Notice: I try to give more than one term for different definitions, seeing how there is not often universal terminology. Maybe I learned it differently or whatnot, so I try to include alternate terms where I can.
3, 5, or 7 Step Drop - Referring to the number of steps a Quarterback takes before he is supposed to release the ball. The number of steps depends not necessarily on the depth of the routes, but rather the time the route(s) take to develop in order to get the receiver in the desired position.
Ace back\Single back - Formation with only one player lined up in the backfield behind the Quarterback as a running back. Almost always a fullback or halfback.
Audible – A change in the called play that a QB makes at the LOS after making his pre-snap read, if the defense is lined up to stop the original play, or he sees a major hole in the defense. The QB’s new play had better work, otherwise his ass will be in a jam with coach.
Bend Defense - A 'Prevent' defense in long yard situations that has a 'bend but don’t break' theory to prevent long plays. This is often vulnerable to giving up many yards underneath the deep zones, and allows the QB to take his time due to lack of blitzing, as us Hawks fans are well aware of.
BOB – Stands for ‘Back on back,’ meaning the FB has to block the POA LB on an Iso run.
Bootleg – When the QB fakes a hand-off and rolls outside the opposite way of flow. Termed “naked” when he has no lead blockers.
Box – Area on the defense that includes defensive linemen, linebackers, and sometimes safeties. From the line of scrimmage to linebacker depth, extending to each side of the offensive line.
Bracket – Two defenders naturally double teaming a receiver inside and out.
Bump and Run – Technique used by a defender where he jams the receiver with hi hands to slow him down, and covers him tightly for the rest of the play. Can be very effective, but if you don’t get a good bump, the receiver can get deep on you.
Bunch – Bunch formation is when two or more receivers are lined up close together, ranging from just off tackle, to 12 yards off the end man on LOS. You will usually see this with trips. Sometimes referred to as “posse.” See Squeeze, Snug, Cluster.
Cloud – A defensive coverage call, designating the CB to rotate up and force run, or cover the flats.
Cluster – Bunch formation with the receivers lined up about 12 yards off the end man on LOS.
Cop - Defensive term referring to a player with no strict man or zone coverage, who is allowed to "roam free" by watching the QB's eyes and watching the play develop in order to anticipate the throw. Sometimes referred to as ‘rover.’
Counter – A play in which flow is started to one side of the line, and then the RB cuts back, usually following a pulling Guard or Tackle, opposite of flow in an attempt to utilize down block angles, and take advantage of over pursuing LB’s.
(Route) Cut – Three different types of WR cuts; speed cut, break cut and comeback cut. Speed cut is a cut that is virtually impossible to defend if perfected, which is equally difficult. The receiver loses very little speed and is smooth throughout the route. Break cut is a simple cut for sharp routes such as digs and outs, where he runs directly at the defender before making a quick cut and snapping his head around to the QB. Comeback cut is used on routes that attack the defender and cut back towards the ball, such as hooks and curls. Technique involved attempts to get the defender to turn his hips before the receiver breaks down and cuts.
Cut (Block) – When an offensive player dives at the knees\feet of a player on the defense in an attempt to trip him up. This is only legal around the line of scrimmage and never legal from behind.
Dive - A run play where the ball is handed off directly to a RB with no lead blockers and straight man blocking up front. Usually used in short yardage situations or to run the clock down.
Db - Stands for Defensive Back, referring to Cornerbacks (CB) Safety (S) Strong Safety (SS) Nickel Back and Dime backs.
Dime Defense - Primarily a pass coverage defense with six DB's instead of the normal 4.
Draw – Offensive play where pass is shown in an attempt to create space between the LOS and linebackers, before the QB hands off to a waiting RB after he finishes his drop.
Double Read – When an offensive player has no direct man blocking duties, and must make a blitz read, usually inside to outside. Most commonly referring to a player in the backfield. Once a RB has made the reads, he is usually free to release.
