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 learning each football term’s meaning. But, if you want to go more in-depth on some of the football terms, take the link to 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. This makes 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.
Understand the Game
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. The team in possession of the football executes blocking. 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.
Box — The defensive area of the field between the line of scrimmage in the space between the offensive tackles and about six yards deep in the defensive area. A defensive team will put more players in the box when defenses are focused on stopping the run. If they’re daring a team to run the ball, the defensive team will have fewer players in the box.
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.
Bump and Run — A defensive technique primarily used by defensive backs. At the snap of the ball, defenders hit (or bump) receivers to throw their timing and route off.
Understanding the Game
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.
Coffin Corner Kick — A punt where the punter tries to place the ball at the corner of the field near the end zone. The result of a successful coffin corner kick is there is no runback by the receiving team. Also, the opposing offense starts in a bad field position.
Crackback Block — Type of block when an offensive player splits out wide, 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.
Football Turn of Phrases
Defensive Linemen — Also called linemen or D linemen, these players focus on defensive play on or near the line of scrimmage. Their primary job includes tackling players and rushing the passer.
Dime Defense — Similar to the nickel defense – see below – but in this case, two defensive backs replace linebackers in hopes of better defending against pass plays.
Downhill Runner — Also known as a North-South runner, these players tend to run up the middle and, when tackled, fall forward.
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.
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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, 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, 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.
Special Teams Terms
Fair Catch — A catch of an airborne kickoff, punt, or free kick where defenders must not hinder the receiver if the receiver has given a valid, fair catch signal.
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 and above the crossbar. 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.
Field Goal Range — The maximum distance a football placekicker can successfully make a field goal.
Football Field Dimensions — A football field measures 100 yards long and 53.3 yards wide.
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Glossary of Football Terms
Flea Flicker — A trick play run by the offense. It usually involves a hand-off to a runner, who laterals the ball back to the quarterback, who then throws a long pass. The play is designed to trick the defense into thinking the call is a running play.
Fluid Hips — Also referred to as loose hips, fluid hips enable players to make changes of direction smoothly and effectively. If a player has fluid hips, it’s a good thing in football.
Fumble — A fumble occurs when a player loses possession of the ball after having clear possession. Once the ball is loose, both teams can recover it. A backward or sideways pass that isn’t completed is considered a fumble.
GOAT — The acronym refers to the “Greatest Of All Time.” Tom Brady is often addressed as the GOAT because of his success in the QB position. His number of Super Bowl wins is also a significant factor in this recognition.
Grid Iron — An old name for football fields recognizing the vertical yard markings on the rectangle field.
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.
Hail Mary — A long pass made in football usually out of desperation because time is running out in the half or the game. As it references a well-known prayer, you may deduce correctly that the likelihood of the forward pass being completed is small.
Football Know How
Holder — A specialty player who focuses on receiving the snap from the long snapper on field goals and extra points. The holder places the ball on the ground for the placekicker to make the kicking attempt. The holder is usually seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and on one knee to place the ball on the ground for the kick attempt.
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.
How Long Is A Football Game? — An NFL game is scheduled for 60 minutes in length, broken down into four quarters.
Know your X’s and O’s
Huddle — When offensive or defensive players gather between plays to review play calls for what they will do on the next play or play. The offense typically huddles about 6 yards from the line of scrimmage. The defense huddles immediately near the line of scrimmage.
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 seven yards for field goal attempts or 15 yards for punts.
Man Coverage — Man coverage, or man-to-man coverage, is a typical defense style in football. A defensive player is lined up to guard each receiver, tight end, and running back in man-to-man coverage.
Know your Football
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.
Neutral Zone — The area that separates the offensive line from the defensive line near the line of scrimmage until the ball is snapped. Neutral zone infractions can occur when players from the offense or defense enter the neutral zone before the ball is snapped.
Nickel Defense — This defensive formation substitutes an extra defensive pack for a linebacker to beef up their passing defense.
Pass Coverage — Refers to a team’s defense defending against a pass. Different schemes and formations try to thwart offenses from completing passes.
Pass Interference — 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. 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 composed of offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs.
Pick-Six — An defensive interception of a forward pass resulting in a touchdown – or six points – for the defense.
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. A designated player receives the ball in the backfield to perform a punt. 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 in football. It involves a player carrying the ball parallel to the line of scrimmage to hand it 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.
Safety — A scoring play resulting in two points for the defense occurs when an offensive player with the ball is tackled in their end zone. Safety also refers to two defensive positions: free safety and strong safety. The free safety typically guards against long passes by being the player furthest from the line of scrimmage. A strong safety covers the “strong side” of the opposing team’s offense. He’s tasked with turning a running play inside if it’s a run or dropping back on passing plays.
Shotgun Formation — An offensive formation where the quarterback is positioned a couple of yards behind the center instead of directly behind the center. The shotgun formation is frequently used in passing plays and the hurry-up offense.
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 because a smooth beginning will 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 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. Extending their non-ball-carrying arm, the runner attempts to ward off would-be tacklers. This tactic can be challenging for defenders to defend against.
Tailgating — A party or social event held on or near the tailgate of a vehicle before a football game. Most “tailgates” include grilling food, BBQs, and drinking some beverages.
Walk-on — A walk-on in college football and in other college sports is an athlete who makes the team without having been recruited or awarded an athletic scholarship.
Wheel Route — A wide receiver or running back route for a pass in which the player initially heads for a sideline. But then, this prospective receiver cuts upfield, hoping to surprise the defender.
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.
Football Terms FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions about American football.
Offensive teams have four downs – or attempts – to make at least ten yards for a new set of downs. “First and ten yards to go” is abbreviated to “First and Ten” by players, coaches, and announcers. If three yards are gained, the team will face “Second and Seven,” and so on. A new first down occurs when the team gains 10 yards within four tries.
It refers to understanding football play design, strategy, and implementation. It is derived from coaches drawing up plays on chalkboards or playbooks where the X’s represent defensive players, and the O’s represent offensive players.
NFL means National Football League. QB refers to a quarterback, RB means running back, and WR is wide receiver. TD is a touchdown, and FG is a field goal. YAC refers to Yards After Catch. So, if you hear fans talking about a WR with good YAC, they’re talking football.
The Green Bay Packers vs. the Chicago Bears is the most-played and one of the oldest NFL rivalries. These two teams have played each other 206 times since November 27, 1921.
By Nathan Dunn and 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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