Football Lingo

By Loot, Football Handicapper,

Football Terms: A Glossary of Football Lingo and Slang

We’ve all been there. You’re in a Las Vegas Sportsbook and you walk up to the window and the ticket writer asks you for a rotation number. You tell him that you want to bet the Steelers at -7.5 but he expects you to have a rotation number for him. You go sit down to watch the game and the guy next to you busts out with some lingo that may as well be another language because you have no clue what he’s talking about. You asked him what happened while you were gone and he goes on to say that the QB did a hard count, ran a bootleg right, scampered a few yards and came up short. The FG kicker came in and missed a chip shot. If you’re not familiar with all of the jargon that comes along with football, you’ll be lost. Kudos to you for coming here and trying to learn all of these terms so that you can join all of us whack jobs who would actually prefer to watch football all day than spend a night with a playboy bunny.

Listed below, you’ll find a list of football lingo and slang. If you still have questions, feel free to drop us a line at and we’ll be happy to assist you. Enjoy!


50/50 Ball: A quarterback throws a long pass up for grabs where both the receiver and defensive back have an even chance of catching the ball.

A-Gap: The space between the Center (the guy who hikes the ball) and the Guard. This is a commonly used term during a radio broadcast/telecast where the announcer is explaining where an offense is trying to open a space up or a defense is trying to penetrate to get into the back field. Unbeknownst to many, there are more gaps than just the A-Gap. The space between the Guard and Tackle is the B-Gap. The space between the Tackle and Tight End(s) is the C-gap. You won’t hear this one often, but the space outside of the Tight End is referred to as the D-gap. The D-gap is often times referred to as “he ran it outside” or “he got the edge”.

All-Purpose Yardage: All the combined yardage a player or team compiles in a game, whether it be from rushing or receiving.

Audible: When a quarterback changes the play at the line of scrimmage before the snap based on something he saw with the defense.

Backfield: Refers to skill players behind the line of scrimmage, namely running backs. The defensive secondary can also be called the defensive backfield.

Back-Up: A reserve player.

Ball Control: A philosophy of offense that stresses low-risk play that results in very few turnovers.

Black Monday: The Monday following the last regular season game of the year, where coaches’ jobs are on the line.

Block: To prevent a defensive player from getting to the ball-carrier.

Blitz: When linebackers or defensive backs unexpectedly dart in to attack the quarterback instead of falling back into their positions.

Bomb: A last-ditch effort at the end of a half or a game when a quarterback heaves a long pass into the end zone. Or simply a long pass.

Bootleg: When a quarterback fakes a handoff to a running back and takes it outside either to pass it or run it himself.

Broken Play: When a designed play falls apart, forcing the offensive player to try to improvise to come up with positive yardage.

Bump and Run: When a defender hits a receiver to slow him down, then follows him more easily on the remainder of the receiver’s route.

Bust: A high draft choice who fails to live up to expectations in the NFL.

Chains: Refers to the ten-yard marker used to determine if there was a first down.

Checkdown Pass: When a quarterback throws it to a short-range receiver in order to avoid a sack.

Chip Shot: A short field goal.

Comeback Route: When a receiver darts out fast and straight, only to stop suddenly and go in a different direction.

Dime Back: A 6th defensive back.

Down: A single play, with teams given 4 downs to make a first down.

Down by Contact: In the NFL, when an offensive player is down and touched, he cannot continue the play.

Draw Play: When a quarterback acts like he is going to pass, only to quickly hand the ball off or sneak it.

Drop Kick: A seldom-used kick where the ball is dropped on the ground and kicked after it bounces once.

Eligible Receiver: All players who are able to touch a forward pass.

Encroachment: When a defensive player is positioned across the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped.

End Zone: The area at each end of the field where players with the ball can score touchdowns.

Escapability: A term usually used in-game when an announcer refers to a QB who is able to escape pressure from the defense when the offensive line breaks down or is out-manned.

Extra Point: The one-point kick that takes place after touchdowns.

Fair Catch: When a punt returner decides by gesturing during a punt’s flight to simply catch the punt without advancing it.

False Start: When an offensive player moves before the snap.

Flag: What referees throw to signal that a penalty has taken place.

Field Position: A team’s position in relation to the end zone. For example, beginning a drive on your own 40-yard line would be considered good field position.

Forward Progress: The furthest point where a ball carrier’s momentum took him before he was tackled.

Fumble: When a player loses control of the football and it is recovered by another player.

Game Manager: Term used for a quarterback who is not flashy, but controls the clock and doesn’t turn over the ball.

Goal-Line Stand: When a defense stops a surging offense with a defensive stand deep in their territory, forcing the offense to either kick a field goal or go for a touchdown on 4th down.

Gunslinger: A quarterback with a good arm whose style is conducive for an offense that features a lot of big passes.

Hail Mary: A last-ditch deep throw by a quarterback in an attempt to win a game or score behind the half.

Hands Team: A group of players who can handle the ball well in the event of defending an onside kick.

Hard Count: When a quarterback tries to lure the defense to go offsides by trying to trick them that he called for the ball to be snapped.

Hash Marks: The marks on each side of a football field. Plays can start between the hash marks.

Holding: When a player’s progress is stopped or impeded by being held illegally by an opposing player.

