American football moves

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The coach explains a move to his players

This article covers the most basic moves in American football . In English one speaks of a so-called play . The designation is used both for the process of the move and for the tactically planned sequence.


A play always begins in one of the following two ways:

A play is considered to be over when a team scores a score or one of the following events occurs:

  • The ball carrier is down . This occurs when the player touches the ground with any part of the body other than his feet or hands and has been touched by an opposing player.
  • The forward movement of the ball carrier is stopped, it comes to a standstill and it is clear that it can neither gain further space nor that it will go down as described above .
  • The ball carrier goes out of bounds , i.e. touches the field marking or the area outside it with any part of the body.
  • The ball carrier kneels or slides feet first to the ground.
  • A ball goes out of bounds after a kickoff, scrimmage kick or fumble .
  • A free ball comes to rest on the ground and is not touched by any player (often after a punt).
  • A forward pass hits the ground or goes out of bounds before being caught ( incomplete pass ). If the ball touches the ground in another situation, this is considered a fumble and the play continues until one of the criteria mentioned is met.

When a move is over, the ball is placed at the starting position of the next move. In the first three of the cases described above, this is the point with the greatest gain in space. If the ball carrier is moved back by a tackle or is declared down by the referees due to a lack of forward movement , the ball is placed as close to the opposing goal as the ball carrier was able to get to it. If he runs backwards of his own accord, the ball is placed where it goes down . In the case of an incomplete pass , the next turn starts at the same point as the previous one.


The offense of the attacking team must position at least seven players on the line of scrimmage that extends to the sidelines. The defense of the defending team may position all players on the line of scrimmage, but is usually limited to three to eight players.

Offense moves

Standard I formation

Unless otherwise stated, the following statements refer to the standard I formation , which is considered to be the simplest of all formations in American football. Most tactics can also be transferred to many other formations.

The following terms are also used:

  • Run Block - An active block in which the player steps forward and tries to push the opponent aside to make room for the ball carrier.
  • Pass Block - A passive block in which the player kicks backwards to create a pocket for the quarterback that allows time to pass a pass.
  • Lead Block - The blocker runs in front of the ball carrier in the same route to clear the path of defensive players who may not have been blocked.
  • Pull - A player on the offensive line steps backwards from his usual position and runs across the line of scrimmage to block elsewhere. This can be used in both passing and running plays.
  • Pocket - The protected area around the quarterback that the offensive line creates to allow the quarterback enough time and view to pass.
  • Hole - A gap in the offensive line through which the ball carrier can run. Such a gap can be created by a distance between the players on the line from the beginning, or by appropriate movements when blocking.

Running plays

In a running play, the ball is received by a player behind the line of scrimmage . This player can

  • the one who gets the ball from the center (quarterback), or
  • be a player who gets the ball hand-off (running back).

Plunge / dive

A basic I formation with gaps labeled.

In a dive (also plunge , slam , guts or various other names), the quarterback gives the ball to a running back , who then tries to run through a hole in the offensive line . The players on this line play run block to widen this gap, while often the fullback runs as a lead blocker in front of the running back to block unblocked defensive players. The running back will usually try to run through the A or B gap , with the former between center and guard and the B gap between guard and tackle .

Off tackle

In this move, the running back does not run through a gap in the offensive line, but runs just outside the tackle . This gives the running back more flexibility, as he usually has more space available after passing the line of scrimmage .


In a toss play , halfback and fullback run to a previously selected side and then turn towards the opposing end zone. The quarterback throws a pitch to the halfback, which runs behind the fullback acting as lead blocker . Since the pitch is not a forward pass, this play is considered a running play.


In a sweep play , the fullback first runs to the sideline before turning in the attack direction. Players on the offensive line , usually one or both guards, move to this side and create a free lane for the running back . The fullback often serves as a lead blocker in the further course .


In a Trap Play the performs Guard on the opposite side of the running direction of a pull and serves as a lead blocker for running back . The fullback then usually takes over the gap that the guard leaves and blocks there.


In a counter play , the ball carrier initially runs a step or two to the other side of the intended path, thereby simulating a wrong direction. Then he turns and continues in the planned direction. The defense players usually begin to run in the wrong direction, which gives an agile running back a time advantage.

On a counter move, the offensive line often (but not always) blocks in the direction of the intended path instead of away from it to reinforce the illusion that the move is going in the other direction.


