Football Glossary

Understanding Basic Terms of the Gridiron Game

Super Bowl 51
Danny Amendola of the New England Patriots scores a two point conversion late in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Whether you're new to football or a longtime fan of the game, this glossary of common—and not so common—football terms provides a quick reference or a tool to learn the basics. The list is far from comprehensive, but whether you want to know the difference between an audible and an illegal formation, or even a PAT and a sack, you will find a good start here.

Audible to Draft

The first term alphabetically, audible, is a very common one. On offense, the team selects the play it is going to run, but when the players line up against the defense, the quarterback may see something that changes his mind. In this case, he calls an audible, which means he changes the play at the line of scrimmage by shouting out coded instructions.

Clipping, another term in this section, describes a dangerous block that results in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down for the offense. A clip is when a player hits his opponent from behind, usually at waist level or below.

A

  • Audible

B

  • Blitz

C

  • Chain Gang
  • Clipping
  • Coin Toss
  • Cover 2
  • Cover 3
  • Crackback Block

D

  • Defensive Back
  • Defensive End
  • Defensive Lineman
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Delay of Game
  • Division
  • Draft

End Zone to Holding

In football, the phrase "the end zone" refers to a 10-yard section stretching the width of the field at both ends of the playing field. The whole point of the game is to get the ball into the end zone—preferably by scoring a touchdown—while your team is on offense as the opposing team does everything it can to prevent that from happening.

Holding is the illegal restraint of a player who does not have possession of the football. For example, the offensive linemen are not allowed to grab and hold on to the defensive linemen to prevent them from reaching the quarterback. Although offensive holding is more common, the defense can also be called for holding.

E

  • End Zone

F

  • False Start
  • Fantasy Football
  • Fantasy League
  • Flanker
  • Forward Progress
  • Free Agency
  • Free Safety
  • Fullback

G

  • Gap
  • Gunner

H

  • Halfback
  • Head Linesman
  • Heisman Trophy
  • Holder
  • Holding

Illegal Formation to Officials

An illegal formation is a penalty that is called against the offense for failing to line up before the snap according to specific guidelines. Professional football players are often paid millions to play the game—but you'd be surprised how often this happens. Indeed, the New England Patriots—and their wily coach Bill Belichick—make a habit of trying to lure their opponents into lining up in illegal formations.

The officials are the rules enforcers of the game and include the referee, who is the lead official, as well as the umpire, head linesman, line judge, back judge, field judge, and side judge. Each official has specific duties.

I

  • Illegal Formation
  • Ineligible Receiver Downfield
  • Intentional Grounding

K

  • Kick

L

  • Long Snapper

M

  • Man-to-Man Coverage

​​N

  • Nickel Back
  • Nickel Defense
  • Nose Tackle

O

  • Offensive Holding
  • Offensive Lineman
  • Officials

Pass Rush to Regular Season

A pass rush is an attempt by defensive players to get to the quarterback so they can tackle him before he can successfully get off a pass attempt. The goal of a pass rush is to either sack the quarterback for a loss of yards or force him into making a mistake.

The regular season in the NFL consists of 16 games played over 17 weeks (with one bye week) that runs from September until late December or early January. It is preceded by the pre-season practice games and is followed by the post-season playoffs.

P

  • Pass Rush
  • PAT
  • Pigskin
  • Placekicker
  • Play Clock
  • Pocket
  • Point After Touchdown
  • Pooch Kick
  • Possession
  • Postseason
  • Punter

R

  • Red Dog
  • Red Zone
  • Regular Season

Sack to Super Bowl

A sack occurs when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a forward pass. Anytime a defenseman can sack a quarterback, it's considered a big win for the opposing team. Indeed, the NFL keeps a separate statistic to track how many sacks a defensive player racks up in a game, a season, and even a career.

The Super Bowl is the NFL championship game, although it was not always so. The first Super Bowl was played in January 1967 between the NFL and AFL champions. The leagues officially merged for the 1970 season, making the 1971 Super Bowl the NFL championship.

​​S

  • Sack
  • Safety
  • Screen Pass
  • Secondary
  • Slot
  • Split End
  • Spot
  • Squib Kick
  • Stunt
  • Super Bowl

TD to Wild Card

The entire object of the game of football is to outscore your opponent by advancing the football into their end zone to score as many touchdowns, or TDs, as possible while holding the other squad to as few as possible. There are other ways of scoring, but a touchdown is usually the prime objective.

The wildcard is a playoff spot in the NFL reserved for the best teams that that didn't win their division. There are four NFL wildcard berths, two each in the NFC and the AFC. 

T

  • TD
  • Too Many Men on the Field
  • Turnover
  • Two-Point Conversion

U

  • Umpire
  • Uprights

V

  • Vince Lombardi Trophy

W

  • Wideout
  • Wild Card
  • Quarterback handing off football to running back

    Clueless About Football? We'll Help You Out

  • Defensive Lineman

    Learn the Makings of a Good Defensive Lineman

  • defense tackles quarterback

    Learn the What, Why and How of a Stunt in Football

  • Football players with ball

    How to Explain Football to Someone Who Has No Clue

  • Referee signaling touchdown at football match, rear view

    What Do Football Officials Do

  • football sack

    What's a Sack? Here's a Quick Explanation of This Football Term

  • Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs slides on the turf as he scrambles against Chris Harris #25 of the Denver Broncos

    Never Passed Football Class? Here's an Explanation of a Pass Rush

  • Coach and teenage boy high school football player reviewing game plan on clipboard on sunny football field

    9 Defensive Drills Youth Football Teams NEED to Run

  • Is Your Lack of Football Knowledge Offensive? Here's What "Holding" Is

  • slip screen pass

    Wide Receiver Screen Pass Pressures Defensive Secondary

  • EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 02: Tight end Zach Miller #86 of the Seattle Seahawks tries to avoid the tackle of outside linebacker Danny Trevathan #59 of the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

    What Does the Linebacker Actually Do?

  • African American football player standing in hallway

    How Did the Dolphins Go Undefeated in 1972?

  • Wide receiver Sammy Watkins #14 of the Buffalo Bills catches a touchdown pass against defensive back Sean Smith #21 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half on November 29, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium

    What's a Wideout, and What do They Do?

  • Tennessee Titans v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Fumbling your Football Terms? Read This to Understand Turnovers

  • football

    Discover the Difference Between Strong and Free Safety in Football

  • Football player in mid-air reaching for football

    What Does "Ineligible Receiver Downfield" Mean?