Double Tight – An offensive formation that uses two Tight Ends, one on each side of the line.
Double Twins - A four WR formation with twins on both sides of the Line of Scrimmage (LOS)
East – Offensive formation where the TE is strong right in a three point stance split out one gap from the tackle, and a receiver is lined up in the vacant gap one step in the backfield, standing.
Flats - The 'dump off zone' for pass plays. The areas to each side of the formation, extending a few yards up field.
Free Release - Another way to describe Scat. Running back is free to release into the flats, and has no blocking assignments.
Far Formation - Instead of having the FB in front of the HB such as in an I set, the FB is directly to the weak side of the HB. In a weak right, the FB would be one gap to the left of the HB at equal depth. Contrarily, a Near Formation would have the FB strong side.
Flanker – WR lined up to the same side as the TE
Flood – Offensive strategy where a play sends more receivers into an area than the defense can cover.
Gap – Running target for a ball carrier, normally inside the LOS between players, but can extend to the sidelines when referring to motions and alignments. Traditionally the right side of the ball is even numbers, starting at Zero between center and guard, and increasing between each gap, up to 10. The left side is odds, starting at 1 in the A gap, extending to 11 next to the sidelines. I.e., “14 BOB” is a blast through the 4 hole, or the B gap between right guard and tackle.
Gun – Shotgun formation, when the QB is lined up 4-5 yards behind the center and receives the snap standing up.
Hard Count – When a QB is calling his cadence, using loud and intense voice inflections in an attempt to draw the defense offside.
Hitch - Hitch route is when the receiver heads straight down field for the specified number of yards, quickly settles and turns and steps towards the quarterback. The ball is supposed to be thrown anticipating the cut, and should arrive just after the receiver turns back.
Hook to Curl zone - The pass coverage zone usually under a Linebackers responsibility. An intermediate zone in the middle of the field.
Hot Receiver – 1) A receiver who must check for a pass immediately when a certain defender blitzes. 2) A receiver that on a route that is designed to break open as the QB hits the third step of his drop.
Iso – A very basic run play, where the HB follows the FB through the hole, and the FB has the responsibility of blocking the Point of attack LB.
King - A play call tag that designates the RB to the strong side of the formation to a free-release, removing any blocking responsibilities.
LOS – Line of Scrimmage, where the ball is placed and each team lines up.
Max Protect – An 8 man protection scheme that only sends two players out on pass routes. In some offenses, Max refers to a 7 man scheme, with no TE’s or RB’s releasing.
Mesh Point – The exchange of the ball between QB and ball carrier. ‘Mesh’ is also used as the name of a route package in some systems.
Midline – Directly up the middle of the ball, where it is placed before the snap
Mike - Middle Linebacker
Near Formation - Instead of having the FB in front of the HB such as in an I set, the FB is directly to the strong side of the HB. In a strong right, the FB would be one gap to the Right of the HB at equal depth. Contrarily, a Far Formation would have the FB weak side, away from the TE. I’m sure plenty of you have learned this from playing Madden ;)
Nickel Defense - Primarily a pass coverage defense with five DB’s instead of the normal 4.
OL Release - When an Offensive Lineman blocks his man for one or two seconds, and then lets his man go, in order to lead block for a runner or receiver. This is most common on the screen pass.
Out - Out route is when the receiver heads straight down field for the specified number of yards, quickly cuts and makes a right angle towards the sidelines. Like the hitch, the ball should be delivered when the cut is made and should arrive just after the receiver is turning his head to the QB.
Outside-In Contain – Idea that the defensive contain man, who is responsible for keeping an offensive play inside of him, needs to attack the lead mans outside shoulder with his inside, in order to keep the ball carrier from bouncing outside of him. Keeping the play inside allows the pursuing defenders to make a play, and creates much better pursuit angles than having to chase a ball carrier down outside.