In a draw play (or delay ) the offensive line falls back into the pass blocking position, while the quarterback also takes a few steps backwards. This creates the impression that it is a passing play. This ensures that the area around the line of scrimmage becomes more open. The quarterback then passes the ball to the running back (or keeps it himself) so that the ball carrier can run through the players blocking the pass.


The quarterback plays a fake hand-off , so only fakes the handover of the ball to the running back , keeps the ball and continues running in the opposite direction to the running back. The blocking can be similar to a sweep , which is why one speaks of a quarterback sweep in this case . Alternatively, the move can also be played without additional blocking for the quarterback, in this case the success of the move is based on the fact that the defense can be fooled by the faked hand-off and attacks the running back.

Quarterback sneak

In the case of a quarterback sneak ( QB sneak for short ), the quarterback receives the snap and runs forward with it immediately past the center. This move is designed to gain relatively little space and is therefore usually used when only about one yard is needed for a first down (i.e. four new attack attempts).

The decision on the QB sneak is often made spontaneously on the line of scrimmage by the quarterback, if he sees the behavior of the defense coming and therefore considers it more sensible. There is usually an inconspicuous signal between the quarterback and the center (e.g. pinching), so that these two players are the only players in their own team who know about the use of this move.


The wide receiver receives the ball directly from the quarterback by hand-off and either tries to gain space himself by running in the direction of the line of scrimmage , or he throws a pass himself to another player who is authorized to catch a pass (Rare).


At first glance, this move is similar to a sweep play . Before the running back steps over the line of scrimmage , however, he hands the ball to a wide receiver , which runs in the opposite direction. The move is relatively time-consuming behind the line of scrimmage, but the idea is that the defense rushed to the running back and the wide receiver finds an open half of the game and can gain space through his speed.


On an option play , the quarterback takes the ball and walks to one side of the offensive line where he waits for a chance to run with the ball. The running back follows him and gives him the option of throwing a pitch before he is tackled. The defense is forced to either attack the quarterback or prevent the pitch. This in turn gives the offense the opportunity to make the best choice. For this move, however, you need a fast and flexible quarterback, and it is relatively risky, as the pitch could be dropped, causing the ball to stay live ( fumble ).

The play option is therefore mostly only found in college football , as high school teams do not have the ability to execute this move correctly and safely, while NFL teams are so good that the defense can react well to the move.

Quarterback Kneel

Formation of a quarterback kneel

In a quarterback kneel (also called victory formation ), the quarterback kneels directly on the floor with the football in hand and ends the play immediately. The aim is to minimize the risk of a fumble . The kneel usually takes place shortly before the end of the game, when the attacking team is in the front and wants to let the music box run down, because the quarterback Kneel is considered a running play in which the clock does not stop. The offensive line is reinforced on both sides by tight ends, and in the event that the quarterback loses the football on the snap, three running backs stand behind him who either pick up the ball themselves or tackle an opponent who gets the ball immediately can. This form of time wasting used to be frowned upon, but is now accepted.

Passing moves

A typical passing play. Here the left wide receiver runs a post route, the right one a go route. The tight end runs an out route as an option.

Pass routes

The following is a list of the common standard routes for passing moves.


The FLY route is used in particular when the wide receiver has a speed advantage over the defensive player. In this route, the receiver tries to run as fast as possible deep into the field in a straight line to get a pass from the quarterback .

post Office

With this route, the receiver first runs about 10-15 yards straight ahead and then turns inwards ("towards the goal posts ") to catch the ball at full speed. Depending on the play , the starting distance or the angle you turn inward can vary.


This route is intended for plays over long distances. The receiver runs straight ahead for a distance of about 10-15 yards and then turns outwards towards the sideline and end zone.


On this route, the receiver walks straight about 7-10 yards and then turns 90 degrees to walk out toward the sideline. This route can be varied in terms of distance, for example one can speak of a five and out or fifteen and out to make it clear how many yards the receiver should initially run straight ahead.

In / Drag

The in route (or drag route) is similar to the out route, but here the receiver turns 90 degrees inward and then tries to catch the ball.


The receiver runs a step or two forward and then suddenly turns in a diagonal inward direction so that it can catch the ball behind the linebackers but in front of the safeties .

Hook / hitch

The receiver will walk straight a number of yards or steps and then stop to turn towards the quarterback. The aim of this route is to ensure that the defensive player does not react quickly enough and that the receiver can therefore catch the ball.


