Football Terms

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FanSided is here to help you define and learn the most popular terms in football today.

What is a safety in football?

This is in regards to a scoring play and not the position in the secondary. A touchdown is worth six points. A field goal is worth three points. After a touchdown, a team can either score one point on a PAT or go for a two-point conversion. And it’s worth mentioning that a turnover on the two-point attempt can be returned by the defense for two points.

Of course, there’s another way to score two points and that’s a safety. If a player on offense is tackled in his own end zone or there is a holding call in the end zone that results in two points for the other team. You can also block a punt through the end zone and that will result in a safety as well. After the team is rewarded two points, they will also be on the receiving end of a free kick (punt or kickoff).

What is a touchback in football?

Be it the opening of a game, the start of the second half or following a score, a team kicks off to the opposing team. If the ball makes it ways through the end zone, it results in a touchback and the club receiving the kick is rewarded the ball on its own 25-yard-line. A player can also field the ball in the end zone and take a knee, which also results in a touchback.

Accuracy by the kicker is imperative. That’s because if the kicking team winds up booting the ball out of bounds, the receiving team is rewarded the football on its 40-yard-line – a huge 15-yard difference.

What does “OTA” mean in football?

It has become part of the offseason football vernacular when it comes to getting ready for the upcoming season. Before all 32 NFL teams report to training camp in late July, there are other things that teams do to prepare for the upcoming campaign.

There are both voluntary and mandatory minicamps and rules surrounding what teams can do during these camps. There are also OTA, which is simply an abbreviation for “Organized Team Activities.” All told, each of the 32 clubs can have 10 days of these activities. But the teams are not allowed to have live contact on these days. The teams may conduct drills of 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11.

What is play action in football?

Ah, the art of deception. Play action is basically the quarterback faking a handoff so the opposing defense will think that it is a rushing attempt. But the reality is that it is a passing play and with the defense moving in to stop the run, it gives the pass-catcher an extra moment to break free. In other words, it’s an opportunity to catch a defense off guard or flat-footed per say. It’s also worth noting that play-action is far more effective if a team has already established the run. And a good quarterback adept at faking a handoff can sell the running play even more.

What is a first down in football?

In some ways, a down is an offensive play and the first play of any offensive drive. The goal of the offense (courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram) is to “matriculate the ball down the field” and reach the end zone to score a touchdown. In order for a team to retain possession of the ball, the club must gain at least 10 yards in a maximum of four plays – hence the term “first down and 10” (barring a penalty). If the team gains three yards, it becomes “second down and 7.” If the team gains eight yards, the offense earns another first down.

A nice piece of trivia. The NFL record for most first downs by a team in a game is 40, set by the New Orleans Saints in a 49-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 of 2013.

What is a down in football?

A down in the game of football is simply an offensive play. Teams can use up to four downs to gain 10 yards. Hence there is first, second, third and fourth down. A team must gain at least 10 yards to retain possession of the football. There are also plays that are under the category of “untimed downs” such as a PAT attempt or a two-point conversion attempt after a touchdown.

What is a “pick six” in football?

It’s a pass attempt gone very wrong. A “pick six” is an interception retuned by a defensive player for a touchdown. By the way, the NFL record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns by a player is held by Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson. He ranks third in NFL history with 71 interceptions and took back a league-record 12 errant passes for scores. And another Hall of Famer, safety Ed Reed, owns the NFL record for not only the longest interception return (107 yards vs. the Eagles in 2008) but the second-longest (106 yards vs. the Browns in 2004). And obviously, both resulted in touchdowns.

Where did the term “Hail Mary” in football come from?

The origin of the “Hail Mary” stems from the Dallas Cowboys’ 17-14 come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoffs at Metropolitan Stadium. Down by four points at midfield and with just 32 seconds to play, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach found Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson down the right sidelines. The pass was slightly underthrown but Pearson made the adjustment and crossed the goal line with 24 seconds remaining to give the Cowboys the lead. Staubach later told the press. “It was a Hail Mary pass. I just threw it up there as far as I could.”

What is a sack in football?

It did not become an official statistic for individual defensive players until 1982. A sack is a tackle of the opposing quarterback behind the line is scrimmage for a loss. You can also get credit for a sack if you force the quarterback (or whoever is attempting to throw the football) out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage for a loss. The term “quarterback sack” was coined by Hall of Fame defensive end “Deacon” Jones, who according to Pro Football Reference was credited with 173.5 sacks in 191 regular-season games. The NFL’s all-time sack leader is Pro football Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith with 200 quarterback traps.

