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Football Glossary of Terms

By: Molly Schwichtenberg

For a newcomer to the game, football can be confusing, especially since it has its own vocabulary of unique terms to describe what's going on on the field. By watching a game, you can usually pick up some of the basics, but it's helpful to read up on some of the language of football to get a better sense of what's unfolding before you and what it all means.

Audible: This is when the quarterback decides to change the offensive play being used at the line of scrimmage.

Blitz: In a blitz, multiple defensive players rush to sack the quarterback at once.

Carry: This is when a player tries to run with the ball in their hands

Cover: Defensive players who cover an offensive player are trying to get between them and the quarterback, hoping to keep them from being able to catch the ball if it's passed to them.

Cut block: A cut block occurs when an offensive player blocks a defensive player below the waist to get them to fall over. It is legal, but the rules restrict it to certain situations.

Dead ball: This is when all play stops and the ball is no longer in play.

Down: A down is a play opportunity for the offensive team. The team has four downs in which to either score or advance 10 yards down the field; if they do neither, the other team gets the ball wherever they were stopped.

Drive: A drive is a series of possessions of the ball by one team as they move down the field toward the end zone.

Encroachment: This happens when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped and makes contact with an opponent. The penalty for this is usually a loss of five yards.

Extra point: After a team scores a touchdown, they are allowed to attempt to kick the ball so that it goes between the goal posts. If they succeed, they get one more point.

Field goal: A field goal is an attempt to kick the ball so that it goes between the goal posts in the end zone. If the kick is successful, it's worth three points.

Free kick: In NFL, this is the kick that starts play as a kickoff or after a safety. It puts the ball back into play.

Fumble: When the person carrying the ball drops it, this is called a fumble.

Interception: An interception is when the defending team catches a thrown ball meant for an offensive player.

Hail Mary: A Hail Mary means a long and usually unsuccessful pass made out of desperation. It usually happens near the end of a game.

Handoff: This term refers to handing the ball to another player.

Lateral: A lateral pass is thrown backward or sideways across the field, rather than being thrown forward. A team can make as many backward passes as they want during a play but can only make one forward pass.

Line of scrimmage: This is a line that marks where the next play will start.

Neutral zone: The neutral zone is an area along the line of scrimmage that's as wide as the length of the ball.

Pump fake: A pump fake is when the quarterback pretends to make a pass but instead keeps hold of the ball.

Punt: Often, if the offensive team fails on their first three downs, they'll use the fourth down to punt, kicking the ball farther down the field rather than letting the opponent get possession of the ball where they were.

Red zone: The red zone is the area between the 20-yard line and the end zone.

Sack: This is when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage by a defensive player.

Touchdown: When the offensive team gets the ball into the end zone, it's a touchdown, and they get six points.

Turnover: This is when the team in possession of the ball loses the ball to their opponents.

Two-minute warning: When there are two minutes left in the game, play stops to let both teams plan their final strategies.

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