- A -

Audible

An Audible is a verbal instruction from the Quarterback to the rest of his offense when he wants to change the play if he’s done his homework and sees something on the defense he doesn’t like. He will be changing the play from the one they had decided to run whilst they were in their pre-play huddle.

- B -

 BACKFIELD

This is the area of the field where the Running Backs generally setup at the start of each play. It is the area just behind the Quarterback.

BLITZ

This is an action carried out by defensive players in an attempt to sack the Quarterback or, at the very least, put extra pressure on him. It is usually the Linebackers that blitz by charging at and, hopefully, through the offensive line to break up the play in the backfield. Cornerbacks and Safeties can also blitz.

- C -

CHAIN CREW

This is the small team of people who operate the first down markers on the sideline to indicate to players, coaches, officials and fans where the offense started from and where they have to get to to gain their next first down.

- D -

DEFENSE

These are the 11 men on the field of play trying to stop the offense from moving the ball and ultimately scoring a touchdown.

DEPTH CHART

An NFL squad has 53 players allocated in varying numbers to different positions of play. The depth chart shows who starts at a position and who is the backup  and who is 3rd string etc.

DOWN MARKERS

These are the orange and black markers you will see being held by the Chain Crew on the sideline at an NFL game. There are two markers and they are connected by a chain which is 10 yards long. These markers allow everyone to know where the offense has started their current four downs from and where they have to get to in order to gain another four downs (known as ‘a new set of downs’).

DOWNS

An offense has four ‘Downs’ to gain 10 yards. If they gain the 10 yards in those four downs they gain a new set of four downs to gain another 10 yards, and so on until they either score or fail to gain the 10 yards, which is when the other team gets to have the ball.

- E -

END ZONE

The area of the playing field located at each end. This is the area the teams have to get the ball into in order to score a touchdown. It runs the width of the pitch and is 10 yards deep.

EXTRA POINT

After a touchdown has been scored, the team that has just scored it gets the chance to add an extra point to their score. They achieve this by kicking the ball between the uprights of the goal posts as they would do for a field goal.

- F -

 FAIR CATCH

An action taken by the kick/punt returner when he doesn’t want to return the ball after a kickoff or punt. He will do this to increase his chances of making a safe catch if the kicking team’s players are closing in on him and stand a good chance of hitting him as soon as he makes the catch. He will indicate a Fair Catch by waving his hand in the air above his head as the ball is approaching him.

FALSE START

A False Start is a penalty called against the offense when one of their players moves before the ball is ‘snapped’ but after they are ‘Set’.

FIELD GOAL

If the offense can’t get the ball into the end zone to score a touchdown on the first 3 of their 4 downs, but are close enough to kick a field goal, then they will try to on the 4th down. The kicker has to kick the ball above the crossbar and between the uprights of the goal posts to gain 3 points.

FLAG

Each of the officials carry a yellow ‘flag’ on their person during the game. They throw these onto the field of play to denote that they have seen an infringement during the play. Once the play has ended, the official who threw the flag will discuss what he/she saw with the referee who will then inform the stadium of the penalty via his mic.

FORMATION

At the start of each play, the offense and the defense setup in a certain way depending on the situation. This setup is called the formation.

FUMBLE

If a player who has control of the ball should then drop it, usually due to an opposing player knocking it from their grasp, this is known as a fumble. The ball is ‘live’ and whoever ends up  with the ball after the fumble goes onto offense.

- G -

GOAL LINE

This is the white line that runs from sideline to sideline at the field-of-play edge of the end zone. This line denotes the entrance to the end zone and is the line the teams have to get the ball across to score a touchdown.

- H -

HANDOFF

This is the action of the Quarterback giving the ball to the Running Back as he runs past him from out of the backfield.

HASHMARKS

The small white lines that are every one yard running down the centre of the field as well as both sidelines.

HOLDING

Players are allowed to block opposing players out of the way to allow the ball carrier to gain yards up the field. During the blocking action the blocker’s hands are not allowed to grab the player they are trying to block. If they do grab whilst blocking, this is a penalty known as ‘Holding’.

HUDDLE

Very often, between plays, the offense will form up into a ‘huddle’ so that the Quarterback can tell everyone what the next play will be.

HURRIED

If the defense can get close to the QB during a play and put pressure on him in an attempt to get him to make a mistake, this is known as him being hurried.