What is a blitz in football?

A blitz is when you send more than the standard amount of defensive players in an attempt to attack and offense. It’s usually an attempt to sack the quarterback but defensive coordinators will also run-blitz as well. In a 4-3 defense, the four defensive linemen are responsible for getting to the quarterback on a passing play. But mix in a linebacker or even a defensive back and you have five or six players out to get the quarterback. In the 3-4 defense, the two outside linebackers are the keys to the pass rush. What it really comes down to is sending extra players to create havoc in the opposing backfield?

What is the red zone in football?

The longest offensive drive a football team can have is 99 yards. And once an offense reaches the opposition’s 20-yard-line, it has entered the “red zone.” Red zone efficiency is very important as a team is expected to score points once it is able to get that deep into opponent’s territory. But the key to efficiency is reaching the end zone and scoring a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal. Likewise when it comes to a defensive unit. There are units that will surrender their share of yards but manage to keep an opposing offense from scoring a touchdown. Hence the term “bend but don’t break.”

What is RPO in football?

The ever-changing game of football, both college and pro, has taken on more of an offensive approach in recent years as throwing the football becomes more of a factor. And in recent years, the quarterback position in the NFL has evolved as to where there are more players who can make big plays with both their arm and their legs. Pro football has taken on many things from the college game, which was not the case decades ago. So what does “RPO” stand for? It’s an abbreviation for “Run Pass Option” and it gives the quarterback a little more freedom when it comes to what to do when he has the ball.

What does SNF mean in football?

All told, it’s an abbreviation for “Sunday Night Football,” which is currently on NBC. The National Football League experimented with Sunday night games for many years but didn’t install a real package until 1987, when ESPN had a second-half of the season package. Sunday prime time games would eventually include TNT until ESPN had a full season of Sunday evening games from 1998-2005. In 2006, there was the debut of “Sunday Night Football on NBC” and the network has had the prime time package ever since. In 2022, there will be a revamped announcing team on the NBC broadcast in Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst) and Melissa Stark (sideline reporter).

What is turf toe in football?

Turning to the experts at because there are some misconceptions about this injury.

“A common big toe injury is called turf toe. This happens when the ligaments in your big toe joint are stretched or torn. The ligaments are tissues that hold your joints and bones together. ‌Turf toe is a painful injury and has similar symptoms to a dislocation, but it usually heals with rest and time. It got its name because of the artificial turf that football players often play on, but you don’t have to be an athlete to get turf toe.”

Arguably be the most famous NFL case of “turf toe” belongs to Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers . Known as one of the physical players in league history, his career ended after 11 seasons in part to this injury.

What is a stinger in football?

According to a piece published in American Family Physician in November of 1999, it “is a common nerve injury resulting from trauma to the neck and shoulder.” Along with the term “stinger,” the injury is also referred to as a “burner” via the publication.

“The primary symptom is a burning pain that travels down one arm and is often accompanied by numbness and weakness. This injury is most commonly seen in athletes participating in contact sports like football, wrestling, and hockey or in sports where the upper body may suffer collisions or pulls, such as gymnastics.”

When it comes to football, the injury will sometimes occur on a helmet-to-helmet hit.

What does TOT mean in football?

It’s a term more commonly used when it comes to college football than professional football. It’s TOT as in “total touchdowns.” In college, a quarterback could throw for 38 scores, run for 11 touchdowns and even catch a TD pass. That would give him 50 TOT touchdowns. When it comes to the National Football League, a player’s total touchdowns are the ones he actually scores by reaching the end zone. The NFL record for most total touchdowns in a season by a player is 31, held by Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson while with the Chargers in 2006.

What does redshirt mean in football?

It’s common for a quarterback to wear a red jersey in practice so the defensive players know he is not to be touched. But “redshirt” means something totally different when it comes to college football. It’s basically a player taking a year off from taking the field and in the process extending his stay in school. But in 2018, the NCAA made a significant rule change and stated that a player could play up to four games in a season and not give up his a season to redshirt. And there are numerous reasons that a player might decide to redshirt, as explained by FanSided’s Aryanna Prasad.

