nfl play call examples

The National Football League (NFL) is known for its complex and strategic gameplay. One of the key elements that contribute to the excitement and competitiveness of the sport is the play calling.

NFL play calls are a combination of jargon, codes, and signals used by coaches and quarterbacks to communicate the desired play to the rest of the team.

Here we’ll look at various NFL play call examples, decipher the jargon, and provide insights into the strategies behind them.

The Importance of Play Calling in the NFL

Play calling is a critical aspect of NFL games as it determines the offensive strategy and helps teams gain an advantage over their opponents.

Effective play calling can exploit weaknesses in the opposing team’s defense, create mismatches, and lead to successful plays.

On the other hand, poor play calling can result in turnovers, failed drives, and ultimately, lost games.

1. The Role of the Quarterback

The quarterback is often referred to as the “field general” due to their responsibility for executing play calls on the field.

They receive the play call from the coach through a headset in their helmet or by hand signals from the sideline.

The quarterback then relays the play call to the rest of the offense, adjusting it if necessary based on the defensive alignment.

2. The Role of the Coach

The coach, usually the head coach or offensive coordinator, is responsible for designing and calling the plays.

They analyze the opponent’s defense, study game film, and develop a game plan to exploit weaknesses.

The coach communicates the play call to the quarterback, who then relays it to the team.

Play Call Examples

Here’s a list of some NFL or college play calls, along with an interpretation of each:

Red Right 22 Texas

This is a classic West Coast Offense play call. “Red Right” suggests the formation, where “Red” might refer to a specific package of players, and “Right” could mean the strong side of the formation (the side with the tight end) is to the right.

“22” might refer to a specific blocking scheme or a player motion before the snap.

“Texas” is the name of the route combination for the receivers; Texas typically means the running back is running an option route (a route where the player can choose to go in multiple directions based on the defense).

Split Right Scat Right 639 F Angle

“Split Right” may indicate that the formation includes a split end receiver lined up to the right.

“Scat Right” suggests a protection scheme where the offensive line and potentially a running back or tight end are responsible for blocking specific defenders, and “Right” indicates that this protection is tilted towards the right.

“639” are the routes for the wide receivers, each digit representing a different route based on the playbook’s numbering system.

For example, in some systems, 6 could be a dig (in-route), 3 might be a comeback, and 9 a go route.

“F Angle” suggests the F receiver (often the fullback or a slot receiver) is running an angle route, where they start one direction and then cut sharply in a different direction.

I-Form 34 Blast

“I-Form” stands for I-formation, a common formation where the quarterback is under center with a fullback and a halfback lined up directly behind him.

“34” might signify the running back is expected to run the ball through the 3-gap (the space between the guard and the tackle) on the “4” side (right side if we use even numbers for right, odd for left).

“Blast” is a power running play, meaning the offense is looking to overpower the defensive line at the point of attack.

Trips Left 383 Y Stick

“Trips Left” indicates that there are three receivers lined up on the left side of the formation.

“383” could be the route combination for the outside receivers, based on a certain numbering system.

“Y Stick” implies the Y receiver (usually the primary tight end) is running a stick route, a short route where they run upfield and then make a quick cut either inside, outside, or sit in a spot depending on the defense’s reaction.

Gun Bunch Weak 324 Z Post

“Gun” implies the quarterback is in the shotgun formation.

“Bunch” is a formation where three receivers are grouped closely together, and “Weak” implies this group is on the side away from the tight end.

“324” might represent a set of routes run by the receivers in the bunch, each digit a different route.

“Z Post” means the Z receiver (often the flanker or an outside receiver) is running a post route, where they run straight downfield before angling towards the center of the field.

Singleback Ace 42 Dive

“Singleback” refers to a formation where there is only one running back lined up behind the quarterback, who is under center.

“Ace” often refers to a formation where there are two tight ends. “42” might represent that the ball is going to be handed off to the running back to rush through the 2-gap (between the guard and tackle) on the “4” side (right side).

“Dive” refers to a straightforward running play that hits quickly.

Double Wing 35 Toss Crack

“Double Wing” is a formation that looks like a T in the backfield, with two wingbacks and a halfback behind the quarterback.

“35” could suggest that the running back is taking a toss to the 5-gap (between the tackle and the tight end) on the “3” side (left side).

“Toss Crack” is a running play where the ball is pitched to a running back moving laterally, while a receiver or wingback comes in to block (“crack”) a larger interior defender.

Pro Set 927 F Flat

“Pro Set” refers to a balanced formation with the quarterback under center, two running backs in the backfield, and two wide receivers.

“927” could represent the route combination of the wide receivers, where 9 might represent a go route, 2 an in or slant route, and 7 a corner route.

“F Flat” might mean that the F receiver (usually the fullback in this case) is running a flat route, a short route towards the sidelines.

Shotgun Empty Trips Right 868 X Fade

“Shotgun” refers to the quarterback lining up several yards behind the center.

