Football Reverse Play

What is a Reverse in Football?

A reverse in football is a play in which the ball is run in one direction before being given to another player running in the opposite direction. Also known as an end reverse or a criss-cross, the play is designed to fool the defense and get them to move the wrong way in order to go back the other way, hopefully into open space.

Here is an example to help illustrate how a reverse works. The quarterback hands the ball off to the running back, who is moving from right to left. Next, the running back tosses the ball backwards to the wide receiver as they go in the opposite direction.

What is not a Reverse

When talking about reverses, a common misconception exists in football. Plays like an end around and a jet sweep are wrongly thought to be reverse plays. Those plays involve misdirection, but there is no reversing of the direction of the play.

Types of Reverse Plays

Reverses can be run differently, and one way to distinguish them is how many times the ball has changed hands. The basic types of reverse plays are single, double, and triple reverses.

Single Reverse

A one-handoff reverse involves the quarterback bootlegging one direction as if they were going to run the ball, only to hand the ball off to a player headed in the opposite direction.

Double Reverse

A double reverse has the ball changing hands twice. The most common double reverse involves a handoff to the running back, who runs outside and then flips it to a wide receiver headed back the other way.

Triple Reverse

A triple reverse is the least common and must have the ball transferred on three separate occasions. These plays require a lot of time in the backfield and, if executed properly, can be run for long gains.


There are several variations of the reverse play. Here are the most popular ones:

  • Reverse pass
  • Reverse option
  • Handoff reverse
  • Toss reverse
  • Fake dive reverse
  • Jet reverse
  • Veer option reverse
  • Wishbone option reverse
  • Counter criss-cross

Reverse Play Strategy

Reverses can be used at any point in the game and at any place on the field, but their timing is important. A reverse is only successful if the defense goes in the wrong direction. In order to accomplish that, offenses will set up a reverse by running several simple handoff plays before adding the second handoff. That way, defenses start to key in on the formation and will jump towards that direction, leaving them vulnerable to the reverse.