AMERICAN FOOTBALL TERMS: Browse a concise list of terminologies of American Football.
There are 100s of American Football terms and definitions used by players and officials. We list them alphabetically from A to Z.
American Football teams and match referees can use this vocabulary of American Football terminologies in games and in training sessions.
The titles and common match rulings will also help spectators and sports fans understand the rudiments of the game.
The official American Football rules and regulations is a good place to start if you are learning to play. But, this American Football glossary of keywords covers the advanced lingo and sports terms related to the game.
Shoot through to the most common American Football terminology by clicking the alphabetic facility below. Or, take a timeout and sharpen your knowledge and understanding of the game.
This comprehensive list of American Football terms and definitions continues to grow. Check in often for more information associated to American Football playing techniques and match-winning strategies.
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A – Armour
American Football armour and under armour refers to the body protective equipment worn by football players in a gridiron game.
The minimum armoury should include a helmet, shoulder pads, thigh and knee pads, gloves, shoes, and compression shorts (similar to a jockstrap).
B – Backfield
The backfield player positions are a group of offensive players. They consist of the running backs and the quarterback. Backfield players will set up their position behind the line of scrimmage.
C – Cleats (shoe studs)
In American Football terminology the word ‘cleats‘ refers to shoes which feature protrusions on the sole of the shoe.
Cleats are an external attachment to a shoe which provides extra traction for players who play the sport on a slippery surface.
D – Down
The ‘down’ is a period of action that starts when the ball is put into play. It ends when the ball gets ruled as ‘dead’ (meaning the play is completed). The offense will get four (4) downs to advance the ball 10 yards.
If the team fails to do so, it must surrender the ball to the opposing team, usually by punting on the fourth down.
Note: A section explaining 10 basics in American Football will help to slow things down if the pace is a little too fast.
In American Football terms the ‘drive’ refers to a series of plays. It takes place when the offense team has the football and continues until they punt it or score. The other team would then get possession of the ball.
E – End Zone
The end zone is a 10-yard-long area situated at both ends of the field. You score a touchdown when you enter the end zone while in control of the football. If you get tackled in your own end zone with possession of the ball, the other team scores a safety (2 points).
American Football has one of the highest rates of sports injuries. Thus, you need lots of bulky padding equipment to play the game safely.
Extra Point (PAT)
The ‘extra point’ is a kick with a value of one point. The kick gets attempted after every touchdown. This is why it is also known as the ‘point after touchdown’ (or PAT).
The ball gets placed on either the 2-yard line (in NFL rules) or the 3-yard line (in college and high school). It would generally get kicked from inside the 10-yard line after being snapped to the holder. The kick is considered good if the ball sails between the uprights and above the crossbar of the goalpost.
F – Fair Catch
A fair catch occurs when the player returning a punt waves his extended arm from side to side above his head. The player cannot run with the ball after signaling for a fair catch. Likewise, players who are attempting to tackle him must not make physical contact with him.
In American Football terms, a field goal is a kick worth three (3) points. Players can attempt it from anywhere on the field. But, it is usually attempted within 40 yards of the goalpost. Like the extra point, the ball must sail above the crossbar and between the uprights to get ruled as good.
The act of losing possession of the ball while running with it or being tackled. Members of the offense and defense can recover a fumble. If the defense recovers the fumble, the fumble is called a turnover.
G – Gloves
Some receivers will wear American Football gloves to aid catching the ball. They find it easier to grip the ball with gloves on especially in cold weather.
Lineman gloves usually have thicker padding to protect the different parts of the hand.
H – Handoff
In American Football vocabulary the ‘handoff’ is the act of giving the ball to another player. As a rule, handoffs occur most often between the quarterback and a running back.
The ‘hash marks’ are the lines on the center of the field. They signify one (1) yard remains on the field. The ball gets spotted between the hash marks (or on them) before every play. It would depend on where the ball carrier got tackled during the preceding play.
The ‘huddle’ takes place when 11 players come together on the field to discuss strategy between plays. During offensive play, the quarterback relays the plays set out in the huddle.
I – Incompletion
Incompletion is American Football vocabulary that refers to a forward pass that falls to make ground. As a rule, it happens either because no receiver could catch it, a receiver dropped it, or it got caught out of bounds.
A pass caught by a defensive player would be an interception. Thus, it brings the offensive possession of the ball to an end.