Over – Defenders not letting receivers get behind them by playing over top of them, taking away deep throws. Defenders playing over top have no deep help, which is why it is vital they don’t let anyone get past them. Usually used in a 3 deep coverage, with a CB on each side of the field playing deep, and a safety playing deep in the middle.
Play Action - A fake handoff to the RB on a pass play, trying to suck the defense in by reading Run.
Peel Motion – Referring to the receiver, when he motions from his spot in to the center, then turns around and continues motion back where he came from. Also known as counter motion, but I use peel motion to not confuse with counter plays.
Pocket - Area created by the offensive line when the QB drops back to pass. A 'U' shaped zone with the tackles retreating to the sides of the QB and the interior line forming the front.
Point of Attack – a.k.a. POA. The place or time where a play develops, such as a gap on the LOS. You will usually hear this in reference to LB’s making it to the POA, otherwise getting to the gap before the ball carrier does.
Posse – See ‘Bunch’
Pre-snap Read - Usually referring to the QB, when both teams become set in their formations, and a player reads the opposing team to see what they are running and how they will react to it.
Pull – Referring to an offensive lineman stepping back from his position and heading behind the offensive line as a lead blocker.
Pursuit Angle – The angle at which a defender must pursue the ball carrier in order to cut him off without getting beat. I.e., a slow DL cannot run perpendicular to a speedy ball carrier, he must head downfield in order to cut him off, which is the pursuit angle.
Quarters – A coverage stemming from the Cover 2 shell, with the possibility of being a four-deep coverage. Effective against inside receivers running vertically, or for double teaming wide outs.
Queen – A play call tag that designates the RB to the weak side of the formation to a free-release, removing any blocking responsibilities.
Robber – Refers to a coverage in which a player, normally a safety, shows deep coverage and moves into an underneath zone late in an attempt to disrupt offensive reads and take away, or rob, certain pass routes.
Route Adjustment – A receiver changes either the depth of a passing route, or the pattern altogether based on what the defense shows, or how it reacts.
Route Tree - A diagram that depicts various routes for Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, and RB’s by using numbers and short call words. Each route stems from a part of the tree, an efficient utility for any offense, a tree allows play calling to be shortened and easily adjustable.
Rub (aka Natural Pick) – Describes two or more receivers running routes close to one another in an attempt to get the defenders to slow each other down. .
Sam - Strong side outside linebacker
Scat - Used in play calling, referring to the Running back. Free release to get to the corner of the defense and try to get outside for yards on a pass. He has no blocking duties. This is a term that varies depending on who is using it. This is my definition.
Screen Pass - By definition, a pass behind the line of scrimmage, but is traditionally a pass play where 1 or 2 OL release from their blocks after one second, and get let their men rush the QB. The QB takes a long drop and dumps the ball over the DL to a RB, who is in front of the pass rush but behind his OL who are lead blocking.
Seam - A very general term in football that refers to a small opening or gap in the defense, most often where two zones of the defensive pass coverage 'meet.' Finding and exploiting seams in coverage can be very effective because it can create confusion over who is supposed to cover the man in the seam, as one man may be thinking of handing the receiver off to the next zone, but that zone thinks he is still in the first zone of coverage.
Short (motion) – Motion where the split WR jogs in towards the QB, and stops before reaching the last man on the LOS.
Skinny – Tells a receiver with an inside breaking route to not take his route very far to the interior of the defense. I.e., instead of breaking at a 135 degree angle, the WR breaks at a 160 degree angle, such as a ‘skinny post.’
Sky – A Defensive coverage that designates the Safety to rotate up to the flats. Used in contrast to a Cloud signal. Cloud = CB Sky = Safety
Slide Protection - Offensive protection scheme using a man in the backfield to help pick up a blitz.
Slot – The inside receiver in a formation with more than one split receiver to one side, such as Twins. .
Snug - Bunch formation with the receivers lined up about 8 yards off the end man on LOS.
