Franchise Tag

What is the franchise tag?  Each NFL team can use a franchise tag on its best player between February 15th and March 1st every year.

Don’t have a clue what that means?  Here are your franchise tag basics:  Each team can "tag" 1 player with an expiring contract--that means they force him to stay for 1 additional year. He’s paid the greater of 120% of his previous salary or the average of the top 5 salaries for his position. 

Why don't players want to stay?  Players don’t like getting tagged because it keeps them from raking in all the $$$ they would get in free agency.  Plus, they prefer the security of long-term deals.  Fortunately, the tag only goes into effect after July 15, so there is still a chance that these players can get their teams to commit to longer-term contracts in the meantime.  

What happens when the quarterback attempts a pass?

In an ideal pass, the quarterback will throw the ball down the field and a wide receiver or tight end will catch it for a gain. The end!

Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Sometimes, things go awry... Here are some of the other situations that might happen when the QB attempts a pass.

This is an incomplete pass, because he drops the ball and goes out of bounds before he gets control of the football.

This is an incomplete pass, because he drops the ball and goes out of bounds before he gets control of the football.

What is an incomplete pass?  When the quarterback attempts to throw the ball but it hits the ground, goes out of bounds, or a player misses the catch, that's called an incomplete pass. Once a pass is ruled incomplete, then the game clock stops and the next down starts at the same place as the last possession. Basically, an incomplete pass burns a down.

This is intentional grounding, because the quarterback throws the ball out of bounds and there is no one on his team to which he could possibly be passing.

This is intentional grounding, because the quarterback throws the ball out of bounds and there is no one on his team to which he could possibly be passing.

What is intentional grounding?  Sometimes when the QB throws the ball and no one catches it, the refs will call the penalty of "intentional grounding."  Intentional grounding looks similar to an incomplete pass, but when the QB throws the football there are no receivers anywhere in the general vicinity. Most of the time, a QB will do this when he’s about to get sacked. Instead of going down and taking negative yards on the play, he’ll desperately try to throw to someone on his team, into the dirt, or out of bounds. If this penalty didn’t exist, the missed throw would just be an “incomplete pass,” and the next down would start at the same place. But with the penalty, the offense loses a down and has to start its next possession 10 yards back.  

The QB is throwing the ball away because he scrambles to the right before tossing the ball out of bounds.

The QB is throwing the ball away because he scrambles to the right before tossing the ball out of bounds.

What can the QB do if he can't intentionally ground the ball?  If a QB is facing a lot of pressure from the defense, then he has a couple of options to avoid getting sacked: (1) he can either slide onto the ground and the next down will start where he landed; or (2) he can throw the ball away. What is throwing the ball away?  Throwing the ball away looks a lot like an incomplete pass or intentional grounding because the QB is throwing the ball out of bounds, which can make it a little confusing. The big difference is that QB must run outside the pocket, aka to the left or right along the line of scrimmage, beyond the area where his offensive line defends him. Then he can throw the ball out of bounds, as long as he throws it beyond the line of scrimmage. Just like in an incomplete pass, the game clock stops and the next down starts at the same place as the last possession.

This is a fumble, because the ball got knocked out of the QB's hands while his arm was still moving backwards. Afterwards, everyone on both teams dive to try and get control of the ball.

This is a fumble, because the ball got knocked out of the QB's hands while his arm was still moving backwards. Afterwards, everyone on both teams dive to try and get control of the ball.

What is a fumble?  A fumble happens when any player, who has possession of the football, drops it or gets it knocked out of his hands. Then the ball is considered "live" meaning it is still in play. Both sides will dive for the ball and try and get possession of it. That's why you see those big pile ups of players scratching and clawing until the refs pull them away to see who came away with the football. If the other team gains possession that's called a turnover.

Usually a fumble will happen to a running back, receiver or tight end, but sometimes it can happen to a quarterback. If the QB is in the process of throwing the ball, but it gets knocked out of his hands as he's making a forward motion, that's considered an incomplete pass. But if the ball gets knocked out while the QB's arm is still moving in its backswing, then it's a fumble.

