Football 101 - What are all these numbers and Letters?

This is the first in a series of articles that are on the basics of Football.

Notice that around the offensive linemen there are 3 sets of numbers/letters.


FIRST SET: The Numbers on top of the Offensive linemen are what are called the "Technique" numbers. They describe where the Defensive Linemen "line up."

A "5 technique" Defensive player will "line up" to the "outside sholder" of the Offensive Tackle.

A "3 technique" will "line up" on the outside sholder of the Offensive Guard.

Notice that the Even Numbers line up "Directly" in front of the Olineman, and the "Zero Technique" is strictly talking about being directly in front of the Center.




SECOND SET: The set of "Letters" of "A thru D" are the "gap" designators.  Notice that there are basically "7 gaps" and that the Defensive Lineman and the Linebackers also total "7", so this is the basis of where "Gap Responsibility" comes from. Each of the front seven has a "gap" he is responsible for. Often when a runner makes a long gain and the coach is asked what happened, he will usually respond with something like this..."Well we didn't maintain GAP integrity." Translation: "One of our guys screwed up and he will be punished!" Usually this happens because somebody didn't trust somebody else to do their job or they thought they would help out because the play seemed to be going somewhere other than where his gap was.

THIRD SET: The next group is "Numbers" from 1 thru 8, that are assigned to what are called the "holes", with zero being directly behind the center, even though I did not choose to show it. ( But, why didn't they just stick with the gaps? - Because they are not unique enough, there are a set of them, one on each side of the center.... 2 "A" gaps, 2 "B" gaps, etc.)

These are the numbers that the Offensive Coordinator uses for the play call terminology for the running game along with the numbering of the players in the backfield, with the QB assigned the number "1", the Tail back assigned the number "2" and the Full back assigned the number "3".

Now to be clear, the Defense attacks the "Gaps" while the Offensive Backfield attacks the "holes."

A very typical offensive play numbering system is broken down into the following groups or sections of the actual play call:

1. Formation - "Split Right"  ( Also "Jumbo", "Posse", "Jet",  "Kings", "21", etc )

2. Ball Carrier Number - "The 2 back"  (The Tail Back or Half Back - DeMarco Murray)

3. The Point of Attack - "The 3 Hole"  (The weak/Open side between the Guard and Tackle - Between Free and Holland)

4. The Play Type - "Lead Iso"   (The Fullback will "Lead" the RB into the hole and make an "Isolation" block on the Linebacker.)

So for a typical running play - this play would be called "Split Right - 23 - Lead Iso"' (The 2 back into the 3 hole)

On a typical Pass play using the Letter Designations for all the receivers and TE (the "Y" receiver) might be called:      "Split right, X7, Y3, Z9, rollout."  Sometimes just "Split Right, 739, rollout"  (No need for the ball carrier designation, so just 3 groups and no need for the "XYZ" designators because it is always from Left-to-Right.)

This means that the "X" receiver ("Split End" - also usually the #1 receiver) runs a "7" route, the "Y" receiver (TightEnd) runs a "3" route, and the "Z" receiver (Flanker), runs a "9" route. The receiver tree is usually where the routes breaking to the right are odd numbers, while the routes breaking to the left are the even numbers, with the "9" route being a "go/fly" route, and the smaller the number the more shollow the route and the bigger the number the deeper the route.

Notice that the "X" receiver is lined up on the Line of scrimmage, this is why he is often reffered to as the "Split End", because the "Tight" end is usually lined up "Tight/Close" to the tackle, while the other "End" receiver is lined up "Split out Wide."  Also, one final note about that, if the "Split End" lines up off the line of scrimmage, there will be a flag for "illegal formation" because you must have 7 on the line of scrimmage. Also if one of the Tackles lines up too far off the LOS to get a better blocking angle, that also will get a flag.

In most 3-4 alignments all the Defensive Linemen are usually big space eaters that command double teams from the offensive linemen, which lets the Linebackers stay clean to roam and make plays. Usually one of the inside linebackers is of good weight and the other is usually the faster guy, but often both inside guys can be fast because they are supposed to be protected by the DLinemen.


If you think about it, one reason why Laurent Robinson was able to fit right in to Garrett's system is because Norv Turner uses similar numbering for the play calls to what Garrett uses, while Roy Williams came from Mike Martz numbering system and it was like learning Greek for Roy after spending 4 or so years speaking Spanish.

It also makes you wonder just how different the plays are for Dez and his system in college.

Oh, and someone will surely ask me why the "7" technique seems out of place!

Also, I threw the image together with my trusty "Paint Shop Pro" and rather hastily, so please forgive me if I messed it up somewhere.

Well, I knew I missed something, the label for the "Strong" side Linebacker should have his "nick" name to be consistant with the others.  Should say "Sam" instead of the "Strong" that I hastily wrote.

So it should be "Jack", "Will", "Mike" and "Sam".....


Corrected the problem with the "SAM" and corrected the placement of the "Will" backer.


I can see when I write my articles I am going to have to not rely on my memory so much and actually double check things that I am not 100% positive on and I should make it more clear when I am not so positive. In this case, I had the position of the "Jack" in the more correct position when I first posted it. In the Cowboys version of the 3-4 the "Jack" linebacker should be DeMarcus Ware and not what I later had, so I put the "Jack" back to where I origionally had him.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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