outside the middle of the field that span the entire field and are the same width as the uprights. If a ball carrier is tackled outside the hash marks, the ball is spotted on the nearest hashmark. However if the carrier is tackled between the hashmarks, the ball is spotted where the carrier was taken down.

Helmet to Helmet – NCAA rule which prevents helmet to helmet hits.  This rule was amended in 2016 to be called Targeting.  Note: not all helmet to helmet hits are penalties.  Football is a contact sport and helmets may hit during normal plays.  Targeting is meant to remove leading with the helmet as the primary point of contact.

Hook – A pass route where the receiver runs down field approximately 12 yards and turns back to face the quarterback to catch the pass.

Huddle – The grouping of players on offense and defense to call a play.

I-Formation – Offensive formation where two running backs line up in a straight line behind the quarterback.  Not to be confused with Eye Formation, which is something tested at the Optometrist.

In Motion/Motion/Motion Man – An offensive player who moves around the backfield prior to the snap of the ball. Rules state that the player may not be moving toward the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball and may only have one man in motion up until one second before the snap of the ball.

Intentional Grounding – A penalty when a quarterback intentionally throws the ball in a place where none of his receivers can catch it or in an area without any receivers in an attempt to avoid being tackled for a loss of yardage. In addition, for this play to be a penalty, he must have thrown the ball while being in the tackle box and the ball must make it to at least the line of scrimmage. The penalty is 10 yards and a loss of down.  Also, what son may be seeking when he really starts to get under parent’s skin.

Kickout Block – On a running play, this blocker is running parallel to the line of scrimmage and his job is to to keep the outside edge rusher (usually a DE or OLB) from crashing to the inside. It's almost always a fullback or a pulling guard who does the kickout block.

Lateral – A thrown ball to a player that is either lateral to or behind the ball carrier relative to the yard lines.  Not related to “collateral” which is what your child may be asking you about when applying for a loan.

Leading with the Head – Any hit by a defender where the first contact is with the helmet. A penalty. Also see “Targeting”

Leg Whip – An illegal play where a player on the ground swings his leg at a player in an attempt to tackle or block.

Line of Scrimmage – An imaginary line extending from sideline to sideline where the ball is spotted.

Man to Man (coverage/defense)-A defender is assigned a specific player to cover regardless of where the offensive player goes.

Neutral Zone – The area of the field between the offense and defense when both are lined up read for the snap of the ball. Defined as the length of the football.

Nickel – A defensive formation where the defense will remove a linebacker and put a fifth defensive back on the field. Used in obvious passing situations such as third and long.

Offsetting Penalties – Penalties by players on offense and defense on the same play that cancel out. Results in a repeated down with same distance to go.

Onside Kick – NFL rules state that a kickoff must first touch the ground and go at least 10 yards before the kicking team can recover a kickoff. It does not need to be touched by the receiving team first. This ploy is usually reserved for when the kicking team is losing and there is little time left, or less frequently as a surprise. The drawback to the play for the kicking team is that they are giving the receiving team excellent field position and if the receiver can break through the tacklers, there is a short field for him to score.

Option – An offensive play rarely used in professional football where the quarterback will run with the ball, but pitches it to a running back behind him if he’s about to be tackled.  Also a series of financial instruments where traders can buy and sell puts and calls to hedge financial positions or aggressively speculate on market activity.  Ok, that might have been a bit much.

Out Pattern – The course that a wide receiver runs where he starts running straight downfield and then turns and runs toward the sideline in an attempt to get open.

PAT – Point After Touchdown. One point if the ball is place kicked through the uprights, two if the ball is rushed or thrown and received in the end zone. The PAT begins on the two yard line.  Also a recurring character from SNL in the 90’s.

Pitch – 1. An underhanded throw by the quarterback to the running back who is running out wide. 2. Another term for throw, as in “pitch and catch”. 3. A soccer field.

Play Action – The quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back in order to make the defense believe it is a running play for the purpose of helping the receivers get open.

Pocket – The area where the quarterback stands during a play while looking to throw the ball downfield and where his linemen are protecting him. If the offensive linemen don’t properly block, then the pocket will “collapse”.  Not to be confused with Hot Pockets.

Post Pattern – The course that a wide receiver runs where he starts running straight downfield and then turns and runs diagonally toward the goal posts.

Prevent Defense – A defensive formation where the team on defense is simply trying to prevent giving up a long, quick play for a touchdown and keep the clock running by leaving defenders deep and along the sidelines to keep the ball carrier in bounds. Offenses can gain yardage up the middle of the field, but that will come at the cost of time off the clock.

