American football is often associated with breath-taking action, big hits, and brute force. However, there are certain aspects of the game that require trickery and deception rather than simply overpowering your opponent. One of these forms of trickery is what’s referred to as a hard count.
So, what is a hard count in football?
A hard count in football is commonly used by quarterbacks on offense to trick the opposing defense into committing a penalty. A hard count is done during the quarterback’s snap count and often involves over-emphasizing certain words in an attempt to draw the defense into jumping offside.
Hard counts are usually used in third or fourth-down situations where the offense needs five yards or less for a first down. This tactic is effective in football because of how intense and fast-paced the sport is.
Defensive players are always looking for an edge or a head start when it comes to stopping the offense. As a result, they’re more likely to jump offsides when they mistakenly believe that the quarterback is snapping the football.
Why Do Quarterbacks Use a Hard Count?
Quarterbacks most often use a hard count to get the first down. In situations such as fourth-down scenarios when the quarterback wants to get a first down without running a play, he might use a hard count.
The goal is to trick the defense into jumping offsides before the quarterback actually snaps the football. An offsides penalty results in a 5-yard penalty, which is good enough for a first down when the offense has 5 yards or less to go.
Here’s an example of when a hard count is likely to be used in football:
It’s fourth down and the offense needs two yards to gain a first down. The quarterback secretly doesn’t want to run a play but approaches the line of scrimmage pretending that he plans to do so.
During his snap count, he might be extra loud or aggressive and shout words like “hut” and “hike” to confuse and trick the defense. Because the defense is anxious to make a fourth-down stop, there’s a chance that they’ll be tricked into jumping offsides to get a head start on the play.
If they do indeed jump offsides or commit an encroachment or neutral zone infraction, the offense is rewarded with a 5-yard penalty, which results in a first down.
Quarterbacks who have the most success with hard counts are typically the ones that defenses truly believe have the ability to convert fourth-down opportunities. Therefore, the best and most aggressive quarterbacks are usually the ones who have the most success with hard counts.
What Is a Free Play in Football?
A free play in football results when a player on defense jumps offsides. The quarterback then snaps the ball, knowing that a penalty has been committed by the defense.
When this happens, the quarterback has the opportunity to take unusual risks because he knows that no matter what, a penalty will be called on the defense. The ensuing play is what’s known as a free play.
Football is unique in this aspect. A penalty can be called before or in the middle of a play, but the penalty isn’t enforced until after the conclusion of the play. In the scenario mentioned above, the offense has the option of accepting the 5-yard offsides penalty, or of taking the result of the play.
If the quarterback can execute a play that has a better result than the 5-yard penalty, the offense has the option of declining the penalty and accepting the result of the play.
Because the quarterback has the assurance of knowing no matter what happens during the play, his team will keep the ball and gain at least five yards. It’s common on free plays for quarterbacks to throw the ball deep and allow their receivers an opportunity to make a big play.
How Does Snap Count Work in Football?
The snap count refers to how many times the quarterback will say a certain word before the center snaps the football to him. Most commonly, the chosen word is hut or hike, but any word can be used to signal the snapping of the ball.
The snap count works by the quarterback or coach informing their players of what the snap word is and how many times they will say it before the ball is snapped. For example, the snap count could be “hut on 4” which means that the quarterback can say whatever he wants at the line of scrimmage, but the ball won’t be snapped until he says hut for the fourth time.
The snap count is an integral part of the hard count because defensive players try to decipher the quarterbacks’ snap count. If a defender figures out that the quarterback is most likely to snap the ball on the third hut the quarterback says, he’s more likely to jump offsides.
Therefore, a quarterback frequently changes the snap count to keep the defense off-balance.
Hard Count Stats by Quarterback
While every quarterback in the NFL occasionally attempts a hard count during a game, there are certainly some who are better at them than others. A few things that make a hard count effective are a quarterback’s emphasis on certain words and their ability to change up their snap count.
Perhaps the biggest factor that determines a hard count’s success, however, is a quarterback’s ability to make the defense believe they’ll snap the ball on fourth down, which is when most hard counts are done.
- Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers is often cited as having the best hard count in the NFL. He’s also the quarterback who’s had the most success on ensuing free plays by a long shot. His ability to use cadence and an ever-changing snap count makes him tough to read for defenses.
- Ben Roethlisberger
“Big Ben” is one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history when it comes to using the hard count. Part of the reason he’s so successful is because of his aggressiveness and ability to run the ball in short-yardage situations. Defenses want to get a head start when they’re trying to sack Roethlisberger, which makes them extra jumpy at the line of scrimmage.
- Matthew Stafford
Stafford enjoys success for most of the same reasons that Rodgers and Roethlisberger do. Defenses truly believe that he can convert any third or fourth down conversion in short yard situations.
What Is a Soft Count in Football?
The soft count is another name for the normal snap count of a quarterback. During a soft count, the quarterback makes no attempt to draw the defense offsides and he snaps the ball on the specified word.
The hard count is used as a change-up to the soft count if a quarterback feels like the defense has figured out his soft count.
What Is a Silent Snap Count in Football?
A silent snap count in football relies on motions or movements rather than on the quarterback’s words. For example, a quarterback might clap their hands, tap their foot, or touch the center in a certain manner to signify it’s time to snap the ball.
Silent snap counts are commonly used to keep the defense off-guard or when stadiums are too noisy for an offense to hear what the quarterback is saying. There are certain instances when the silent snap count even involves no motions or movements of any sort.
Each of the players on offense is taught to count to a certain number in their heads and the ball is snapped when that number is reached. This is extremely difficult to execute because there are 11 players on offense and it’s difficult for all of them to count at the same pace.
What Is a QB Cadence?
A quarterback’s cadence refers to the tempo and rhythm at which he speaks at the line of scrimmage while calling a play. For example, a quarterback changes their cadence when attempting to draw a player offsides or to keep them off-guard.
Usually, the quarterbacks who have the best cadence and ability to change their cadence are the ones that succeed at drawing players offside. A quarterback’s cadence is a huge part of successfully executing a hard count.
Do Quarterbacks Say Hike?
While quarterbacks aren’t required to say hike, there’s no rule saying that they can’t. Historically, hike is the term used to describe when a player snaps the ball to the quarterback.
A quarterback says a certain word during their snap count and the center snaps or hikes the ball to the quarterback. This term came about as a substitute for snapping because most quarterbacks used to say hike in their snap count.
However, as the game has evolved, quarterbacks started using different words in their snap count. This was done mostly because defenses started listening for the word “hike” and were able to anticipate when the quarterback was going to receive the snap.
Some quarterbacks might still use the word “hike,” but most of them now opt for different, less commonly heard words during their snap count.