Football For Dummies
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Every sport has its own words and phrases to talk about what’s happening in the game and football is no exception. Football is wildly popular in the United States, but that doesn’t mean everyone understands the lingo. To better follow along, get to know some of these unique football terms and what they mean.

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  • Audible: When the quarterback changes the play at the line of scrimmage by calling out prescribed signals to his teammates.
  • Coffin corner: The area between the opponent’s end zone and five-yard line. Punters try to kick the ball into the coffin corner so that the offense takes over the ball deep in its own territory.
  • Count: The numbers or words that a quarterback shouts loudly while waiting for the ball to be snapped. The quarterback usually informs his teammates in the huddle that the ball will be snapped on a certain count.
  • Draw: A disguised run that initially looks like a pass play. The offensive linemen retreat like they’re going to pass-protect for the quarterback. The quarterback drops back and, instead of setting up to pass, he turns and hands the ball to a running back.
  • Hail Mary: When the quarterback, usually in desperation at the end of a game, throws a long pass without targeting a receiver with the hope that a receiver will catch the ball and score a touchdown.
  • Neutral zone: The area in football between the two lines of scrimmage, stretching from sideline to sideline. The width of this area is defined by the length of the football. Other than the center, no player can be in the neutral zone prior to the snap; otherwise, the official calls an encroachment or violation of the neutral zone (offside) penalty.
  • Offside: A penalty caused when any part of a player’s body is beyond his line of scrimmage or the free kick line when the football is snapped.
  • Option: When a quarterback has the choice — the option — to either pass or run. The option is gamerunners.
  • Pick-six: When a defender intercepts, or picks off, a pass in football and runs it back for a touchdown, thereby scoring six points.
  • Pigskin: A slang term for the football, which is actually made of leather, not pigskin.
  • Pocket: The area where the quarterback stands when he drops back to throw the ball. This area extends from a point two yards outside of either offensive tackle and includes the tight end if he drops off the line of scrimmage to pass-protect. The pocket extends longitudinally behind the line back to the offensive team’s own end line.
  • Red zone: In football, the term “red zone” refers to the unofficial area from inside the 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line. Holding an opponent to a field goal in this area is considered a victory by the defense.
  • Roll out: When the quarterback runs left or right away from the pocket before throwing the ball.
  • Scramble: When the quarterback, to gain time for receivers to get open, moves behind the line of scrimmage, dodging the defense.
  • Spiral: The tight spin on the football in flight after the quarterback releases it. The term “tight spiral” is often used to describe a solidly thrown football.
  • Sweep: A fairly common run in every football team’s playbook. It begins with two or more offensive linemen leaving their stances and running toward the outside of the line of scrimmage. In football, the ball carrier takes a handoff from the quarterback and runs parallel to the line of scrimmage, waiting for his blockers to lead the way around the end.
  • Takeaway: How a defense describes any possession in which it forces a fumble and recovers the ball or registers an interception. In football, any turnover that the defense collects is called a takeaway.
  • Weak side: The side of the offense opposite the side on which the tight end lines up.

To learn more about football terms, check out Ten Terms American Football Announcers Use.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Howie Long is a former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders defensive end with eight Pro Bowl appearances, a Super Bowl victory, and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is a commentator on FOX NFL Sunday. John Czarnecki has reported on the NFL since 1979 and consulted for FOX NFL Sunday since it began in 1994. He has received four Sports Emmys.

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