Split (Split Backs) – When the HB and the FB are at equal depth, parallel to one another, each behind the guard on their side of the line at normal HB depth.
Splits – Used in two senses; indicates the distance between offensive linemen, as well as the distance a receiver is lined up (split out) to the outside.
Split End – Refers to the receiver lined up wide on the LOS. Never on the same side as the TE, usually the X WR.
Squat Technique – Technique used by a CB where he waits for the WR to get to him before executing cloud coverage.
Squeeze - Bunch formation with the receivers lined up 4-5 yards off the end man on LOS.
Strong Formation - Just like the normal I formation (1 WR split wide on both sides, a Te lined up in normal position, a FB in front of a HB in the backfield lined up at midline, creating the I) but with the FB shifted to the strong side, lined up over the strong guard at normal FB Depth.
Tag – Word or series of words added to the end of a play call to change one or more player’s route or assignment.
Three Deep Coverage – Cover 3. Defensive coverage with the CB’s and FS each covering their respective third of the field with deep responsibilities, meaning they have no help and can’t let receivers behind them. CB’s basically have their zone between the hash marks and the sidelines, and the FS has between the hash marks, otherwise known as the middle third.
Trap – Offensive strategy where one DL is not blocked by a linemen aligned head up, and is allowed about one yard deep in the backfield before he is blocked by a pulling lineman.
Trail Technique – Technique used by defenders in man coverage, where he plays tight inside the receiver, trailing him by about half a step wherever he goes.
Triangle – A route package or design in which three receivers patterns form a triangle which can be formidable to defend.
Trips - Formation with 3 receivers lined up wide to one side of the LOS.
Twins - Formation with two Receivers lined up together on one side of the line of scrimmage. The receiver between the end of the offensive line and the receiver split wide is called the slot.
Twist – When two defensive linemen cross at the LOS, trying to confuse the blockers and get into the backfield.
Two Deep Coverage – Defensive coverage with two players, normally safeties, covering two deep halves of the field, with five men playing underneath in a 4-3 pro front. Usually referred to as Cover 2 or Cover 7.
‘U’ – The 2nd TE in a formation.
Under Coverage – Referring to the defenders occupying the intermediate zones in a given coverage; usually a four or five man under coverage. I.e., 5 Man Under – in a normal 4-3 front, 4 men rush the QB, 3 LB and 2 CB stay underneath to defend pass, while 2 Safeties cover deep zones, over top: No one gets deep. This creates windows under the safeties and over the underneath coverage, and can make it difficult for a QB to complete the desired throws to hit a receiver in stride.
Underneath Zones – Areas between the LOS of the deep coverage\secondary, usually occupied by linebackers, and occasionally CBs and SS.
Weak Formation - Just like the normal I formation (1 WR split wide on both sides, a Te lined up in normal position, a FB in front of a HB in the backfield lined up at midline, creating the I) but with the FB shifted to the weak side, lined up over the weak guard at normal FB Depth.
Will - Weak side outside linebacker
Wing – Player lined up one step in the backfield just off the hip of the end man of the LOS
'X' - Receiver lined up wide opposite the Tight End
'Y' - Usually the tight end, otherwise the receiver lined up inside the Z.
'Z' - Receiver lined up wide to the TE side. NOTE: Of course, these spots are often changed in games due to odd formations and motion, in order to create mismatches on defense.
Zone Blocking – An offensive blocking technique in which offensive linemen attack one player on the defensive line, and read the linebacker to determine who should slide off and block him. Read about here it in my past column regarding this concept.
Zone Blitz/Stunt - A stunt refers to the DL, with players crossing and slanting in order to get to the backfield. Zone blitz refers to a LB blitzing with zone coverage behind him, usually having a DL drop into an intermediate pass coverage, often with the other DL performing a line stunt.
Zoom Motion – Referring to the receiver, when he motions from his initial spot on one side of the field, all the way across the formation to the opposite side of the field.