“Empty” means there are no running backs in the backfield, all five eligible receivers are split out wide.

“Trips Right” means there are three receivers grouped on the right side. “868” might be the routes for these receivers.

“X Fade” means the X receiver (usually the split end) is running a fade route, typically a deep route where the receiver runs diagonally towards the sideline to catch the ball over their outside shoulder.

Wildcat Power Left 28 Sweep

“Wildcat” refers to a formation where a non-quarterback (often a running back) takes the snap.

“Power Left” suggests a power running play (where linemen and/or backs pull to lead the way) to the left side.

“28 Sweep” might indicate that the player taking the snap is expected to run a sweep (running laterally with lead blockers) to the 8-gap (outside the tight end) on the “2” side (left side).

Typical Structure of Play Call

The structure of a play call in football can vary greatly from team to team and level to level, but there are several common elements that often appear in most systems.

Here’s a general overview:

  1. Formation: The formation is typically the first part of the play call and describes how the offense will line up. It dictates the positions and alignment of the players on the field. Common formation names include “I-Formation,” “Singleback,” “Pro Set,” “Shotgun,” “Wildcat,” etc. Variations can also be included, such as “Trips” (three receivers on one side) or “Ace” (two tight ends).
  2. Motion/Shift: The next part of the play call often involves any pre-snap motion or shifts. This could involve a player moving from one side of the formation to the other, or multiple players changing their positions. The purpose of motion can be to gain a favorable matchup, confuse the defense, or give the quarterback more information about the defensive scheme.
  3. Protection: In a passing play, this refers to the blocking scheme that the offensive line and possibly other players (like running backs or tight ends) will use to protect the quarterback from the rush of the defensive players. For example, a “Slide Left” protection would have the offensive line sliding to their left at the snap to pick up defenders.
  4. Play Design: This could be a run or pass play. In a running play, it often refers to the specific hole or gap the running back is supposed to aim for. In a pass play, it might involve a naming or numbering system for the route combination that receivers should run.
  5. Routes: In a passing play, specific routes for individual receivers might be included in the call. These routes refer to the path the receiver will run after the snap. Common examples include slant, curl, out, in, post, corner, go (or fly), hitch, and many others.
  6. Snap Count: While not always considered part of the play call, the snap count is crucial information given in the huddle. It dictates the rhythm of the play’s start. The quarterback will use a cadence to signal when the ball should be snapped, often with “hut” or “go” as trigger words.

So a very basic play call might be something like “I-Form, Pro Right, 34 Power on two,” where “I-Form” is the formation, “Pro Right” means the tight end lines up on the right side, “34 Power” indicates a power run through the 4-hole (typically between the right guard and right tackle), and “on two” is the snap count.

NFL Play Call: How Hard Can It Be?

Is the Quarterback the Only One That Needs to Know What All the Verbiage Means?

While the quarterback needs to understand all parts of the play call as they are often responsible for conveying it to the team, every player on the field needs to understand the portion of the play call relevant to their position and responsibilities.

Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Quarterback: The quarterback needs to understand the entire play call. They need to know the formation, the protection scheme, any motion or shifts, the route combinations or running lanes, and the snap count. They also need to understand any potential audibles or changes they might make at the line of scrimmage.
  2. Offensive Line: The linemen need to understand the formation and, most importantly, the protection scheme or the type of run play called. They need to know who to block and how to coordinate with each other.
  3. Running Backs: Running backs need to understand the formation, any motion they need to do, the protection scheme (especially if they have blocking responsibilities), and the specific path they’re supposed to take on a run or the route they’re supposed to run on a pass.
  4. Receivers/Tight Ends: These players need to understand the formation, any motion they need to do, the protection scheme (especially if they have blocking responsibilities), and the specific route they’re supposed to run on a pass play.
  5. Everyone: All players need to know the snap count.

So while the quarterback needs to have a comprehensive understanding of all the moving parts, each player on the offense has a portion of the playbook they need to understand in detail.

Also, everyone must have a working knowledge of all components to function as a unit, react to what their teammates are doing, and adjust to what the defense is doing.

Common NFL Play Type Examples

Let’s dive into some common NFL play call examples and understand the jargon associated with them:

1. “Cover 2”

“Cover 2” is a defensive play call where two safeties split the deep part of the field into halves.

This coverage is designed to defend against deep passes and prevent big plays.

The two safeties are responsible for covering their respective halves, while the cornerbacks cover the short and intermediate routes.

2. “Play-Action Pass”

A play-action pass is an offensive play call that involves faking a handoff to the running back before the quarterback throws a pass.

This play is designed to deceive the defense, making them believe it’s a running play.

The goal is to create confusion among the defenders and open up passing lanes for the quarterback.

3. “Blitz”

A blitz is a defensive play call where additional players rush the quarterback to disrupt the passing play.

It involves sending more defenders than usual, often sacrificing pass coverage in exchange for increased pressure on the quarterback.

