Our football terms and definitions will help you understand and appreciate the game. Think of this as an in-depth football dictionary.
This page serves as a quick-glance guide to quickly learn the meaning of each football term. But, if you want to go more in-depth, take the link of the term being defined to learn more. We go into greater detail on the linked pages and usually include a couple of videos to understand better.
3-4 defense — A 3-4 defense is one of the base defenses in football. This alignment consists of three linemen and four linebackers, making it easier to hide a blitz or drop back in coverage.
46 Defense — A 46 defense is a type of defense used by the Chicago Bears in the 1980s to stop the run and create a dominant pass rush. The goal of this defense is to attack the quarterback with overwhelming numbers. Six defensive players line up on the line of scrimmage.
American Football League (AFL) — The American Football League (AFL) was a professional football league operated between 1959 and 1970. The league started with eight teams and grew to 10 teams by their final season.
Audible — The definition of an audible in football is when a quarterback changes the play call at the line of scrimmage. The QB decides whether to call an audible based on what he sees from the defensive setup.
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Automatic First Down — It is an award given to the team on offense following certain infractions by the defensive team. Once issued, the officials will spot the ball after counting off the correct yardage, and the game continues.
Backfield — The backfield is the area on the football field behind the line of scrimmage where the offensive team lines up. Quarterbacks, running backs, and fullbacks can all line up in the backfield.
Blocking — Blocking is a legal form of obstructing another player’s path in football. Blocking is executed by the team in possession of the football. It is attempted to create more opportunities for their team to get the ball down the field.
Bomb — A bomb in football is when the quarterback attempts to throw the ball long to find a receiver for a considerable gain of yardage on one play.
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Bootleg — A bootleg in football is a play where the quarterback runs the ball toward either sideline behind the line of scrimmage, usually after a hand-off fake. This is a play-action pass play where the pocket moves for the quarterback.
Bubble Screen — A bubble screen is a quick throw by the quarterback out wide, usually to a wide receiver or tight end. By effectively executing this play, the receiver can consistently gain positive yardage.
Clock Management — Clock management is how the coach and quarterback manage the time in a game, especially at the end of each half. Well-orchestrated time management results in a scoring play for the offense. Ideally, it also leaves little time on the clock for the opposition to respond.
Crackback Block — It is a type of block when an offensive player splits out wide and comes back and blocks a defensive player on the defender’s blindside. These are dangerous because the defender frequently does not see the blocker coming. If not done correctly, the play results in a penalty.
Drive — A drive in football is the amount of time and series of plays the offensive team uses until the other team regains possession of the ball. Frequently it is used in relationship to scoring drives – those series of plays that result in a score. That can mean a field goal or a touchdown.
Eligible Receiver — Refers to an offensive player who can legally catch the ball from a forward pass. Importantly, eligible receivers are the only offensive team players that can receive a forward pass without a penalty.
Encroachment — This penalty occurs when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage or the neutral zone and makes contact with an offensive player or the ball or has a clear path to the QB before the snap.
End Around — An end around is a play in football where the quarterback hands the ball directly to a wide receiver or wideout. Once the ball is handed off, the ball carrier may either run with it or pass the ball.
End Zone Celebrations — Also known as touchdown celebrations, end zone celebrations are celebratory actions performed by a player and team after scoring a touchdown. Some celebrations are straightforward. Others are more clever and rehearsed before the game. Whether it is a pre-rehearsed dance or something simple like a powerful spike or giving the ball to a fan, end zone celebrations can be some of the most memorable moments of games.
Field Goal — The definition of a field goal in football is when a designated player place kicks or drop kicks the ball between the uprights of the goalpost. This player is known as the field goal kicker. Field goals are worth three points. They can be attempted from any spot on the field behind the line of scrimmage.
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Glossary of Football Terms
Fumble — A fumble occurs whenever a player loses possession of the ball after having clear possession of the ball. Once the ball is loose, both teams have the chance to recover it. A backward or sideways pass that isn’t completed is also considered to be a fumble.
Gunner — A gunner is a member of the special teams. They are in charge of getting down the field and tackling the kick returner on kicking plays. A gunner may sometimes face two blockers.
Holding Penalty — Holding is an illegal off-the-ball foul of attempting to block an opponent. Holding is penalized, with the penalized team losing five or 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. If it is offensive holding, then the penalty is 10 yards. However, defensive holding is penalized five yards and an automatic first down. If the holding is called within 20 yards of the end zone, the infringement will be penalized by deducting half the distance to the goal.
