What “Kill Kill” Means In Football (Quarterback Cadence)

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: December 29, 2023

The term “Kill Kill’, is often said by quarterbacks when they’re calling out their cadence. There’s a reason why quarterbacks yell “kill kill.”

Quarterbacks yell “kill kill” before the play to signal to the rest of the offense that the first play they called is inactive and that the second play is active.

This article will show you the different ways teams use the “kill kill” call.

Why Do Quarterbacks Yell “Kill Kill” Before The Play

In the NFL, things can get complicated for the average fan. Unlike your typical high school or Pop Warner game, NFL play calls are a bit more complex.

The complexity has made its way into play-calling. Offensive coordinators will now call 2 plays in the huddle. The quarterback will then get to the line of scrimmage and determine which play should be run. A few variables go into switching the play. These variables are:

  • Defensive Front
  • Linebacker Alignment
  • Coverage
  • Blitzing Threat
  • Mismatch

The term “Kill Kill” refers to the quarterback checking into the second play. They will yell the word kill to tell the entire offense that the first play is no longer live and that he’s switching it to the second play. The quarterback needs to physically and verbally signal to his teammates that he’s changing the play or defensive players may be left unblocked.

Play Calls That Use Kill Kill

Black Right 50 Zebra Cobra Kill Yellow Left 59 Lion King

In our play call above, we call the first play, using the word “kill” as a breakpoint, then call the second play. The quarterback will get into a huddle and call both of these plays. Every player must adjust on the fly based on what play is being run.

This is why there’s no such thing as a “dumb football player.”

Players must be able to not only memorize the first play as well as their assignment, but they must also be able to memorize the second play as well as their assignment at a moment’s notice.

Players will often kill the play in the NFL with 10-12 seconds left on the play clock.

That is why the quarterback will yell kill, but he’ll also signal it by waving his hand back and forth around his neck. Time is of the essence when the quarterback decides to kill the play.

Variations Of “Kill Kill”

Rams Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay is known for using “can” instead of “kill.” They have the same meaning, but the play call will be a bit different. Using the example above:

Black Right 50 Zebra Cobra Can Yellow Left 59 Lion King

They can substitute the “kill” call within the play call. This is for teams who don’t want to use the “kill.” They say “can.” Here is an example:

In the above clip, Sean McVay simply “cans” the play to switch to another play. Let’s break down the play call above…

  • Trip Right Tight (Formation)
  • YUC (Motion)
  • Pass 14 Wanda Man X Strike (Play Action Pass Concept
  • Can (Yelling “Kill” at the LOS will change the play)
  • 14 Wanda Man (Run Play)

This does for play callers (Offensive Coordinators) because it allows the quarterback to put their offense in the best position possible to run an explosive play.

It doesn’t matter what word you use; it just has to be a word that the offense can identify as a break in the play call. When teams use “kill” or “can,” they know from that point on in the play call that there will be a different play called after it.

Installing Kill Calls Into Your Offense

This concept is extremely tough to do. If you’re looking to install it into your offense, I will start by making kill calls, with the second call being the same formation, just a different play than what was called in the huddle.

For instance, if your formation is “West Right Tight,” make the second kill call a West Right Tight play as well, don’t flip the formation.

This would be beneficial for players to start to grasp the system, as adding new formations could be difficult initially.

Also, be sure to factor in the play clock when installing the kill. If your quarterback takes anywhere from 5-10 seconds to read a defense, he may not get the kill call out in time.

Kill calls need to be made immediately once the defense sets for it to be effective.

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Teams use “kill kill” to move on to the second play that’s called. This helps offenses be more flexible to call two plays in the huddle, and the quarterback can put the team in the best position possible to make a big play.

The kill call is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the NFL, because teams have a short time between plays.

To get more plays in for the fans, teams have a shortened clock. To preserve time, teams will call 2 plays in the huddle and let the quarterback make the call at the line of scrimmage.

This is a lot for the quarterback to handle. If your quarterback doesn’t have the mental capacity to make the call and identify when to kill the first play at the line of scrimmage, we recommend sticking with the one-play call system.

Another option available is to use hand signals and picture boards to signal in your plays. This speeds up the process and allows players to do less thinking and more reacting.

We recommend using the off-season or pre-season to try out the kill call; if it doesn’t work in practice, there’s a good chance it won’t work in a game. It’s highly complex and should be left to professionals whose full-time job is football.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

Do you use Kill calls in your offense? Let us know in the comment section below how you teach it! We also would like to know the progression of your quarterback & offensive players to learn the complete play calling system.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.