Quarterback Sneak – Akin to the “quarterback keeper”, it is when the quarterback tries to gain short yardage by keeping the ball and running forward. Usually used when the offense only needs less than one yard.

Quick Out – A route where the receiver runs downfield and then breaks towards the sideline then looks for the ball. The opposite of a drag or in.

Quick Snap – When the center gives to the ball to the quarterback immediately upon the offense setting up rather than letting the quarterback go through his cadence.

Red Zone – The area from the defense’s 20-yard line to the goal line. Scoring is harder because the field is so condensed, but easier because the goal line is so close.  Also a premium cable tv package that causes significant couch wear during football season.

Reverse – An offensive play with two hand-offs. The quarterback gives the ball to a carrier running in one direction, who then hands the ball to a carrier running in the other direction. A trick play.

Rollout – Part of an offensive play where the quarterback runs to one side of the offensive backfield looking to pass the ball. Usually used to run away from defenders.

Sack – A tackle of the quarterback for a loss of yardage.

Screen – A passing play where the offensive linemen allow the defense to go past them after the quarterback, while a receiver or running back runs behind the offensive line to catch a pass from the quarterback. The goal is to have many defenders chasing the quarterback, who passes to the running back before getting sacked.

Seam –  An area of the field on the edges of a defensive zone. An area that may cause confusion to the defensive coverage.

Shotgun –  An offensive formation where the quarterback is backed up behind the center. Used primarily in passing situations.

Shovel pass – A passing motion where the quarterback “pushes” the ball rather than over – or under-hand throws it.  Not sure why it’s called Shovel Pass.  It’s not like the QB looks like he’s using a shovel or anything.  Another of life’s mysteries.

Snap – The transfer of the ball from the center to the quarterback, punter or place kick holder.

Sneak – An unexpected running play usually done by the QB following the Snap.  Also can be parent from opposing team behind your own bench trying to steal plays and signal them to his own team’s bench.

Strong Side – Using the offensive center as the middle, it is the side of the offense that they have more players lined up. Usually the side where the tight end lines up. Some plays have a balanced formation and do not have a strong side.

Stunt – A pre-designed defensive play intended to stop a specific offensive play. Can be similar to a blitz.

Sweep – A running play where the ball carrier receives the ball and runs toward the sideline and upfield.  Also lost art for cleaning garages.

Tackle Box – An area in the defensive backfield defined as between where both offensive tackles lined up that extends all the way backward to the end zone’s back line. This zone is used in part for determining an intentional grounding penalty. No, it has nothing to do with fishing.

Tailback – The running back deepest from the offensive line. Usually the team’s best ball carrier.

Targeting – Illegal play where a player intentionally leads with his helmet to strike an opposing player.

TD – Touchdown. You really should have known this one.

Threw it Away – (see grounding) When a quarterback legally throws an incomplete pass with the sole intention of ending the play and avoiding a sack.

Touchback – A play that results in the ball being placed on the 20-yard line. Usually a result of the punter kicking the ball into the end zone, but can also occur if a fumbled ball is knocked out of the end zone by the defense.

Trap Play – An offensive play where a defensive player is seeming allowed to go after the ball carrier unimpeded, only to find that he has been taken out of position or blocked in a way that allows the ball carrier to go where the defender just left.

Trips – Short for triple, as in three receivers. “Trips right” or “Trips left” mean three receivers are lined up on one side of the ball. If the defense is caught by surprise with this formation, the offense can get a mismatch leading to an easy reception. Drawback to this formation is the defense can crowd more defenders around the receivers and it leaves fewer offensive players to block for the quarterback.  Also usually a winning hand in poker.  But not if you’re against a full house, flush or straight.  Darn it!

Weak Side – Using the offensive center as the middle, it is the side of the offense that they have fewer players lined up. Usually the side opposite where the tight end lines up. Some plays have a balanced formation and do not have a weak side.

Wedge – Play where running back runs up the middle behind a formation of offensive lineman blocking in a tight group.

Zone (coverage/defense) – When a defender is responsible for covering any offensive player who runs into a specific part of the field.

Zone Blitz – Any blitz in which the defenders in pass coverage play zone defense. Many zone blitzes require a defensive lineman to drop into coverage to replace a blitzing linebacker or defensive back.

Zone Blocking – An offensive line principal that requires linemen to block specific gaps, not specific defenders. Zone blockers often double team a defensive lineman at the snap, with one of the blockers peeling off to engage the linebacker once he commits to a certain gap. Linemen who do a lot of zone blocking use the "four hands, four eyes" rule: keep both sets of hands on the defender in front of you, but keep your eyes on the second level.