Hole: To be down, as in “The Chargers are in a hole–down 21-3.”

Horse Collar: When a player carrying the ball is brought down by a defender who grips the top part of his uniform and pads and pulls him down.

Hurry-Up Offense: An offense that is moving quickly, with little time between plays.

Icing: The act of an opposing coach calling a late time-out as the opposing place kicker is attempting an important field goal.

Intentional Grounding: When a quarterback is in the pocket and intentionally throws the ball away or on the ground to avoid a pass rush.

Interception: When the defense catches a pass from an opposing quarterback.

Kick Off: When team kicks the ball away following a score or to begin a half.

Late Hit: When a player hits another player after the play is considered to be over.

Lateral: A legal lateral is when a player passes the ball parallel or behind him to another player.

Line of Scrimmage: Where the play begins. The line that crosses a football across the field.

Live Ball: A ball that is still considered in-play.

Man Coverage: When a defense has specific players who cover all the eligible pass catchers on an offense.

Muffed Punt: When a punt returner fails to cleanly field the incoming kick.

Neutral Zone: The area between the line of scrimmage.

Nickel Back: A 5th defensive back.

Offsides: When the defense moves and crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped.

Onside Kick: When a team wants to get the ball back, they will use an onside kick–a short and difficult kick to field that can be recovered after it travels at least ten yards.

Pass Interference: When a defender or pass catcher uses undue contact to prevent a reception from occurring.

Pass Protection: The offensive’s ability to keep defenders away from the quarterback on a pass attempt.

Pass Rush: When the defense sends players with the sole intent of disturbing or sacking the quarterback.

Personal Foul: A foul a player can get for unsportsmanlike behavior.

Pick: Term used for an interception.

Pick-Six: Term used to describe when a defender intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown.

Place Kick: A kick where the ball is placed still on the ground.

Play Action: A play that begins with a fake, either a pass or handoff to throw off the defense.

Pocket: The area between the tackles on the offensive part of the field.

Pooch Kick: A deliberately poorly-kicked ball, used to limit the return.

Post Pattern: When a receiver sprints out a short distance and looks back at the quarterback as if a pass is coming, only to start running again deep toward the middle of the field.

Prevent Defense: A form of defense that theoretically allows short plays, but is supposed to specifically stop big plays. Used by teams with a good lead in the score.

Pull: When an offensive lineman, instead of blocking the man in front of him, shoots down the line to block another defender.

Punt: When a kicker drops the ball and kicks it before it hits the ground.

Quarter: 15 minutes of football. Each football game has 4 quarters.

Quarterback Sneak: When the quarterback unexpectedly runs the ball.

Red Shirt: When a college player doesn’t play so he doesn’t waste a year of eligibility.

Red Zone: When an offense is 20 yards or closer to the end zone, they are considered to be in the “red zone.”

Rotation Number: Each game is given a number. Most sportsbook ticket operators expect you to give them this number instead of naming off what team and spread you want.

Running Out the Clock: When the offense deliberately maximizes how much time they take off the clock to maintain a lead and give the opposing offense little or no time to win the game.

Running up the Score: When a team that has the game in hand continues to attack offensively. For example, a team that completes a 75-yard touchdown pass in the 4th quarter while leading 48-0 would be accused of running up the score.

Rush: Term used to refer to a run, as in “he rushed for 140 yards.” Also used to describe defenders who attempt to get to the quarterback.

Sack: When a defender tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

Safety: A defensive player in the secondary or when the defense tackles an offensive player in the end zone, which results in two points.

Scramble: When a quarterback moves around to avoid the pass rush.

Screen: A short pass play where the receiver has a series of blockers ahead of him.

Shotgun: A formation when a quarterbacks stands a distance behind the center, who hikes it to the quarterback from a distance.

Snap: When the center hikes the ball to signify the beginning of an offensive play.

Special Teams: Refers to the group of players who play on kickoffs, punts, free kicks, and field goals.

Spot: Where a ball is marked on the field by the officials.

Squib Kick: A low-kicked ball on a kickoff used to limit the returning team’s ability to make a good return.

Sticks: Refers to the down markers. A first down results in “moving the sticks.”

Straight/Stiff Arm: When a ball carrier uses the arm he’s not using to carry the ball to fend off defenders.

Stunt: When defensive linemen switch positions late to throw off the blockers.

Three-and-Out: When an offense fails to get a first down and must punt on 4th down after just three offensive plays on a drive.

Tip: When a pass is touched.

Touchback: When a player downs the ball in their own end zone, resulting in the ball being placed at the 20-yard line.

Turning the Ball Over on Downs: When a 4th down fails to result in a first down or a score, the opposing offense takes over the ball on downs.

Turnover: When a defensive player intercepts a ball or recovers a fumble.

Two Point Conversion: Following a touchdown, a team can kick an extra point or attempt a two-point conversion by getting the ball in the end zone from the 2-yard line.

Underneath: The area past the defensive line, but in front of the linebackers and secondary.

Weak-Side: The side of the offensive line that has the fewest players, particularly on teams that use one tight end.

Wildcat: An offense that is positioned so that either the quarterback or the running back can take the center’s shotgun snap.

Wishbone: An offensive position where a trip of backs shaped like a “Y” are behind the quarterback.

YAC: Abbreviation that stands for yards after catch.

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