What is a Sack in Football? A Complete Guide

What is a Sack in Football

In American football, a sack is a big play for the defense where they tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a pass. This disrupts the offensive play and sets them back several yards. Sacks are a key way to put pressure on the quarterback and force the offense into mistakes.

Here are some additional details about sacks:

  • They result in a loss of yards for the offense, depending on how far back the quarterback is tackled.
  • Sacks can also lead to fumbles, which are turnovers that can give the defense a chance to score.
  • They are a very exciting play for the defense and can deflate the momentum of the offense.

There are some technical aspects to what qualifies as a sack, but generally, it’s about bringing down the quarterback before he throws the ball on a passing play.

Football, one of the most beloved sports worldwide, is filled with terminologies that may confuse the uninitiated. Among these terms, “sack” stands out as a significant defensive play. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into what exactly a sack in football is, its history, techniques, famous sack artists, controversies, and much more. Also, read about What is MP in Soccer

History of Sacks


The term “sack” originated in the early days of American football, likely in the 1960s. It describes the act of tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before they can throw a pass.


Initially, sacks were not an official statistic, and their importance was overlooked. However, as defensive strategies evolved, teams began to recognize the value of disrupting the quarterback’s rhythm.

How Sacks Are Recorded

Official definition

A sack occurs when a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before the quarterback can throw a forward pass.

Stat tracking

In modern football, sacks are officially recorded as part of a player’s defensive statistics. This includes both solo sacks and shared sacks, where multiple defensive players contribute to the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Importance of Sacks in Football

Defensive strategy

Sacks are a crucial component of defensive strategy, as they disrupt the opposing team’s offense and can lead to turnovers.

Impact on momentum

A well-timed sack can shift the momentum of a game, energizing the defense and demoralizing the offense. Discover more about What is PV in soccer

Importance of Sacks in Football
Importance of Sacks in Football

Techniques for Sacking the Quarterback

Bull rush

This technique involves overpowering the offensive lineman and driving them backward into the quarterback.

Swim move

The swim move requires the defensive player to use their arm to “swim” over the blocker and reach the quarterback.

Spin move

A spin move entails the defender quickly rotating their body to evade the blocker and reach the quarterback.

Strip sack

In a strip sack, the defender not only tackles the quarterback but also attempts to dislodge the ball for a potential turnover.

Famous Sack Artists

Reggie White

Reggie White, also known as the “Minister of Defense,” was renowned for his ability to sack the quarterback consistently.

Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor revolutionized the linebacker position and terrorized quarterbacks with his speed and ferocity.

J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt’s combination of size, strength, and athleticism has made him one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.

Strategies to Prevent Sacks

Offensive line protection

Teams employ various techniques, such as double-teaming elite pass rushers, to protect their quarterback.

Quick release

Quarterbacks with a quick release can minimize the risk of being sacked by getting rid of the ball faster.


Coaches can design plays that prioritize short, quick passes to mitigate the risk of sacks.

Sacks in Different Football Leagues


Sacks are a prominent statistic in the NFL, with top pass rushers often becoming household names.

College football

College football also tracks sacks, and elite pass rushers are highly valued by collegiate teams.

International leagues

Leagues outside the United States, such as the CFL and various European leagues, also recognize sacks as a key defensive stat.

Sacks in Different Football Leagues
Sacks in Different Football Leagues

Controversies Surrounding Sacks

Player safety concerns

Sacking the quarterback involves significant physical contact and has raised concerns about player safety, particularly regarding head injuries.

Impact on game outcome

Some argue that the emphasis on sacks disproportionately influences game outcomes and should be reevaluated.

Most Memorable Sacks in Football History

The “Helmet Catch” sack

During Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants’ defense sacked Tom Brady in a pivotal moment, leading to the iconic “Helmet Catch” play.

Super Bowl sacks

Numerous Super Bowl games have been decided by critical sacks, showcasing their importance on the game’s biggest stage.

The Future of Sacks in Football

Defensive innovations

Defensive coordinators continue to develop new schemes and techniques to generate sacks and pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Rule changes

The NFL periodically reviews its rules to balance player safety with maintaining the excitement of the game, which could impact how sacks are executed and recorded in the future.


Sacks play a vital role in football, serving as a cornerstone of defensive strategy and a source of excitement for fans. Understanding the history, techniques, and impact of sacks enhances appreciation for this fundamental aspect of the game.


What is the record for most sacks in a single NFL season?

The record for most sacks in a single NFL season is held by Michael Strahan, a former defensive end for the New York Giants. He recorded an impressive 22.5 sacks during the 2001 NFL season, breaking the previous record of 22 sacks set by Mark Gastineau in 1984.

Do sacks count as negative yardage for the offense?

Yes, sacks do count as negative yardage for the offense. When a quarterback is sacked, it means they are tackled behind the line of scrimmage before they can make a forward pass. As a result, the offense loses yardage on the play, and it contributes to their total net yards for the game.

Can any defensive player record a sack?

Yes, any defensive player on the field can record a sack as long as they are the one who tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before a pass attempt. Sacks are not limited to any specific position; linebackers, defensive linemen, and even defensive backs can all record sacks depending on the defensive scheme and play call.

Are there any rules regarding how a sack must be executed?

The primary rule regarding a sack is that the quarterback must be tackled behind the line of scrimmage before they attempt a forward pass. As long as this condition is met, the sack is considered valid. However, there are rules against excessive force or targeting that could result in penalties. Defensive players must execute the sack within the rules of fair play.

Do quarterbacks ever intentionally take a sack?

Yes, quarterbacks sometimes intentionally take a sack, especially in situations where they are under heavy pressure from the defense and cannot find an open receiver. Instead of risking a turnover by forcing a pass into coverage, quarterbacks may choose to take the sack, minimizing the potential damage to their team’s field position and possession of the ball.

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