What is an interception?  If the QB throws the ball but a player from the defense catches it before it hits the ground that's called an interception.

Red Zone

What is the red zone?  When you hear people talking about the "red zone," that's usually a good time to start paying attention. The red zone is the area between the 20-yard line and the goal, so when a team makes it into the red zone it is really close to scoring.  

When a team has a high "red zone percentage" that means they are good at scoring touchdowns once they get to the red end zone.


Delay of Game

What is a delay of game penalty?  Every team on offense has a certain amount of time in between plays. If the team doesn't snap the ball before time runs out, it will be penalized 5 yards. 

How long do they have to snap the ball?  Usually, the clock runs continuously, so the time in between plays is 40 seconds from the end of the previous down. But in certain circumstances the clock will stop, like when there is a change of possession, penalty, time-out, or 2-minute warning. When the referees whistle the ball ready for play the clock will restart and the team on offense will have 25 seconds to snap the ball.



What is a touchback?  If the ball is kicked into the end zone during a kickoff or punt, you might see the kick/punt returner take a knee to signal for a touchback. Taking a knee is exactly what it sounds like, the player who catches the ball gets down into proposal position in the end zone. Once a touchback is called, no one can tackle the kick/punt returner and the offense will start its first down at its 25-yard line.

Why did they start this rule?  The kick/punt return is one of the most dangerous parts of the game. Defenders are running towards the kick/punt returner at full speed from far away, which can lead to serious injuries.  The idea is to make touchbacks more attractive to reduce these dangerous tackles. With the 25-yard incentive more kick/punt returners will make a calculated decision to take a knee instead of running out of the end zone to risk advancing fewer than 25 yards.

In the NFL, the trend has been to move the touchback line closer to the opposing end zone.  For example, during the 2016 season, the NFL is temporarily moving the touchback to the 25-yard line from the 20-yard line to test it out whether this reduces injuries.  

Critics say that the rule change won't make a big difference because kickers and punters will just get better at targeting their kicks. They will try to aim their kicks so that the footballs drop between the end zone and 25-yard line.  That way the kick/punt returner won't have the option of signaling for a touchback, because you can only take a knee if the ball is caught in the end zone.

Flea Flicker

What's a flea flicker?  A flea flicker is a trick play that takes advantage of football's forwards and backwards passing rules. In it, the quarterback will hand the ball to a running back, who will run forward just like he usually does. The defenders will follow the ball and try to tackle him. Before the defenders close in, the running back will stop and throw the ball backwards to the now open quarterback.  From there, the quarterback can make a forwards pass an open wide receiver or tight end as long as he is behind the line of scrimmage.

Check out this example:

Fair Catch

What is a fair catch?  A fair catch is a signal that the player catching the ball from a kickoff or punt uses to tell the other team and referees that the offense is choosing not to run the ball. He waves his arm over his head like in the image below. Once he's signaled for a fair catch, no defender is allowed to tackle him and the offense will start playing where the ball landed.  If a defender accidentally tackles him after he's signaled for a fair catch, it is a big 15-yard penalty, meaning the offense gets to start 15-yards closer to the goal line.

Why signal for a fair catch?  The kicker or punter is trying to kick the ball as far as possible down the field. He wants the ball to hang in the air as long as possible so his other teammates can run down the field and start defending against a big kick/punt return. While the kick/punt returner is waiting for the ball to drop, he gets a chance to scope out where the defenders are. If they are all closing in and there doesn't seem like a great opportunity for a run, he'll signal for a fair catch. That way he avoids getting tackled. Some of the biggest injuries can happen on kick returns because the defenders have been running at full speed from many yards away. They build up momentum and a big collision/tackle can have dangerous results.

Forward Pass

What is a forward pass?  A forward pass happens whenever the offense throws the football towards their opponent's endzone.  The player throwing the ball must be behind the line of scrimmage and he must be throwing towards an "eligible receiver" (basically, a fancy way of saying any player who is not an offensive lineman; eligible receivers also include all players on defense).  If the ball is tapped or touched by an eligible receiver, then the ball is live and can be touched by any player.