- I -

INSTANT REPLAY

Sometimes the the result of a play is not clear. These cases can sometimes call for the referee to watch instant replays from TV cameras positioned around the stadium to allow several different views of the play in the hope that the correct outcome can be reached.

INTERCEPTION

This can happen on an offensive passing play. It occurs when the Quarterback attempts a forward pass to one of his receivers but a defensive player gets to the ball first whilst it is in flight and catches it.

- K -

KICKOFF

A kickoff happens at the start of each half and after each score with the scoring team kicking the ball off to the opposition. The ball is placed at the kicking team’s 35 yard line and kicked from there. The team kicking off at the start of the game will then receive the kick at the beginning of the second half.

- L -

LATERAL

A pass that goes backwards like a pass in rugby. The team is allowed to lateral as many times as they like, as opposed to only being allowed one forward pass, but they generally don’t, except in desperate circumstances, due to the risk of the opposition gaining possession due to a bad lateral pass.

Line of Scrimmage

The ball starts each play on the ground at the point where the previous play got to. The line of scrimmage is an imaginary line running from sideline to sideline and passes through the front edge of the ball. When players set up at the start of each play they are not allowed to cross this line.

- M -

MOTION

This is when an offensive player, usually a Wide Receiver (WR), moves from his original set up position to another one. He will move parallel to the line of scrimmage before the play starts.

- N -

NEUTRAL ZONE

The area between the offensive linemen and defensive linemen whilst everyone is set up before each play commences. Neither team is aloud into or across this zone until the ball is ‘snapped’ and the play has started.

- O -

OFFENSE

The 11 players on the field that have possession of the ball and are trying to move it into the oppositions end zone to score a touchdown.

OFFICIALS

The 7-person team who are on the field wearing black and white. The officials are there to make sure the game is played by the rules. An officiating crew consists of: Referee, Umpire, Head Linesman, Line Judge, Back Judge, Field Judge and Side Judge. Each member of the team is responsible for watching a certain part of the action during the set up and execution of each play.

OUT OF BOUNDS

A player is out of bounds once he crosses over the sideline to an off-field location. On passing plays the receiver has to touch both of his feet down in-bounds for the catch to be successful. If he catches the ball in the air then lands out of bounds, or with only one foot in-bounds, then that passing play is unsuccessful.

OVERTIME

This is an extra period of play that is used in the case of a tied game at the end of the four quarters. It is a 15 minute period of sudden-death. If the team which wins the coin-toss and has the ball first scores a touchdown, the game is over and they are the winners. If they only manage to score a field goal then the other team has a chance with the ball to score a touchdown. If neither team scores on their first possession then it goes to next score wins.

- P -

PASS INTERFERENCE

Pass Interference occurs when the ball is in the air when the QB passes it. It is usually called on the defender who is attempting to cover the receiver the ball is heading towards. If the defender impedes the receiver’s attempt to catch the ball by physical contact then the call is made. When the ball is in the air it is fair-game for both the offensive player and the defensive player attempting to catch it so the offensive receiver can sometimes get called for ‘offensive pass interference’ if he impedes the covering defenders attempt to catch the ball. Most of the time it is defensive pass interference that is called due to the way pass coverage is done.

PASS PATTERN/ROUTE

This is the set route run by the offensive receivers in an attempt to get clear of the defender who is attempting to cover/mark them.

PASS PLAY

A predetermined play by the offense that will see the QB pass the ball forward to a receiver in an attempt to gain yards.

PASS RUSH

During an offensive pass play, the defense will send a set number of players after the QB. This is known as the Pass Rush.

PENALTIES

These occur when a player or players break any of the rules during a play. They can be called on the offense or defense. If one of the seven officials sees an infraction, they will throw a yellow flag into the general area it occurred.

PITCH

Sometimes a Running Back will run out wide from the backfield instead of straight forward in an attempt to run round the edge of the defense. A Pitch is a rugby style backwards  pass by the QB to the RB instead of a quick handoff.

PLAY CLOCK

Once a play has finished, the offense has 40 seconds in which to get their next play off. If they fail to do this they will be called for a ‘Delay of Game’ penalty.

POCKET

On an offensive passing play the offensive line will try to form a pocket around the Quarterback to stop any of the defensive players getting to him and getting a sack.