J – Jerseys
It may not be one of the official American Football rules but most fans know that wearing an NFL jersey is one of the absolute essentials for fanatics of Gridiron.
K – Kickoff
A free kick means the receiving team must not make an attempt to block putting the ball into play. Players use a kickoff at the start of the first and third quarters. The same applies after every touchdown and successful field goal kick.
L – Line of Scrimmage
The line of scrimmage is one of the American Football expressions for an imaginary line. It extends from where the football gets placed at the end of a play to both sides of the field. Neither the offense nor the defense can cross the line of scrimmage until the ball gets put into play again.
M – M
In general, a manager in any sport is a professional at training and developing the players or athletes. Managers typically hold a more public profile than a coach and are often paid more money.
N – NFL Rules
Browsing the National Football League overview is the ideal introduction to the game. It is the first step to learn about the basic game references and player tactics.
Note: The list of football rules and interpretations come from the 100+ page NFL Rule Book 2022 PDF.
O – Offensive Line
A human wall of five men form the offensive wall. They block for and protect the quarterback and the ball carriers. Every offensive line has a center (who will ‘snap’ the ball), two guards, and two tacklers.
P – Punt
The ‘punt’ is American Football lingo for a kick made when a player drops the ball. He would kick it as it falls towards his foot. As a rule, a punt is made on a fourth down when the offense must surrender possession of the ball to the defense (if they could not advance it 10 yards).
Q – Quarterback (QB)
A quarterback is a player position in American Football (and Canadian football) and usually responsible for calling the play in the huddle. On the field, quarterbacks belong with the offensive team. Playing at quarterback position means you line up directly behind the offensive line.
R – Red Zone
In a glossary of American Football words ‘red zone‘ refers to an unofficial area from the 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line. Holding an opponent to a field goal in this area is considered a moral victory for the defense.
The ‘return’ is the act of receiving a kick or punt and running toward the opponent’s goal line. The aim if to score or gain significant yardage advantage.
Advancing the ball by running (not passing it) is termed ‘rushing’. Thus, a running back is often called a ‘rusher’.
S – Sack
It occurs when a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage and results in a loss of yardage.
In terms of American Football ‘safety’ refers to a score worth two points. The defensive teams earns it by tackling an offensive player in possession of the ball inside his own end zone.
The phrase refers to the four defensive players who defend against the pass. They line up behind the linebackers and will be wide on the corners of the field opposite the receivers.
There are two main types of American Football shoulder pads – cantilevered and flat. Cantilevered pads are larger for players on the offensive and defensive line and for linebackers because they receive more direct collisions.
Flat pads are used mainly by quarterbacks and receivers. This is because these types of pads are smaller and so they restrict movement less.
A ‘snap’ is the action in which the ball gets hiked (tossed between the legs) by the center to the quarterback, to the holder on a kick attempt, or to the punter. When the snap takes place, the ball is officially in play and the action will begin.
The ‘special teams’ are 22 players on the field during kicks and punts. The units have special players who return punts and kicks. They also boast players who are experts at covering kicks and making punts.
T – Touchdown
According to the official rules and regulations of American Football a score, worth six points, occurs when:
- A player in possession of the ball crosses the plane of the opponent’s goal line.
- A player catches the ball while in the opponent’s end zone.
- A defensive player recovers a loose ball in the opponent’s end zone.
U – UK
The national governing body for the sport of American Football UK is the British American Football Association. It also has affiliations with the European Federation of American Football.
V – Visor
The visor or eye shield is quite a recent addition to the American Football helmet. Visors are attached to the face mask to protect the players against glare from the sun and against eye injuries.
W – World Cup
The IFAF is the International Federation of American Football. The IFAF World Championship of American Football is an international competition held every four (4) years. It gets contested by teams representing member nations.
X – Xbox One
A selection of American Football sports games sold online by many retailers.
Y – Yard Lines
A yard line is any line in the field of play and is parallel to the end lines. Each team has their own yard lines, whether marked or unmarked, which are numbered consecutively from their own goal line to the midfield line.
Z – Zones
The zones refer to the end zone at each end of the field. It is a rectangle defined by the goal line, the sidelines, and end line.
Note: The goal line and the goal line pylons get included inside the end zone. A team end zone is the one that it defends.
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