What Are Sacks In Football?

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As a seasoned football coach and passionate spectator, there’s nothing more exciting than sacking the quarterback, riling up the fans and teammates, completely embarrassing the opposing team, and bringing that passion and fury that the sport is well known for.

But what exactly is a sack?

A sack refers to a defender tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while the quarterback has possession of the ball. The opposing team loses yards and is pushed backward in field position for the next down.

With my years of experience, let me break it down further for you, lets dive in.

How To Get A Sack In Football

A sack can only happen when the quarterback is passing to a receiver. A sack can often lead to a series of sacks, as it’s common for the team to throw the next play.

Typically, a sack is like a standard tackle; the only difference is it only involves tackling the quarterback and no other player.

The quarterback is protected by the offensive linemen from rushing defenders. The defenders have multiple ways to get past an offensive lineman, whether that’s brute strength with a bull rush or a 360 spin.

Successful sacks occur more often when the defense rushes more players than the offense has posted in the block as almost a “smother” method.

What Is The Difference Between A Tackle For Loss And A Sack?

One critical bit of insider information you need is the difference between a tackle for loss and a sack.

Tackling for loss involves the quarterback, receiver, or running back being tackled in the backfield during a running play. Similarly, a standard tackle refers to a player with possession of the ball being brought to the ground.

A sack however refers to a defender tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while the quarterback has possession of the ball.

History Of The Term “Sack” In Football

Deacon Jones, Hall of Fame defensive lineman, was the first to make the term “Sack” popular in the 1950-1960s. According to Deacon, he began using it after hearing his coach use it during a motivational speech.

Following the term “sack,” the word “dump” came around, referring to a quarterback being taken down behind the defensive line.

The NFL identifies sacks as “dumps.” However, the official and accurate recording of sacks per game didn’t start until 1982.

How Much is a Sack Worth in The NFL?

A sack in itself isn’t worth much in an NFL game. A sack doesn’t equate to any points or better plays directly: however, the value of the sack is its ability to push a team further backward in field position losing yards.

A sack can also have value when the passer fumbles and the opposing team can recover the ball and possibly gain yards or score a touchdown.

Another point to note is that sacks can be recorded as half-sacks.

Full sack = One defensive player takes down the quarterback.
Half sack = Combination of multiple defensive players taking down the quarterback.

Rules For Sacking the Quarterback

To the naked eye, a sack might seem pretty simple. However, there are several rules and regulations that you need to know, such as:

  • The QB must be in or out of the pocket during a passing play. 
  • The ball cannot be loose; the quarterback can’t drop it before his body touches the ground; otherwise, it counts as a fumble. 
  • The sack can’t occur in the offense’s end zone, as it will then count as a safety
  • The ball is placed wherever the QB is brought down with the ball. 

things that can prevent a sack:

  • Offensive linemen block any opposing defenders, providing the QB the time needed to pass to a receiver.
  • If the QB can’t find a receiver, the QB can run with the ball beyond the line of scrimmage for a gain.
  • The QB can also perform a backward pass to another player to keep the play alive if a receiver can’t be found.
  • The QB can spin or break the defenders trying to get the sack making more time to find a receiver. 

NFL All-Time Sack Leaders

Sacks are standard in the NFL. However, multiple players from different eras of football shine as the masters of the sack.

According to ESPN, these are the top ten NFL all-time sackers:

  1. Bruce Smith – 200 sacks
  2. Reggie White – 198 sacks
  3. Kevin Greene – 160 sacks
  4. Julius Peppers – 159.5 sacks
  5. Chris Doleman – 150.5 sacks
  6. Michael Strahan 141.5 sacks
  7. Jason Taylor – 139.5 sacks
  8. Terrell Suggs – 139 sacks
  9. Demarcus Ware – 138.5 sacks
  10. Richard Dent / John Randle – 137.5 sacks

Looking at this iconic list, you may notice every player is either a defensive lineman or a linebacker: however other defense positions can get sacks.

4th & 10

A sack is simply one of football’s most electrifying and exciting plays.

It’s a play that defenders take pride in for personal accomplishment, always trying to rack up the most sacks in a season. But above that, when a sack is used effectively, it elevates your team, giving them that edge and slight advantage.

Sacks are something any good defender strives to get, and any good defending coach drills week in and week out.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Brad Smith has been coaching high school Football for 6 years in Florida. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children who he hopes will become the first Jaguars to win a Superbowl. Other than Football, Brad loves American litterature, parenting, gardening, and home remodeling.