What's the difference between forward passes and backwards passes?  There can only be one forward pass per play, whereas there can be unlimited numbers of backwards or lateral passes. Sometimes, you will see an "illegal forward pass" called when the offense is trying to throw the ball laterally across the field, but accidentally throws it forward for a second time, like in the play below. If this happens, there is a 5-yard penalty.  The down is reset, and replayed again.

Face Mask Penalty

What's a face mask penalty?  A face mask penalty is exactly what it sounds like. It happens when a player grabs and twists or pulls down on another player's face mask, while making a tackle like in the image below.  It results in a pretty severe 15-yard penalty, because it is so dangerous.

Before 2008, the NFL used to give out another type of less severe 5-yard penalty, if a player accidentally grabbed and released another player's face mask. Now, incidental grabbing of the face mask is not penalized, because the NFL wants to encourage players to quickly release in the event of an accidental face mask grab.

face mask


What is coverage?  Coverage is the defense's basic scheme or formation to try and defend against a pass.  There are two basic types of coverage with some variations:

What is man-to-man coverage?

Man-to-man coverage means that each defensive back or linebacker is assigned to guard one offensive player.  This type of coverage is best for very quick defensive players, especially fast and athletic cornerbacks that can keep up with wide receivers. 



What is zone coverage?

Zone coverage means that each defensive player has been assigned to defend a particular area of the field instead of a particular player. In this coverage, the defenders have a head start, so they don't need to be quite so fast to keep toe-to-toe with wide receivers on their routes. Instead, they will keep their eyes on the quarterback and see if they can anticipate and stop passes from materializing.

Bubble Screen

What's a bubble screen? A bubble screen is a quick play, where a wide receiver lines up to the far right or left along the line of scrimmage.  Once the ball is snapped, the defense moves in to rush the quarterback, but the quarterback quickly passes to the wide receiver. Hopefully, he will be left with an open path to advance up the field, like in the image below.

What is a bubble screen?


What is a blitz?  In the simplest terms, a blitz is a play where the defense sends an extra player or players to rush the quarterback. 

What do you mean by extra?  This is when things can get a little bit complicated. In every standard defensive formation, there are players that are trying to rush the quarterback in every play.  A "blitz" occurs when the play sends extra players to rush the quarterback.  For example, in the 3-4 defensive formation below, there are 3 linemen and 4 linebackers. In this formation, all the defensive linemen and at least 1 linebacker are always trying to get to the quarterback, so a "blitz" only occurs when 5 players (i.e., an extra linebacker) rushes the quarterback.

What's a zone blitz?  A zone blitz occurs when a defense tries to trick the offense by switching up the roles of some of the defensive linemen.  Instead of rushing the quarterback every time, one of the defensive lineman might fall back to defend against passes. This might confuse the offensive lineman who is supposed to be blocking him and allow one or more linebackers through to rush the quarterback.

What is a blitz

Backwards Pass / Lateral

What is a backwards pass?  Backwards passes are not thrown forward--they are thrown backwards (hence, the name) or laterally. Unlike forward passes, there are no limits to the number of backwards passes in a play, so you can throw the ball backwards or laterally from player to player anywhere on the field.  For an example, check out the video below of a crazy 8-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown that allowed Miami to beat Duke back in 2015.

The major risk of throwing a backwards pass is that if the ball touches the ground it is still "live" and is considered a fumble, so any player can recover the ball.

Can you mix backwards passes with a forward pass in a play?  Yes, but the rules for forward passes still apply. That means you are still only allowed 1 forward pass per play, and the player throwing the forward pass must be behind the team's line of scrimmage.


What is an audible?  Usually, the quarterback will call an offensive play in the huddle.  But when he gets to the line of scrimmage, he might decide to change the play because of the way the defense is lined up--this is called an audible. 