PUNT

On 4th down the offense will usually leave the field of play and the Special Team will come on to punt the ball down field. The Punter kicks the ball as far as he can, from out of his hands, so that the oppositions offence (who get the ball after the punt) have to start as far as possible away from the punting teams end zone.

PUNT RETURN

This is when the opposition’s special teams are punting the ball due to them struggling to gain a 1st down. The team receiving the punt have to try to return the ball as far as possible to give their offense as good starting field position as possible.

- Q -

QUARTERS

An NFL game is made up of four 15-minute quarters with a halftime period after the second quarter.

- R -

Reception

This is when a forward pass (usually thrown by the Quarterback) has been caught by a player on the offense.

Redzone

The redzone is a name given to the area of the field between the oppositions 20-yard line and their goal line if your team is on offense. If an offense moves the ball up the field and gets into this area they are said to be, ‘In the redzone’. It can sometimes be more difficult for an offense to operate in this zone as there isn’t as much room, meaning the defense can defend more of the zone without having to worry about giving up a big play.

Reverse

A trick play by the offense. The Quarterback fakes a handoff to a Running Back but then hands it of to a speedy Wide Receiver as he runs through the backfield area from his wide starting position. The Wide Receiver will continue running to the opposite side to the one he started from in an attempt to get round the outside of the defense. This is a ‘misdirection’ play designed to confuse the defense and open up space for the WR to run through.

Roster

This is the list of players who are currently eligible to play for the team. It is made up of the offensive, defensive and any special teams players and the position(s) they play and the number they will wear that season.

Run Play

A play by the offense where the QB will either handoff or pitch the ball to the RB in an attempt to gain yards on the ground. Is sometimes known as the ground game.

- S -

Sack

If the offense are attempting a passing play, where the QB drops back in the pocket, but then the QB gets tackled by a defensive player behind the line of scrimmage he has been sacked. This is a major achievement by the defense as it forces the offense back and therefore further away from their goal of gaining another 1st down.

Safety

If the offense gets tackled in it’s own end zone or they allow the ball to go out the back of their end zone (maybe due to a high snap over the QB’s head) then the opposition gets 2 points added to their score. This is known as a Safety.

Secondary

This is the imaginary area of the field during a play that the Safeties and Cornerbacks defend as it is the area the offense will most often pass the ball into. The Linebackers can also drop back into the secondary when they know it’s going to be a passing play.

Snap

The ball starts each play on the ground at the point on the field that the previous play ended. The offensive Center (C) will pass the ball backwards between his legs to the Quarterback (QB). This is the start of the play and is called the ‘Snap’.

- T -

Tackle

The player with the ball is tackled when he is brought to the ground by an opposing player. Tackle is also a position on the offensive line. See the Team Positions: Offense page.

Timeout

Between each play the offense has 40 seconds in which to start their next play. If they are struggling to do this they will call a timeout which stops the clock and gives them more time to sort things out. Each team is allowed 3 timeouts per half. A normal timeout is 30 seconds long but sometimes they are different depending on TV coverage and commercial breaks.

Touchback

During the kickoff, if the ball goes out the back of the end zone or the return player touches his knee down in the end zone after catching the ball, no kick return will be attempted and there is a touchback instead. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line (as of the 2016-17 season) and the offense will start their possession from there.

Touchdown

When a player crosses into the opposition’s end zone whilst in possession of the ball they score a touchdown. A touchdown is one of the highlights of the game and scores a team 6 points.

Turnover

When possession of the ball switches from one team to the other due to a fumble, interception or a team running out of downs during their possession.

- Others -

 12TH MAN

This is a term used for describing a teams fans. It is often used when the fans are particularly loud and can have an effect on a game by making it difficult for an opposition’s offence to communicate.

2 MINUTE WARNING

Occurs at the end of the second quarter (just before halftime) and the fourth quarter (just before the end of the game) when there’s only two minutes left to play. This is a free timeout that signals the start of what can often be the most exciting part of a game if the score is close. Some teams have a specific plan for this period of the game that can change it’s pace and/or tactics.

If you would like to see anything else adding to this page, would like anything explaining in more depth or would like to let me know of any glaring mistakes I might have made, please don’t hesitate to contact me via my Contact Page.

I’ve tried to be as brief as I possibly can on this and the rest of the rules pages but sometimes it’s not possible (and I’m prone to waffling if truth be told).

I hope this section of the site has proven at least a little useful to you have you’ve learnt something that can help you enjoy this awesome game a bit more.