Welcome to an overview of the most widely used football terminology. Here you will find a list of definitions for many of the words and phrases you'll encounter as you get more involved in the sport. Some terms in this list may have already been touched on in other tutorials, so be sure to look at those if you need more information on specific plays. Let's get started!
Formations and Strategy
'Ace' refers to the Ace Formation. The Ace Formation is an offensive formation in which the quarterback is lined up behind the center, with a running back behind them in the backfield. In the Ace Formation, there is usually one tight end and three wide receivers, though there are variations of the formation.
An Audible is a play change made before the ball is snapped at the line of scrimmage. An audible is usually called by the quarterback to change the play on offense, but the defensive captain can also call an audible for the defense.
Bump and Run
Clock management is the act of running specific plays to give one team the advantage over another by controlling the game clock. For example, a team may run a lot of running plays to run the clock down at the end of a game so the other team doesn't have enough time to score.
A defensive package is the defensive formation a team takes. For example, the nickel package, dime package, or 3-4 formation.
The hands team is a term used to describe the special teams unit that comes on the field for the return team during onside kicks. The hands team is made up of mostly wide receivers and tight ends, players who are good at catching the football.
A hard count is a strategy used by the quarterback in which they mimic the ball being snapped with their voice and cadence. Most quarterbacks signal the center to snap the ball by using terms like, "Hut!" or, "Hike!" A hard count is when a quarterback uses a fake cadence such as, "Go!" to trick the defense into jumping across the line of scrimmage early.
The huddle where teams gather prior to a play to plan for the next play. The huddle is usually 10 to 15 yard back from the placement of the ball.
A hurry-up offense is an offense that runs numerous plays in a row without huddling in an effort to get down the field quickly. Hurry-up offenses are mostly used when the game clock is very low.
The I-formation is an offensive formation in which the quarterback lines up behind the center and two running backs, or often one running back and one fullback, line up directly behind the quarterback in the offensive backfield.
Icing the Kicker
Man coverage is a defensive strategy in which each player on the defensive team is responsible for defending against one player on the offensive team.
The nickel defense is a defensive formation that employs five defensive backs and six additional players, including linebackers and defensive linemen.
'Offensive package' refers to the offensive alignment an offense is using, such as the I-formation, wildcat, or single back formation.
'Pistol' refers to an offensive formation. The pistol formation involves the quarterback about three yards behind the center, similar to the shotgun formation but closer, and a running back a couple of yards behind the quarterback.
A prevent defense is a defensive alignment that is used to prevent very long plays. Each team has their own type of prevent defense alignment, but most involve many defensive backs and linebackers and very few defensive linemen.
Running out the Clock
Running out the clock is the act of performing plays that consume a lot of the game clock in an effort to whittle down the time remaining in a game. A team runs out the clock when they are ahead and trying to end the game.
Running up the Score
Running up the score is the act of a team, who is already ahead in score, continuing to score points for seemingly no reason other than to celebrate or show off. It is heavily looked down upon in football ethics.
The singleback is an offensive formation in which the quarterback lines up directly behind the center with one running back a couple yards behind the quarterback.
Special teams is a team unit on a football team. Special teams includes the punting team, the field goal team, the kickoff team, and the kickoff return team.
The spread is an offensive formation that usually involves a quarterback and running back in the offensive backfield, with multiple wide receivers lined up off the line of scrimmage. The spread formation is mostly used for passing plays or surprise run plays.
Two Tight End Set
A two tight end set refers to an offensive formation that is using two tight ends.
The 'weak side' refers to the side of the offensive formation that has fewer players than the other side. Very few runs occur on the weak side of the formation.
The wildcat is an offensive formation similar to the shotgun formation, but instead of a quarterback, a running back receives the snap.
Zone coverage is a defensive alignment in which defensive players defend against receivers on certain parts of the field, called zones. For example, there are deep zones, sideline zones, and underneath zones.
A pass in which either the receiver or the defender may catch, usually a Hail Mary or a pass that goes awry due to a tip at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback being hit as they threw, or the pass being bounced around between players hands before being caught.
A broken play is a play in which there has been miscommunication and the players are performing impromptu. An example would be a miscommunication between a running back and quarterback, as the quarterback thinks the running back is going to take the ball and run while the running back thinks it's a passing play.
A checkdown is a pass that is made by a quarterback to a player who is not the primary receiver that is not very far upfield. The checkdown player does not get far from the play so the quarterback can make an easy pass in case no one is open and they are about to be tackled.
A 'chip shot' refers to a short field goal.
A comeback route is a passing route in which a wide receiver runs downfield towards the endzone before cutting back and running towards the nearest sideline.
A drop kick in football is another method of kicking a field goal or punt in which the ball is snapped to a player in the backfield who then kicks the ball. The field goal and punt are regarded as much safer to perform.
A fair catch is an action a returner can take by waving their hands in the air before catching the ball on a kickoff or punt. If a fair catch is called and the ball is caught, the play is called dead and the ball is then placed at the spot of the catch.