For example, if the defense has a bunch of players lined up "in the box" (the space directly opposite the offensive linemen), this means that they are planning to defend against a running play.  Then the quarterback might want to call an audible for a pass play because there will be fewer defenders on the field focused on protecting against throws.

Former QB Peyton Manning was really well known for calling brilliant audibles. He had amazing recall of defensive formations that he had seen from watching tape for years.  If he recognized the defensive play at the line of scrimmage, he might yell to his teammates to change the play, i.e., an audible.  His adjustments would take advantage of the weaknesses in the defense's play call.

Play calls in football can have pretty amusing names. Check out this example, where Manning called an audible for a play nicknamed: "Bags Montana Fat Man."

Pro Bowl

What is the Pro Bowl, again?  The Pro Bowl is the NFL’s all star game, where players are voted in by the players themselves, the coaches, and football fans—each getting 1/3 of the vote.  Past Football Hall of Famers serve as the coaches of the teams and they pick the teams, high-school-gym style a few days before the match up. 

OK, it’s the best players in the league, shouldn’t I have heard of this before?  Meh, not necessarily.  The NFL Pro Bowl is actually has way less viewership than a regular NFL game.  This is because the game takes place right after the playoffs and right before the Super Bowl.  This means that players that are going to play in the Super Bowl will opt out, and replacements are picked.  The players that actually end up going take it super easy on each other, because no one wants to get injured in a meaningless game.  The NFL also tries to make it safer for the players by making all sorts of different rules for the game that make it more boring to watch—like “no blitzes” and “yes, intentional grounding.” 

All in all, it’s kind of a snooze, but a big honor to be voted in for the players.

Chip Kelly

Who is Chip Kelly? Chip Kelly is the new coach for the San Francisco 49ers, but before that he was released from the Philadelphia Eagles, after three years with the team.

Aww, how come?  Kelly was hired three years ago, after successfully coaching college football at Oregon for four years.  He initially made some big strides with the Eagles, getting them to play hurry-up offense (quick offensive plays without huddles in between, to catch the defense off-guard), much like he did at Oregon.  But this season, he asked Owner Jeffrey Lurie for more control with personnel decisions, and things started taking a turn for the worse.  Kelly made a series of bad trades, and brought the Eagles to a 6-9 record in 2016 with no hope of making the playoffs.  On top of that, Kelly was accused of trading away all the team’s talented black players.

College Football Playoffs

What are the College Football Playoffs?  The College Football Playoffs were started in 2014. The top four teams in the country are selected and ranked by a 13-member committee.  They face off in two semi-final games: one where the #1 seed will play the #4 team and a second where the #2 team will play the #3 team.  The winner of each game will face off in the College Football Championship Game to crown the national champ!

What did they do before the playoffs?  A National Football Champion has been awarded since 1869, but there have been many different systems for selecting the champ. Before the current Playoffs, the Bowl Championship Series (“BCS”) was the system from 1998-2013.  Under the BCS, teams were ranked based on a combination of polling by coaches and a computer algorithm.  Then 10 teams were selected to play in 5 bowl games.  There was a lot of criticism of this system, because these weren’t necessarily the top 10 teams.  Instead, there were complex rules requiring one team from each of the six biggest conferences, which often left out teams with undefeated records.

Trivia Queen: Who has won the most championships?  Princeton with 28 … but all of them were before 1950.

Calvin Johnson

Who is Calvin Johnson?  In 2016, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson retired at the age of 30, after 9 seasons in the NFL.  Besides a sweet nickname, Johnson has been with the Lions since he was drafted.  He has the record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,964 in 2012 and was one of the most dominant wide receivers in the game.  While this past season wasn’t his best, he’s definitely still in his prime.

Then why is he retiring?  Some will blame the Lions for being terrible and not giving him enough of a showcase for his skills, but more likely it’s a bunch of nagging ankle, knee, and finger injuries

Or maybe it’s something in the Detroit water?  You’ll hear folks compare Johnson to another Lions legend running back Barry Sanders, who also retired in his prime in the late 1990s.