12 Football Terms You Need To Know for the Return of the NFL

3 min read

Hut hut! Even if fans aren't allowed inside the stadiums this year, the players are lining up and throwing down for a very, very different season (thanks to Covid-19) of ball spiking, field-goal kicking and touchdown-scoring action. Before you break out your pom-poms and beer, here’s a refresher on some football terms to master by kickoff.

Down

Each play, or scoring opportunity for the offense, is called a "down." The offense has four downs, or four opportunities, to gain 10 yards or more, at which point the downs reset and you start another set of downs. Of course, the most famous down of them all is a touchdown, which is scored in the opposing team’s end zone.

Challenge

Have beef with a referee’s call? A team coach will throw a colored flag to signal they want to challenge the call. The play will go to review – cue endless instant replays if you’re watching at home – to see if they got it right. Each coach has a limited number of challenges, so they must use them wisely.

Safety

Unlike baseball, where being safe is a good thing, in football parlance, a "safety" refers to when the defense tackles the offensive ball carrier or quarterback in their own end zone. Apart from bruised pride, this means two points for the defensive team and they get the ball for a drive of their own.

Line of scrimmage

Every play (or down) starts here. The line of scrimmage refers to the point where the ball is hiked from a lineman and put into play.

Move the chains

Football is played in ten-yard increments that are measured by two connecting markers. Each time you get the ball ten yards down the field, those markers shift with you. As they’re attached by a chain for measurement purposes, the phrase “that’ll move the chains” is common football announcer speak for a successful first down.

Punt

Usually reserved for the fourth (last chance to score) down, a punt involves kicking the ball to the opposing team to give your defense a better opportunity to stop the other team from scoring.

Red zone

AKA the nail-biting zone, the red zone refers to starting a play within 20 yards of the goal line. When you’re this close to the end zone, each play is more likely to result in points.

Pocket

The safest place on the field to make a play, the pocket is like a virtual wall made of the offensive line. When a QB is in the pocket, they ideally are well-protected enough to survey the field and make their passing play.

Trenches

This combat-worthy word refers to the space between the offensive line and defensive line. Expect to see the biggest, beefiest players line up here.

Blind side

Famously associated with the Sandra Bullock film of the same title, "blind side" is a real-life football term referring to the side of the offensive line that the quarterback is facing away from while in the pocket. Since the quarterback is facing away from this side, the blind side is where they are the most vulnerable. For example, a right-handed quarterback's blind side is protected by their left tackle.

Sack

QB sacks is an important stat for a reason – it’s kind of a big deal when it happens. A sack refers to taking down the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, thanks to a less-than-stellar offensive line, or a hesitant QB taking his time to toss the ball.

Two-Point Conversion

After the offense scores, they typically attempt to gain an extra point by kicking the ball through the field goal posts. But if the game’s tight, you can go for the gold, AKA a two-point conversion. This involves lining up your team at the two-yard line and attempting to get the ball across the goal line in a single play for, you guessed it, two points.

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