Kickoff — A kickoff is when a team kicks the ball to their opponent to start a new drive. All football games are started with a kickoff.
Long Snapper — A long snapper is a specialized center used on the special teams unit. The primary duty of this position is to snap the ball longer distances. This usually means either seven or 15 yards for field goal attempts and punts.
Man Coverage — Man coverage, or man-to-man coverage, is a style of defense that is common in football. A defensive player is lined up to guard each receiver, tight end, and running back in man-to-man coverage.
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Man in Motion — A man in motion is a player who moves laterally to the line of scrimmage before a snap. Unless he is in the backfield, the player must reset himself before the snap. Wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends are the players who go in motion. The player must reset himself before the snap. Not doing so results in a five-yard penalty for an illegal shift.
National Football League (NFL) — The National Football League (NFL) is the world’s largest professional American Football organization. The NFL is operated with 32 teams throughout the United States.
Pass Interference — Pass interference is a penalty where a defensive player’s actions illegally interfere with the offensive player’s ability to catch a forward pass. A penalty is assessed to the offending team. In the NFL, pass interference is penalized at the spot of the foul, and the offensive team earns an automatic first down.
Pass Protection — Pass protection is the offensive alignment of players to protect the quarterback from the onrushing defense and the act of protecting the QB from defenders. The players involved are typically made up of offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs.
Point After Touchdown (PAT) — PAT is an abbreviation of point after touchdown. Also referred to as an extra point, a PAT is a play where teams attempt a short field goal worth one point following a touchdown.
American Football Terms and Definitions
Punt — In American football, a punt is a form of kick executed on fourth downs during football games. The punt, and subsequent successful reception, transfer possession of the football to the other team. To perform a punt, a designated player receives the ball in the backfield. He drops the ball to his foot and kicks it without touching the ground to the other team.
Quarterback Sneak — A quarterback sneak is when the quarterback runs the ball through the middle of the offensive line. The QB receives the ball from the center and makes an effort to get the yardage needed for the first down or touchdown.
Receivers — A receiver in football is an offensive player that attempts to make himself available to receive a pass from the quarterback. Receivers typically are assigned these positions: wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. Other positions must become eligible to receive a pass.
Red Zone — The red zone in football is the area between the 20-yard-line and the goal line. Reaching this point signifies that the offensive team is within 20 yards of the goal line and very close to scoring.
Reverse — A reverse is a type of trick play that is called in football. It involves a player carrying the ball parallel to the line of scrimmage to hand the ball off to a teammate running in the opposite direction, reversing play.
Rush — The term rush is used when describing an offensive player running the ball instead of a passing or kicking play. The offensive player receives the ball behind the line of scrimmage and attempts to gain as many yards as possible by running with the ball.
Sack — A sack in football is a play where the defense tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while the QB has possession of the ball.
Slang — Here’s a collection of football slang terms, abbreviations, and lingo about the game.
Snap — A football snap is a backward pass, through the center’s legs, from the line of scrimmage that begins play. The snap is essential to get right because a smooth beginning is more likely to lead to a successful play conclusion.
Special Teams — A special team in football is a unique unit that is only in for certain plays of a football game. They are responsible for the kicking plays that include punts, field goals, and kickoffs.
Squib kick — A squib kick is a type of kickoff where the kicker drives the ball low and short. Squib kicks can force a non-traditional player to field the ball. This typically means a shorter return.
Stiff arm — A stiff arm is a tactic used by ball carriers to fend off oncoming defenders. By extending their non-ball-carrying arm, the runner attempts to ward off would-be tacklers. This tactic can be very difficult for defenders to defend against.
Wildcat Formation — A wildcat formation is an offensive alignment used by football teams when the center directly snaps the ball to a non-traditional quarterback. The wildcat offense quarterback is typically a running back or fullback and sometimes a wide receiver or tight end.
XFL — The XFL is a professional football league that competes in the spring in the United States. Their first season was in 2001 before they closed in 2020. The league’s 2020 season consisted of eight teams. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and an ownership team purchased the league from Vince McMahon with plans to return to action in 2022.
By Nathan Dunn with Mike O’Halloran
Nathan is a sports journalist and roots for the Raiders. Mike is the founder and editor of Sports Feel Good Stories and is a Chief’s fan.
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