What Is A Sack In Football? Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: December 29, 2023

The sack in American football is one of the most exciting plays in the game. Not only does it set the offense back, but it also hypes the defense up. What is a sack in football?

A sack in football is when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before throwing a forward pass.

In this article, we will show you more about the term sack and how it’s used in football.

Quarterback Sack In Football

The sack in football is one of the most exciting plays, especially when the game is nearing the end. The term comes from Hall Of Fame defensive lineman Deacon Jones.

Deacon coined the phrase sack, which led to a league-wide stat of tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

According to an interview with Deacon Jones, the term sack comes from how a city felt when it was sacked. He related this term to how an offense feels after an offense gets sacked.

Deacon Jones sack

Sacks are important because the defensive line (often three or four defenders) pressuring the quarterback forces him to make a bad throw. Frequent pressure on the quarterback is important because it affects the quarterback’s timing and rhythm.

Teams who can pressure the quarterback at a high rate are often the best defenses.

Sacks happen at any point in time on the field. Although it’s common for a defensive lineman to sack the quarterback, any position at any point can sack the quarterback.

How To Get A Sack In Football

A sack occurs when the quarterback drops back to pass and is tackled by a defensive player behind the line of scrimmage.

This happens only on a pass play when the quarterback attempts to throw the ball to another receiver. If they are tackled behind the line of scrimmage on a run play, it’s referred to as a tackle for loss.

The sack often results in a loss of yards, which gives the defense an advantage. Once the offense absorbs a sack, it’s common for the team to throw the next play, which could very well end up in another sack.

It’s important to note that a sack and a tackle for loss are two different statistics.

Sack in football

A tackle for loss is when a running back, receiver, or quarterback is tackled in the backfield during a running play. A sack is when the quarterback is tackled in the backfield on a passing play. It’s important to note the differences, as each result ends up in a loss of yards. However, they’re recorded differently on the stat sheet.

Sacks are instrumental in defending against the pass. The quarterback, offensive line, and coach feel immense pressure when the defense can get sacks on the quarterback.

Teams that can get to the quarterback and sack him are more likely to win the game. In fact, teams that can rush the passer with only 3 or 4 defenders have a better chance to cover with 7 and 8 defenders. This makes it harder for the quarterback to find open receivers.

Strip Sack

A variation of a sack is called the strip sack.

A strip sack is when the quarterback drops back to pass and gets hit, so he fumbles the ball. This is important because it means you forced the offense to fumble, giving your team an opportunity to recover.

It’s common to see defensive linemen, such as defensive ends, who bring pressure on the outside and cause a strip sack in football.

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Pass Rush Moves To Sack The Quarterback

To get a sack in football, players must use pass-rush moves. As detailed in this article, defensive players can use a wide variety of pass-rush moves to beat the offensive line.

Pass rush moves are body movements used to get past an offensive lineman. These moves must be hit with precise timing and precision.

NFL greats like Reggie White and Dwight Freeney all had signature moves to get past an offensive lineman and sack the quarterback.

We break down all of the best pass rush moves in the NFL here.

If you’re looking to learn more about how to sack the quarterback, we recommend checking out our Defensive Line University course.

Difference Between A Sack and a Tackle

The difference between a sack and a tackle in football has to do with the player’s football positioning. If the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage with the football in his hands, it’s a sack.

Whenever the player holding the football is brought to the ground, it’s called a tackle. Players must get the player to the ground by having one knee, or their body touches the ground.

Once the referee tackles a player, the whistle will blow, and the play will end. This is the basis of football. Getting players to the ground is the key to winning football games.

What Is a Half Sack?

A half sack is awarded to two players. If multiple players converge on the quarterback simultaneously, it will be ruled a 0.5 sack.

This means that the two players who made the tackle will be awarded a sack, but it will not be a full sack. For the sake of stat keeping, it’s easier to give a half sack to two players than having to decide who got their hands on the quarterback first.

Sack Leader Examples

Half sacks are just as important as regular sacks. It means the pass rush was successful, and the defense could get more than one player to the quarterback to disrupt his decision.

In leagues like the NFL, it’s common to see a defensive player with 6.5 or 7.5 sacks. This is where 0.5 comes into play.

If more than 2 players sack the quarterback, it’s common for the stat keeper only to award the first two players actually to touch the quarterback the sack.

This is all up to the discretion of the stat keeper, as they will determine who the first 2 players to touch the quarterback are.

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Sacks happen because there is a break down in the offensive line. This happens when the opposing team has strong players at the defensive tackle and defensive end positions.

To date, the record for NFL single season sacks is held by Michael Strahan and T.J. Watt with 22.5 sacks.

The record for the most career sacks in the NFL belongs to Bruce Smith with 200 sacks.

If you liked learning about sacks, we recommend you check out our Beginners Guide To Football below. It has everything you need to improve your Football IQ.

A sack in football is one of the most exciting plays. Not only does it pump energy into the defense, the crowd, and the coaches, it keeps the offense on its toes.

Sacking the quarterback requires a relentless effort from the defense and game planning from the coach.

One of the best pass rushers the football game has seen, Deacon Jones, coined the term sack. The sack relates to how cities were sacked, which Deacon related to how the offense felt after the big play.

Sacks are game-changing for both the defense and the offense and should be pursued every time the quarterback drops back to pass.

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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.