NFL Play-Calling Nomenclature Needs to Be Reined In

Aaron NaglerNFL National Lead WriterApril 12, 2012

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak checks his play sheet during game action between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Texans, Nov. 19, 2006 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/NFLPhotoLibrary)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Really fantastic post from Chris Brown over at Smart Football yesterday regarding NFL offenses and what Chris sees as the inevitable rise of the no-huddle, uptempo offense.

While the whole thing is more than worth your time, I wanted to focus on one part in particular that touches on something that has driven me crazy for years: Control-mad offensive play designers and play-callers' seemingly obsessive need to come up with mind-numbing nomenclature to tell their players what to do on every play.

Take a look at this video below and we'll talk on the flip side:


The sad part? This isn't even one of the really egregious offenders when it comes to absurdly wordy play calls.

Aaron Rodgers calls "East Right Flop, V Right all the way outside, Y Left, Fake 396 Bag, V Hinge, Z Puck."

What does that all mean? Well, calls traditionally start at the beginning, i.e. how guys are supposed to line up and work their way through the sequence of the play, from who goes in motion to what routes receivers are supposed to run.

Here, we start with the formation, which in this case would be East Right Flop (I'm not exactly sure what the "flop" pertains to). Next are most likely motion calls, with "V Right" being told to go "all the way outside" rather than stopping at the end of the formation or at the hash mark. 

Next is "Fake 396 Bag." While I can't be sure, my guess is that the use of the word "fake" means some kind of play-action, either straight up or a bootleg out of a zone-stretch look.

Finally, there are "Hinge" and "Puck"—telling the guys which routes to run.

You hear Rodgers at the end—"Is that long enough for ya?" I feel you Aaron.

Coaches love this stuff. I think it's completely overwrought and archaic.

From Chris' post:

...there is a value to huddling, primarily when you have a great leader at quarterback as a huddle is an opportunity for him to show his leadership skills. But otherwise, it’s inherently inferior to going no-huddle. It’s slower, which is a problem both in games but also in practice where your offense gets fewer reps, and, maybe most importantly, the safety net of a huddle leads coaches to transform plays that can be communicated in just one or two words into multi-syllabic monstrosities. That’s the sad secret of those long NFL playcalls: They convey no more information than can be conveyed with one or two words or with a combination of hand-signals.

I could not agree more. 

Now, not every team has the benefit of having a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers as its quarterback. And even Brady, Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees didn't step directly onto an NFL field from college and seamlessly start directing polished no-huddle attacks. But teams that do find young, bright signal-callers would do well to develop as much no-huddle and uptempo as they can.

Again from Chris:

I’m somewhat more confident about seeing more no-huddle in the NFL both because there was more of it last season, but also because of those young quarterbacks. The “Gruden QB” camps are not the same thing as actual player evaluation, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting subtexts. Last season, everyone jumped on Cam Newton for his performance on Gruden’s show, when he was challenged about how simple his playcalls were at Auburn. The consensus was that because, in Auburn’s no-huddle offense, Cam would simply say "36" instead of one of those long NFL playcalls, he was unfit for the pros. Well those predictions didn’t turn out well.


There's a continual influx of spread passing game concepts migrating from the college ranks into the NFL along with several young quarterback prospects every year who have spent their college careers immersed in the development of those concepts.

The last thing offensive NFL coaches should be doing is forcing their antiquated play calls down the throats of their young quarterbacks. Instead, get them to the line of scrimmage armed with a series of adjustments they can make both in protection and route-running and kick things into gear.

This past NFL season saw three quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards. That's not an aberration. It's the way forward.