What Is Play Action In Football

What Is Play Action In Football?

Football Sport

In American football, play-action is often thrown around, but what does it mean? In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the various aspects of What Is Play Action In Football, shedding light on its definition, its significance in the game, and its different applications.

Table of Contents

What Is Play Action In Football?

Play action in football is a strategic manoeuvre designed to deceive the opposing team’s defense. It is a play that mimics a running play to confuse the defence into believing that the offence will run the ball, only for the quarterback to execute a pass instead. This deceptive tactic aims to gain a significant advantage by creating opportunities for big passing plays.

The Mechanics Of Play Action:

To understand the mechanics of play action, let’s break it down into its fundamental components:


The play begins with the offensive formation, which should closely resemble a running play formation. This is crucial in fooling the defense into thinking a run is imminent.

Snap And Fake Handoff:

As the play unfolds, the quarterback receives the snap and executes a fake handoff to the running back. This fake handoff is a critical element of the space, as it’s intended to convince the defense further that a run is in progress.

Quarterback’s Role:

The quarterback plays a pivotal role in executing the play-action. After the fake handoff, the quarterback drops back as if preparing for a pass play. This movement is designed to draw in the defenders and create opportunities for receivers to get open downfield.

Receiver Routes:

Simultaneously, the wide receivers and tight ends run pass routes. These routes can vary depending on the specific play design. The goal is to get these receivers into positions where they can exploit the gaps in the defense.

Passing Option:

With the defense momentarily thrown off balance, the quarterback has a brief window to identify an open receiver and deliver an accurate pass. This is the moment of truth in a play-action play, as it can lead to a successful completion and potentially a significant gain for the offense.

The Significance Of Play Action:

Play action is an essential tool in a quarterback’s arsenal because of the various advantages it offers:

Confusing The Defense:

The primary purpose of play action is to confuse the opposing defense. By mimicking a running play, it forces defensive players to hesitate, allowing the offense to exploit gaps in coverage.

Creating Big Plays:

Play action often leads to big plays in football. Since the defense is momentarily disoriented, receivers can get open downfield, increasing the chances of completing a long pass.

Keeping Defenses Honest:

By incorporating play-action into their playbook, offenses keep defenses honest. If a reason constantly expects pass plays, it becomes easier to defend against them. Play action serves as a countermeasure to maintain unpredictability.

Variations Of Play Action:

Play action in football can take on various forms and variations, each with its unique characteristics:

Bootleg Play Action:

In a bootleg play action, the quarterback fakes a handoff and then rolls out to one side. This variation effectively gives the quarterback a clear view of the field and options to run or pass.

Play Action Screen:

A play-action screen involves the quarterback faking a pass downfield and then throwing a short pass to a running back or a receiver near the line of scrimmage. It is designed to catch the defense off guard and create opportunities for yards after the catch.

Deep Play Action:

Deep play action plays are designed to target the deep areas of the field. The quarterback takes a deep drop, and the receivers run routes that take them deep into the secondary. This variation is often used when the offense wants to take a shot downfield.

The Role Of Play Action In Different Football Leagues:

Play action is not limited to any specific football league; it is a concept widely used across various levels of play. Whether you’re watching American football in the NFL or enjoying a game of football with friends, play-action can be a game-changer.

Play Action In Coaching And Strategy:

Coaches often incorporate play action into their strategies to keep opposing teams guessing. It is a tool that can exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, and its effectiveness lies in the element of surprise.

Play Action In Costume:

In a playful twist, even costumes and mascots in football games sometimes incorporate play-action as part of their entertaining routines. The element of surprise and deception is not limited to the field but extends to the entire football experience.

Real-World Examples Of Play Action:

Let’s consider a real-world example to illustrate the impact of play action. Imagine a crucial game in the NFL where a team is trailing by a small margin. In a high-pressure situation, the quarterback executes a flawless play action, convincing the defense that a running play is in progress. As the broad receiver streaks downfield, he catches a perfectly thrown pass and scores a game-winning touchdown. In this scenario, play action played a pivotal role in securing victory.


In conclusion, play action in football is a tactical maneuver that involves deception and surprise to gain a strategic advantage. It confuses the defense, creates opportunities for big plays, and keeps opposing teams guessing. Whether watching football at the highest professional level or enjoying a game at the local park, play-action is a fundamental part of the game that adds excitement and unpredictability.


Q: What is play action in football?

Ans. Play action in football is a strategic maneuver that involves deceiving the opposing defense by faking a running play and then executing a pass.

Q: How does play action work in football?

Ans. Play action makes the defense believe that a running play is happening, causing them to hesitate while the quarterback prepares to pass.

Q: Why is play action necessary in football?

Ans. Play action is crucial in football as it confuses the defense, creates opportunities for big passing plays, and keeps the opposition guessing.

Q: What is the goal of playing action in football?

Ans. The primary goal of play action is to create deception and gain an advantage by momentarily fooling the defense.

Q: What is the role of the quarterback in play action?

Ans. The quarterback in play action executes a fake handoff and then prepares to pass, drawing in the defense and creating passing opportunities.

Q: Are there different variations of play-action in football?

Ans. Yes, there are variations like bootleg play action, play action screens, and deep play action, each with unique characteristics.

Q: How do wide receivers and tight ends participate in play-action plays?

Ans. Receivers run pass routes, exploiting gaps in coverage created by the defense’s hesitation.

Q: Does play action lead to big plays in football?

Ans. Yes, play action often leads to big plays because it confuses the defense, allowing receivers to open downfield.

Q: Is play-action only used in the NFL?

Ans. No, play action is used at various levels of football, from the NFL to local games and even in college football.

Q: Do football coaches use play action in their strategies?

Ans. Coaches regularly use play action to keep opposing teams guessing and exploit weaknesses in the defense.

Q: Is play action exclusively for professional football?

Ans. Play-action can also be used for fun and entertainment, even in football costumes and mascots.

Q: Can you provide an example of a successful play action play?

Ans. Imagine a quarterback executing a perfect play action, convincing the defense, and throwing a game-winning touchdown pass.

Q: What are the mechanics of a bootleg play action in football?

Ans. In a bootleg play action, the quarterback fakes a handoff, then rolls out to one side to pass or run.

Q: How does a play-action screen differ from other play-action plays?

Ans. A play-action screen involves a short pass near the line of scrimmage after faking a deep pass, creating opportunities for yards after the catch.

Q: When is deep play action used in football?

Ans. Deep play action is used when the offense wants to target the deep areas of the field with a long pass.

Q: What are the benefits of keeping defenses honest with play action?

Ans. Using play action, offenses keep defenses honest, preventing them from predictably defending against passes.

Q: Can you use play action in different game situations in football?

Ans. Play action can be used in various game situations, from average plays to crucial moments like fourth downs or two-minute drills.

Q: How does play action affect the mindset of defensive players?

Ans. Play actions often makes defensive players more cautious and hesitant, which works to the offence’s advantage.

Q: Is play actions effective in both professional and amateur football?

Ans. Yes, play actions can be effective in professional leagues like the NFL and amateur clubs, as it rely on fundamental principles of deception.

Q: What is the historical origin of play actions in football?

Ans. Play actions has been a part of football since its early days, evolving as a strategy to keep the game exciting and unpredictable.

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