What is a kickoff in football?

It’s actually the very first play of a game and it also ushers in the third quarter of the contest. The NFL and college football begin these halves kicking off from the 35-yard-line. Of course, there’s also a kickoff after a team scores a touchdown or a field goal. And there can be a kickoff after a club is awarded a safety – the team that surrendered the two points will receive a “free kick,” meaning the club has the option of kicking off or punting the ball. And it doesn’t happen often, but a team can attempt an onside kick on any kickoff. And that includes the free kick off the safety.

What is a fumble in football?

Oops. A fumble. There have been some very notable fumbles in the history of football, especially when it comes to the National Football League. A fumble is simply the act of a player dropping the ball either after being hit or sacked (if you’re a quarterback) or by simply letting it slip out of your hands. Now keep in mind that a fumble isn’t necessarily a turnover. That only occurs if the opposition recovers the ball.

In the 1987 AFC Championship Game at Denver, Cleveland Browns’ running back Earnest Byner dropped the ball on his way to the end zone for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown – hence “The Fumble.” And on Thanksgiving night in 2012, New York Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbled the ball after running into the buttocks of teammate Brandon Moore. The Patriots returned the miscue for a TD and the play is known as the “Butt Fumble.”

What does PUP mean in football?

It’s what referred to as the Physically-Unable-to-Perform List. And there are two different versions of the PUP list. There is the Active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform List. A player can be put on here but be activated once he is physically cleared to play. This takes place during training camp and the preseason. As the regular-season begins, there is the Reserve/Physically-Unable-to-Perform List. If a player is placed on this list, he must miss a minimum of four regular-season contests and can’t return to the roster until he is medically cleared to play.

What is a scrimmage in football?

Simply put, a football scrimmage is a practice set in game-like conditions. It’s an opportunity for teams to get some work in with another team. It can also be an intra-squad scrimmage where a team’s offense would take on a team’s defense. Keep in mind that this is not a preseason game and the clubs can set up their own rules, time limits, etc. It became common place for NFL teams to practice with other teams some time ago. Many times, those scrimmages and/or practices would take place a few days before the clubs would actually clash in a preseason contest.

What is QBR in football?

It was invented in 2011 by ESPN’s State and Information Department in an attempt (and a successful one) of bringing more clarity to the quarterback position and its efficiency. In 1973, the NFL employed a passer rating system created in part by the Elias Sports Bureau (Seymour Siwoff) and the league’s Don Weiss. It is still used by the NFL and the emphasis is on passing via an extremely complex formula. Meanwhile, QBR is more of a gauge on how the quarterback position is played overall. It is more commonly used by many analysts these days opposed to the current passer rating. Different strokes for different folks.

What is a turnover in football?

Just to clarify, it’s not when teams change possession when a club fails to convert on fourth down. A turnover is either an interception thrown or a lost fumble. Now keep in mind a fumble is not a turnover unless the other team recovers it. For instance, Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes fumbled nine times in 2021. But he lost only four of those miscues, hence four turnover in that instance. As far as NFL teams go, the recognized record for most turnovers by a team in a season is an incredible 65 miscues in 14 games by the 1961 Denver Broncos (they were in the AFL at the time but all of that league’s records became part of the NFL with the merger). In 2019, the New Orleans Saints set a league mark for fewest mistakes. The club committed just eight turnovers in 16 regular-season contests.

What is the flat in football?

When you are a quarterback, the name of the game is not necessarily how far you can throw the football. It’s controlling the tempo of the game and taking what a defense will give you. You hear the term “safety valve” when it comes to running backs and tight ends and how they can make easier for their teammate. Another term which is heard when it comes to the passing game is a throw to the “flat.” The definition of this area of the field via Football Outsiders reads “An area on the field outside the hash marks and 0-10 yards forward of the line of scrimmage to the offense.”

What is a reception in football?

It is simply a catch. And in NFL history, no player has more receptions than Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. The star performer not only owns the regular-season record for career receptions (1,549) but no player in league postseason history has totaled more catches (151). But arguably the most famous reception in football annals was made by Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Franco Harris in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium (December 23). A deflected pass within the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter turned into an incredible 60-yard touchdown in the Steelers’ 13-7 win. It is simply known as the “Immaculate Reception.”

What is a bootleg in football?