This route gets its name from the area in which it takes place. During a common move, an area is created that is relatively open, this area is called flat . It is typically located from the hash marks to the sidelines and 3-5 yards past the line of scrimmage (towards the defending team). The route itself can be walked in a number of ways. One of the most common options, the so-called arrow route, is carried out by a receiver that is positioned in the immediate vicinity of the offensive tackle and then runs directly into this area. In the so-called swing route, a running back runs to the sidelines and then in a role as a wide receiver along the pitch.

Option routes

Option routes allow a very flexible way of playing, but require a high level of players. The receiver has specified a primary route, but several options to choose from. At the beginning of the turn he has to assess the defense correctly and choose the best option. For example, the primary route could be a slant , but the receiver recognizes that this is covered and runs an out route instead . For a successful execution of option routes, it is necessary that both receiver and quarterback have the same assessment ( read ) of the defense.

Screen Pass

A screen pass is a complex move in which many things happen at once. It is mainly used against a very aggressive defense . This passing play should give the impression that another pass is being thrown. In truth, however, the pass is just behind the defensive linemen who want to get to the quarterback. This is exactly what is made easier for them, so that the linemen come to the quarterback and free space is created for the short pass. Some players on the offensive line can then serve to block the receiver's way.

The danger of a screen pass is that even a defensive lineman can intercept the ball relatively easily . Since then there is hardly any offensive lineman available, there is a risk that the ball will be carried back very far, possibly up to the touchdown . On the other hand, such a move can also be very effective.

The exact process of a Screen Pass can vary widely. If the pass is made to a running back , one usually only speaks of a screen . With a pass to a wide receiver there are different types such as the bubble screen , middle screen , slot screen or the slip screen .

Play-Action Fake (Play-Action-Pass)

The quarterback takes the snap and fakes the hand-off to the running back . The quarterback then quickly takes the ball and tries to hide it from the eyes of the defensive players. Meanwhile, the running back continues to move and acts as if he were running with the ball, while holding his hands as if he had a ball. In the hustle and bustle of the play, it is almost impossible for the defensive player to tell whether he really has the ball. The offensive line starts with run blocking , but then changes to pass blocking , and the wide receivers start blocking , but then start running their routes.

In the case of a play-action fake (often just called play-action ), which is basically the opposite of a draw play , the quarterback hopes that the defense will think it will be a running play. The hoped-for effect is that the defense's pass rushing is slowed, which gives the quarterback time, and that the defensive backs choose to help block the run rather than cover a receiver. This means that the quarterback has the time to play as free a receiver as possible.

Trick Plays

In a trick play , the offense tries to make the defense believe that it is a different move. Well-known examples are a half back pass (the halfback gets the ball and throws it to a receiver), the razzle dazzle (the running back takes the ball and throws it to a receiver) or the flea flicker (the quarterback passes the ball to a running back who turns around and throws a pitch back to the quarterback so that the quarterback can play a long pass to a receiver).

Quarterback Spike

If the offense is short of time towards the end of a half, it can save time with the quarterback Spike. The quarterback throws the ball on the ground in front of him immediately after the snap. This counts as an incomplete passport that stops the clock.

Defense moves


A pass rush , also known colloquially as pressure , takes place when the defense assumes a pass play. This then storms the opposing team with a combination of usually three or four linemen in order to disrupt the attempt to pass. A possible outcome would be a sack , but the pass rush also makes sense because it puts the quarterback under pressure and forces an early or imprecise throw. Also, the interception of the ball would be a possible outcome of such error by the quarterback.


A stunt is a process designed to confuse players on the offensive line . A defensive lineman runs a sloping route and blocks an offensive lineman who was not directly in front of him. This ensures that the blocked player follows the defensive player while the latter blocks another lineman. This creates a gap that a second defensive player can use to rush .


In the case of lightning , defensive players who do not belong to the defensive line perform a rush ( linebacker or defensive backs ). So lightning is an extension of the effective concept of a rush .


For defense players, there are various basic options for covering opposing players such as wide receivers . This is called a coverage .


With man-to-man coverage , each receiver is covered by a defensive back or a line backer . This coverage is often chosen during a turn that involves lightning , as there are not enough defensive players available to perform zone coverage . If the defensive backs are superior, this coverage is used on other moves as well.


With zone coverage , the defensive players (defensive backs or linebackers) are not responsible for a specific receiver, but for a specific area on the field. This allows them to watch the quarterback while they are covering and even intercept a ball if necessary . This type of coverage often results in interceptions or particularly hard tackles after the receiver has caught the ball.

Web links

Commons : American football plays  - Collection of images, videos and audio files