What Are Audibles in Football? And When to Call Them…

Football quarterback throws football.

If you ever talk to someone who knows a bit about football, eventually the term “audible” will come up in the conversation. But what exactly is an audible in the first place? For a long time, I was confused when my friends brought up audibles when we talked about football, so I finally decided to do some research on the topic and this is what I learned.

In football, an audible is a special verbal code that the quarterback relays to his team at the line of scrimmage to change the play. Audibles are often called when the quarterback sees that the defensive team is in a position to effectively counter the play or is about to run a blitz.

There are many small details and nuances to aspects of the game of football, and audibles are no exception. Football is just as much a physical sport as it is a mental sport because of the often complex rules and plays. Below I will dive deeper into audibles and shed some light on some of the details and specifics of common plays so that you can understand them better.

Who Calls Audibles in Football?

During a game of football, plays can be called by many different people and it depends on what league it is and how each team is structured.

Plays are generally called by either the defensive or offensive coordinator but in rare cases, the quarterback, head coach or an assistant coach might call some plays.

Knowing when to call a play and exactly what play to call is extremely difficult, and some of the best coordinators and coaches consider play-calling an art form in and of itself.

However, audibles are last-minute play calls or alterations that happen on the line of scrimmage, which make them not the offensive or defensive coordinators’ job.

So who calls audibles?

Because audibles are usually called at the last second before the play begins, the quarterback is the person who yells them out and relays the message to the rest of their teammates on the field.

Coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators, assistant coaches and the many other people who are strategizing and calling out plays don’t call audibles in any situation.

Audibles are often called at the last possible moment before the play begins because doing so gives the defense less time to adjust to the new play call.

How Are Audibles Called in Football?

While in position to receive a snap, the quarterback is not always in complete sight of his teammates. Because of this, hand signals aren’t always effective at transmitting a message to all the players in a matter of seconds; which means there must be a better way.

When you are on a football field with tens of thousands of people surrounding you and packed into the stands, it’s very loud, to say the least.

As the name “audible” suggests, audibles are usually called by the quarterback YELLING at the top of their lungs.

Another key component of calling audibles is the language that is used to call them. If the quarterback resorted to yelling out the play or formation by name, it would alert the opposing team to the change and would defeat the purpose of calling an audible in the first place.

Instead of calling the desired play or formation by name, the quarterback, coaches and the rest of the team devise a code to call their plays by.

The codenames for audibles are often quite ridiculous and hold no meaning beyond serving as a signal to offensive players for what play should be executed.

Some audible code names are more creative than others, but they range from Jared Goff’s “Elvis” and “Ric Flair” to Peyton Manning’s famed “Omaha”. Each quarterback and team have their own set of codenames for specific plays, and they often change if the opposing team catches on to the code.

When to Call Audibles in Football?

The game of football is a very complex and intricate sport that requires a lot of physical exertion from its players, but it requires a lot of mental agility as well.

This is especially clear when we begin talking about a quarterback’s duties on the field and everything that they have to make decisions on and pay attention to.

Quarterbacks have a long list of responsibilities when out on the field, and calling audibles is no exception. Knowing when to call an audible, and what audible to call, is pretty much an art form in regards to how much thought and practice it takes to get it right.

Defense Showing Blitz

Recognizing when an audible needs to be called is very important, but it is also very difficult.

The quarterback, while also carrying out his various other responsibilities, must watch the defense and try to predict what they’re going to do and compare that to what his team is about to do.

Noticing when the opposing team is going to run a blitz (a play where the defense sends a large number of players to rush the quarterback) is a very important time for the quarterback to call an audible.

However, a quarterback may not call an audible if he reads blitz.

Defense Doing Something Unexpected

Many of the plays that are called for an offensive team to run are based largely on the defensive team’s weaknesses and what they’re projected to do.

However, sometimes these predictions of what the defense is going to do are wrong and the play must be changed to better counter the defense’s plan.

When the defense lines up a play that is unexpected, the quarterback will often call an audible to readjust his team’s position. Sometimes the plays line up so that even with the defense doing something unexpected, the offense doesn’t need to change their play.

Other Reasons to Call Audibles

In addition to calling audibles when the quarterback sees the opposing team about to run a blitz or an unexpected play, there are many other cases and situations where one might be called.

Audibles are meant to adjust the play to better counter the opposing team’s play, so whenever the quarterback feels or sees the need to, they will often call an audible just to play it safe.

If the quarterback is good at their job, the majority of audible calls will improve the success of the play, so there is very limited downside to calling an audible in most cases.

Who Calls Audibles on Defense?

Football teams playing in snow.

In comparison to offensive play calls and audibles which tell the players on the team exactly where they should be and when they should be there, defensive play calls and audibles are more reaction-based and depend largely on the actions of the offense.

Defensive play calls are more general and the players must adjust to the offense without the quarterback calling out audibles in many cases.

Each defensive play is more like a scheme; there are multiple ways that it could play out and the players must react to the other team to decide how the play goes.

While the defensive captain won’t often call out audibles because of the largely reaction-based nature of defense, in select situations it will happen.

More commonly, the play is transmitted from the coach to the captain or middle linebacker, which is then told to the rest of the team through signals or audibly.

Benefits of Calling Audibles

The main objectives of football are to move the ball down the field to score points. The vast majority of plays are solely meant to move the football down the field for that specific reason or in the case of the defensive team, to stop that from happening.

Audibles are no different from regularly planned plays; their main objective is to counter the other team to either stop their progress down the field or to move the ball towards the end zone.

Prevent Sacks, Giving Up Huge Plays, Etc.

Each play call is meant to help the team in question achieve their objective of stopping the other team from gaining yards or moving the ball down the field, and calling audibles make it more likely that these objectives are achieved.

In most cases, audibles will result in a benefit for the team that called it. If the play about to be put into action does not compare well with the opposing team’s formation, calling an audible will improve the team’s chances of success.

Calling an audible at the right time could also prevent the quarterback from getting sacked. Sacking the quarterback is great for the defense because it makes the offense lose a down and yardage.

When a quarterback is sacked, there is also the possibility of a fumble, as well as the loss of the offense’s morale and forward momentum.

Well-called audibles can also allow the offense to make some huge and effective plays, as well as hide them if they probably aren’t going to work against the defensive formation.

Audibles allow the quarterback to assess the defense and make split-second decisions to decide when to run certain plays, or if it is better to hide them for later use in the game.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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