Talk about catching an opposing defense off guard? Along with play-action passing, the bootleg is play that depends on the art of deception. A bootleg play starts with the quarterback taking the snap from center, faking a handoff to the running back, holding the ball to his side/hip and racing around end. It’s not a play you have seen too often in the modern era. But that’s also one reason it can be extremely effective. It’s a play that is usually run on fourth down and very short yardage and on numerous occasions when an offense is close to the enemy end zone.

What is a wheel route in football?

There are any number of pass patterns that wide receivers, tight ends and running backs will run during a game. An “out” pattern has a pass-catcher cut towards the sidelines and it takes some timing and a strong arm to prevent a pass from becoming a pick-six. There are slants, posts and more. There’s the great catch in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs by Raiders’ tight end known as the “Ghost to the Post.” But what about a wheel route? Courtesy of “A wheel route is a pass pattern where the receiver circles toward the sideline as if running a swing route or a flat route, but then breaks vertically.”

What is a punt in football?

When all else fails, an opposing offense turns to the kicking game to get the team out of trouble. And that would be the punter. If a team fails to get a first down (10 yards) after three plays, a club more times than not will turn to its punter to pin the opposition deep in its own territory. While this remains a very important aspect of the game, it’s worth noting that there is only one pure punter enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That would be former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders’ specialist Ray Guy. A first-round draft choice in 1973, he played for 14 years with the franchise and was finally inducted in Canton in 2014.

What is an interception in football?

An interception is something you certainly want to try to avoid if you are a quarterback – be it high school, college or professional football. It’s when you wind up throwing the football to the other team. Sometimes it’s not the quarterback’s fault as a pass may go off a receiver’s hands and into the clutches of the opposition. In terms of the defense, it’s often a game-changing play that can result in an immediate score (pick six) or just gives the team’s offense the ball back. No player in NFL history has thrown more interceptions than Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre (336). And no player has intercepted more passes in league annals than Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause (81).

What is PBU in football?

Let’s have a little fun. A PUB would be probably a good place to watch a game of football. In all seriousness, a PBU is what is referred more commonly referred to (on a statistical sheet) as a pass break up or pass broken up. There are certain players who have a nose for the ball and while they may not rack up a whole lot of interceptions, they are very adept at knocking down the ball. This statistic is not limited to just play downfield as a defensive lineman or linebacker can also be credited with a PBU by knocking down the ball at the line of scrimmage.

What is a checkdown in football?

There are players that receive their share of criticism for relying on their underneath targets a bit too much. Nonetheless, a check down is something a quarterback will do when his primary receiver or target or even his second or third option is covered. A check down pass usually winds up in the hands of a running back, fullback or even a tight end. That aforementioned criticism is often associated with the term “game manager,” which in this instance is used in a derogatory way. But a smart quarterback will take what’s out there instead of forcing a ball downfield.

What is a field goal in football?

What is a field goal? This is not a trick question. Football fans know the obvious answer. It’s a kick that results in three points for a team. In the early stages of football and prior to the NFL’s debut year in 1920, a field goal was actually worth five points. In 1904, it became a four-point play and five years later (1909), a field goal became and now remains worth three points. No player in NFL history has connected on more success field goals in the regular season (599) and the postseason (56) than 24-year veteran Adam Vinatieri, who played for both the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

What does PCT mean in football?

PCT is merely an abbreviation for percentage. And in the game of football, there are a pair of statistics that stress percentage. When it comes to the quarterback position, it is completion percentage. And these days in the National Football League, a quarterback had better be completing at least 60 percent of his passes given the rules that favor offenses in the game these days. More importantly, this is a team game and a club’s winning percentage is also important. Of course, in today’s NFL, having the best record in the league doesn’t always guarantee a Super Bowl championship. In the early days of the NFL (1920-32), there was no league championship game and the title was decided by the top winning percentage.

What is a PAT in football?

Following a touchdown in either college professional or even high school football, a team has the option of going for either one point or two points. That’s the difference between a PAT (point after touchdown) and a two-point conversion. In the case of one point, it is up to the kicker to split the uprights for a successful attempt. In 2015, the National Football League made a significant rule change when it came to where the ball was spotted after a touchdown. Instead of the two-yard-line, the ball is now spotted at the 15-yard-line and has made the PAT not so automatic as it seemed to be previously.