What Is the Pocket in Football?


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If you have ever thought about playing football, chances are you thought about playing the quarterback (QB) position and throwing touchdowns. Quarterback is one of the most important positions on the football field and to be successful you need to have what’s called, “good pocket awareness”.

So, what is the pocket?

The pocket is the area formed by offensive linemen when protecting the quarterback from oncoming defenders. The pocket is also the area in the backfield where the quarterback has room to throw. Good quarterbacks will step up in the pocket and scramble out of it as needed to avoid being sacked.

To help you become a better QB and help you understand what you’re watching on T.V., we’re going to cover the pocket in depth. Specifically, we will mention how big the pocket is, what happens to the QB when he is not in the pocket, and what is intentional grounding.

What Is the Pocket in Football?

The pocket is the term used to describe the area in the backfield where the QB drops back and steps up to throw the ball.

The pocket is formed into a reverse “U” shape by the offensive linemen trying to protect the quarterback from pass rushers.

The QB is protected by his offensive line which includes:

  • A center
  • Two guards
  • Two tackles
  • A Running back and tight end (not always)

The center’s job is to snap the ball to the QB and block the defensive tackle in front of him.

There are two guards, one left of the center and one right of the center. The guards’ responsibility is to protect the QB from interior pass rushers.

Two offensive tackles line up next to the guards. They are responsible for protecting the QB from outside pass rushers. The two outside tackles also define the edge of the pocket.

In most setups, a QB is protected by five offensive linemen and occasionally a tight end and/or a running back can provide additional blocking support.

A tight end can be used as a pass blocker in certain situations to help protect the QB from outside rushers.

A running back can be used as a final defense for the QB if the offensive line can’t hold a defender. The running back will try to block inside the pocket with the QB.

The pocket is designed to protect the QB from defenders so he can make a completion to his receivers out on the field.

How Big Is the Pocket in Football?

Quarterback looks to throw the football downfield.

The size of the pocket will vary play-by-play. This is because the defense is trying to tackle the QB and will sometimes break through the offensive line.

Ideally, the size of the pocket will be about five yards wide and seven yards long. This gives the QB plenty of space to see the field and complete a pass.

The offensive line forms the pocket around the QB. If the offensive line does its job and protects the QB a reverse U shape will be formed around the QB.

The center is at the top of the reverse U, the two guards next to the center on both sides, the two tackles next to the guards on both sides protecting the outside.

The reverse U shape allows the QB to drop back and then step up and throw. A QB must be able to step up and throw in the pocket.

The reverse U shape formed by the offensive line allows for this to happen because they are protecting the QB from the front and the sides.

The location of the pocket is defined as the area inside of the two offensive tackles.

It’s important to remember that the pocket will vary in size play-by-play. Sometimes the offensive line will defend the pocket well and the QB will have room to throw.

Other times the pocket will collapse, and the QB will have to decide whether to throw the ball while still inside the pocket or to try and make a move outside the pocket.

A great offensive line is a QB’s best friend because the more they can protect the QB, the higher likelihood the QB is to complete a pass and not get roughed up.

When Is the Quarterback Out of the Pocket?

The main reason a QB would leave the pocket is to prevent being sacked or to run a designed play.

If the offensive line plays perfectly, the QB never has to worry about being tackled or forced outside the pocket.

However, when the offensive line breaks down, the QB will have to move outside the pocket and try to make a play.

When this happens, the QB has three options:

  • Pass to a receiver
  • Run the ball himself
  • Throw the ball out of bounds

The QB’s primary option when they move outside the pocket is to pass to one of his receivers if they are open. As long as the QB stays behind the line of scrimmage, he can make a throw when outside of the pocket.

His second option is to keep the ball and run with it. If no receivers are open and the QB sees a running lane, he might capitalize on the opportunity.

A third option is for the QB to throw the ball out of bounds to avoid losing yards. The QB can throw the ball out of bounds when outside of the pocket and not receive an intentional grounding penalty (assuming it reaches the line of scrimmage).

Sometimes the QB has no other option than to take a sack.

There will be situations where the defense sends a blitz and the pocket collapses. It can be better to take a sack than make a risky throw or play that could lead to a turnover.

Being able to step outside of the pocket and make plays is critical to being a good QB.

Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are two examples of NFL QBs who are excellent at creating plays outside the pocket when it breaks down.

They have great pocket awareness and can sense when it’s collapsing. They also can move outside the pocket and keep the play alive.

What Is Intentional Grounding in Football?

Quarterback throws the football off his back foot.

Intentional grounding in football is when the QB throws the ball without an intended receiver, while inside the pocket.

Simply put, intentional grounding is when a QB throws a pass inside the pocket without the chance of completion.

So, there a few things that lead to an intentional grounding penalty:

  • The QB is pressured by the defense (usually the case)
  • The QB makes a throw inside the pocket
  • The throw has no intended receiver
  • The throw doesn’t go past the line of scrimmage

If you throw the ball inside the pocket to no particular receiver, you will receive an intentional grounding penalty.

If your throw does not make pass the line of scrimmage while outside the pocket, you will also receive an intentional grounding penalty.

The penalty for intentional grounding varies between the NFL, college, and youth levels.

In most instances, the penalty for intentional grounding is a loss of down and ten yards.

So, if there is an intentional grounding penalty on second down the offensive team would lose ten yards and the next play would be third down.

To avoid intentional grounding, QBs need to do one of two things:

  • Move out of the pocket and throw past the line of scrimmage
  • Throw to an intended receiver

If the QB is chased by a defender and he makes it out of the pocket, he can throw the ball out of bounds, past the line of scrimmage and not receive a penalty.

If the QB is pressured in the pocket and makes a throw to an intended receiver there will be no penalty.

This is why good pocket awareness is so important in QBs, so they know when the pocket is collapsing and can make the most out of the situation. This also showcases a QB’s ability to handle pressure and make split-second decisions.

The pocket in football is a concept every football player needs to be familiar with.

If you plan on playing QB, you need to be aware of the pocket and how to step up in it when needed.

The ability to move outside of the pocket and make accurate throws on the move is also important. A good QB will also know when to give up on a play by giving himself up or by throwing the ball out of bounds.

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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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