The objective is to force the quarterback into making quick decisions and potentially create turnovers.

4. “Hail Mary”

The “Hail Mary” is an offensive play call typically used in desperate situations, such as the final seconds of a game when a team needs a touchdown to win.

It involves the quarterback throwing a deep pass into the end zone, hoping for a miraculous catch by one of their receivers.

The play relies heavily on luck and is often seen as a last-ditch effort.

5. “Zone Read”

The zone read is an offensive play call commonly used in option offenses.

It involves the quarterback reading the defensive end or outside linebacker to determine whether to hand the ball off to the running back or keep it and run themselves.

This play call puts pressure on the defense to make quick decisions and can exploit gaps in their coverage.

Case Study: The “Philly Special”

The “Philly Special” is a famous play call that was executed by the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.

This play call exemplifies the creativity and risk-taking involved in NFL play calling.

1. The Play

In the “Philly Special,” the Eagles lined up in a unique formation with the quarterback, Nick Foles, lined up as a receiver.

The ball was snapped to the running back, who then handed it off to a wide receiver coming in motion.

The wide receiver then threw a pass to Foles, who had released from his receiver position and was wide open in the end zone.

2. The Impact

The “Philly Special” was a pivotal play in the game, as it resulted in a touchdown for the Eagles.

It showcased the team’s willingness to take risks and caught the New England Patriots’ defense off guard. The play call became an instant classic and is often referenced as an example of innovative play calling in the NFL.

FAQs – NFL Play Call Examples (NFL Jargon)

1. What is a “hot route” in NFL play calling?

A “hot route” is an adjustment made by a receiver or quarterback based on the defensive alignment.

It involves changing the original route to a shorter, quicker option to counteract an impending blitz or pressure from the defense.

2. What does “audible” mean in NFL play calling?

An “audible” is a play call adjustment made by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage.

It involves changing the original play call based on the defensive alignment or recognizing a potential weakness in the defense.

The quarterback communicates the audible to the rest of the offense to execute the new play.

3. What is a “screen pass” in NFL play calling?

A “screen pass” is an offensive play call where the quarterback throws a short pass to a running back or wide receiver positioned behind the offensive line.

The offensive linemen then block for the receiver, creating a wall of blockers to shield them from defenders.

The goal is to gain yards by allowing the receiver to navigate through the defense.

4. What is a “prevent defense” in NFL play calling?

A “prevent defense” is a defensive play call used to protect against deep passes and prevent a quick score by the offense.

It involves dropping multiple defenders into coverage and playing more conservatively to prevent big plays.

The objective is to force the offense to use up time and make shorter, less impactful gains.

5. What does “man coverage” mean in NFL play calling?

“Man coverage” is a defensive play call where each defensive player is assigned to cover a specific offensive player.

The defenders follow their assigned players closely, aiming to prevent them from getting open and making receptions.

Man coverage is often used to disrupt timing-based passing plays.

6. What is a “draw play” in NFL play calling?

A “draw play” is an offensive play call where the quarterback hands the ball off to the running back, who delays their run for a brief moment before accelerating.

This play is designed to deceive the defense, making them believe it’s a passing play.

The goal is to catch the defense off guard and create running lanes for the back.

7. What does “zone coverage” mean in NFL play calling?

“Zone coverage” is a defensive play call where defenders are responsible for covering specific zones on the field rather than individual offensive players.

The defenders drop into their assigned zones and react to the offensive players entering their area.

Zone coverage is effective against passing plays, as it allows defenders to read the quarterback’s eyes and make plays on the ball.

8. What is a “flea flicker” in NFL play calling?

A “flea flicker” is a trick play in which the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, who then tosses it back to the quarterback.

The quarterback then throws a deep pass downfield, taking advantage of the defense’s anticipation of a running play.

The flea flicker aims to catch the defense off guard and create a big play.

9. What does “play clock” mean in NFL play calling?

The “play clock” is a timer used in NFL games to ensure that teams snap the ball within a specified time frame.

After the previous play ends, the play clock starts counting down from 40 seconds.

The offense must snap the ball before the play clock reaches zero to avoid a penalty for delay of game.

10. What is a “two-minute drill” in NFL play calling?

A “two-minute drill” is an offensive play calling strategy used when there are two minutes or less remaining in a half or game.

The objective is to quickly move the ball down the field and score points before time runs out.

The play calls often prioritize quick passes, sideline routes, and out-of-bounds plays to stop the clock.


NFL play calling is a complex and strategic aspect of the game that involves jargon, codes, and signals.

Effective play calling can give teams a competitive edge, while poor play calling can lead to unfavorable outcomes.

Understanding the various play call examples and their associated jargon provides valuable insights into the strategies employed by coaches and quarterbacks.

By deciphering the jargon and analyzing case studies, we can appreciate the creativity, risk-taking, and innovation involved in NFL play calling.

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