Goal Line Stand
A Hail Mary is a play that is often used as a last-ditch effort for a team to win a game. Receivers on the team run down the field to the end zone while the quarterback throws the ball towards them, hoping that a receiver catches the ball for a score.
A handoff is when the ball is exchanged between players, most often between the quarterback and running back.
A hole is a gap in the defensive line that is created by the offensive line for the ball carrier to run through. 'Hole' may also refer to a hole in the defense, such as in a missed assignment in pass coverage.
'Kick-six' may refer to a couple of things: a kickoff or field goal attempt returned for a touchdown, or the game-winning play from the 2013 Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama in which Auburn player Chris Davis returned a 57-yard field goal attempt for a touchdown to win the game.
An incompletion is a term used for a pass that is not completed to a receiver.
A muff occurs on kickoffs and punts when the returner attempts to catch the ball, but either drops it or the ball deflects off of them. The ball is live and is able to be recovered by either team.
An option is a play type in which the quarterback decides to hand the ball off to another player or keep the ball for themselves after reading the defensive players after the snap. An additional read can be made for the quarterback to pass the ball, called a run-pass option or RPO.
A pick is another term for an interception.
A pick-six refers to an interception that is returned for a touchdown.
A pooch kick is a kick or punt that is intentionally short to prevent a good return, similar to a squib kick.
A quarterback sneak is an offensive play in which the quarterback takes the ball from the center and immediately dives forward. A quarterback sneak is usually only used when only a couple of feet or inches are needed for a first down or score.
A rush refers to a running play, or sometimes called a rushing play. Rush may also refer to a defensive player who has penetrated the offensive line and is rushing the quarterback into making their throw.
A 'sack' is a word used to describe a tackle on the quarterback who is attempting a pass in the offensive backfield. A sack is only recorded if the quarterback has not crossed the line of scrimmage, in which case a tackle is recorded instead of a sack.
A safety is when a ball carrier is tackled in their own endzone, or the team with possession of the ball loses the football out of bounds from their own endzone. A safety is a scoring play that results in two points against the team who incurred the safety.
A screen is a passing play in which the running back and some offensive linemen move to one side of the field after the snap. The ball is passed to the running back and the linemen run up the field to block for the running back.
A sweep play is a running play that involved a running back being given the ball by the quarterback, who then runs parallel to the line of scrimmage towards the sideline to try and outrun the defense.
Three and Out
A tip is when a player lightly touches the ball, but does not completely deflect the ball. A tip heavily alters a ball flight path.
An underneath is a passing route in which the receiver runs on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage between the defensive line and linebackers.
Parts of the Field and Equipment Lingo
The backfield is the area behind the offensive and defensive line on either side of the line of scrimmage. Running backs usually line up in the offensive backfield while linebackers and defensive backs line up in the defensive backfield.
The box is the area from the line of scrimmage extending to the end of the defensive line and into the defensive backfield about 10 yards. Defensive linemen and linebackers usually line up in the box.
The hash marks are a part of the football field. Hash marks are the smaller white lines on the field between the major yard lines, like the 40 yard line, the 45 yard line, etc. There are four hash marks between each major yard line.
Line of Scrimmage
The line of scrimmage is the imaginary line that extends from sideline to sideline at the spot of the ball.
The neutral zone, often confused with the line of scrimmage, is the area between both the defensive and offensive lines and the line of scrimmage.
A penalty marker is another term for penalty flag.
The red zone is the area from the 20 yard line to the nearest end zone. When a team enters the red zone, they are very likely to score. The red zone may also be referred to as the green zone or the money zone, but very rarely.
Spot refers to the placement of the ball after the completion of a play. The ball is spotted by the officials after every play.
The sticks is another term for the first down markers and line of scrimmage markers. The term is often used as, "And the Packers have a first down, move the sticks!"
Down by Contact
Down by contact refers to a player being called down after being tackled to the ground or touched by an opposing player while on the ground.
Forward progress refers to how far upfield a player carrying the ball made it before being stopped or pushed backward by an opposing player. The ball is placed at the farthest point of forward progress, so long as the ball carrier doesn't move back on their own accord.
Live ball may refer to when the ball is deflected after being passed backward, a player is tackled, or fumbled. Though the ball may appear to be dead, the play is still live due to the referee's call, such as the player not being called down or the ball seemingly going out of bounds, but not.
Turnover on Downs
A turnover on downs is when a team attempts to achieve a first down on fourth down, but is unsuccessful. The ball is then given to the team who did not have possession of the ball at the final spot of the ball.
Two Point Try
All Purpose Yards
All Purpose Yards refers to the total amount of yards an individual player has, combining receiving yards, rushing yards, kickoff/punt return yards, fumble return yards, and interception return yards.
Team and Players Lingo
Black Monday is the first Monday after the final regular season game of the NFL season. This day is referred to as 'Black Monday' as this is usually the day when head coaches of teams who perform poorly are fired.
A redshirt refers to a college player who does not play in any games, but is on the team. A redshirt player does not use a year of eligibility by being a redshirt so long as they do not play. This results in a player being eligible to be on the team for a total of five years.
A reserve is another term for a backup player.
'Second level' is another term for the defensive secondary.