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Football for Academically Challenged British Plonkers, Ed. 7: QB Play-Calling & Cadence



Hello Plonkers and welcome back. With training camp in full swing, all of those “football blues” have started to fade. It’s a glorious time. One Bills fan tweeted how they missed that sweet sound of a Josh Allen cadence. So I figured now is as good a time as any to explain what the heck that is.


It’s a quiet night. The kids are in bed, you’ve had your dinner, and you’re sitting on your couch with a nice whiskey on the rocks, ready for Sunday football (UK timing). To be mindful of the others in your home, you keep your TV at a relatively low volume.

And then, that obnoxiously loud, unintelligible shriek sounds off, rattling the whole house… the neighbours start pounding at your door… the baby’s crying and, in the distance, sirens.

Gotta love when the QB and his offense take the field.

What does it mean!?

The Quarterback is basically yelling at his team to get the F ready because shit is about to go down. Simply shouting “Get Ready” is obviously too simple and straightforward, Americans aren’t about that life. So obviously they have to shout nonsensical words instead.

In other words, it has no meaning. I mean coaches, players, and even “experts” will try to tell you it means something, but they lie. It doesn’t.

So much so, that teams will actually use “fake” words. So, they will purposely throw random words into it to try and throw the opposition off.


This stuff is confusing enough, why make it worse?

Because Americans, duh.

To make in un-confusing, let’s break it down. I’ll go slow so you Plonkers understand.

In the huddle, where the team gets together in the middle of the field to play “Duck, duck, goose”, the Quarterback tells his team what play they’re going to execute. Then, they get ready at the Line of Scrimmage (LOS).

Trish’s artistic rendering of a LOS

Here is where the aforementioned screeching takes place.

What is he saying? (The Play-Calling)

Once out of the huddle, the QB surveys the field. He takes a look at where the defence is lined up and starts shouting instructions. Using a series of code words, he can tell his team anything:

  • The play they previously discussed is going ahead as planned
  • He changed his mind and they’re going with a different play (aka an “audible”)
  • His grocery list
  • The defensive play they’re calling
  • His dog’s name
  • The play is going to be flipped, so they go right instead of left, heck they could even decide to fly
  • His Will
  • The names of all the Kardashians
  • A list of his enemies who he must vanquish in order to avenge his family

For example, when Josh Allen calls an audible, he yells “Alert!” and taps his helmet on both sides. This is for his team to know that they’re going with a different play and they need to adjust accordingly.

All of these adjustments are called before the “cadence”.

What is he saying? (The Cadence)

This is the 3-4 seconds which everyone hears loud and clear. Well, not really clear because, as a viewer and non-football speaker, you can’t always hear what the QB is saying or, you can mishear it. For example, when you hear “3-19!” being yelled, the QB is actually saying “Green-19!”

Generally the format of the cadence is as follows: “Go Word, Call, Snap Count”.

The “Go Word”

This is the phrase that the QB yells to get everyone ready. He’s telling his team that he’s ready to start to start the play. Sometimes it can be as simple as “Get Set!” or “Ready!” or “Down!” other times it can be a little more confusing, i.e., Patrick Mahomes uses “Let’s Go!” There’s no correct word to use, it’s purely the Quarterback’s preference.

The “Call”

This is where you hear words like “White 80!” or, if you’re a Blue Mountain State fan, Alex Moran would yell “Blue 16!”. More often than not, it’s a colour followed by a number.

Sometimes it can be repeated, this isn’t for nothing. Or sometimes it is. Again, it really depends on the QB and the play the offence is calling. Each team is different. Oftentimes it can set the timing of the “snap”. The QB may want the ball quicker than expected so, in this part of the call, he can set when the ball should be snapped in the snap count.

The “Snap Count”

It culminates with the snap count; that very popular phrase that’s always heard: “Hut! Hut!” This tells his team, when to “snap” the ball (i.e., put the ball in motion). It could also be “Hit! Hit!” or said three times or one time. It all depends on the team and what they’re trying to do.

The most important part for the offense to listen out for is the tone, speed and cadence of what is being said. Aaron Rodgers is the King of drawing a defence offside with his Cadence. His ability to put certain emphasis on his count fakes the defence into thinking he’s calling for the ball, but he’s a sneaky devil and just likes to cause chaos. What a man.

Another Layer: Timing

Embrace the chaos, because all of this has to happen in lightening speed.

The previous play ends and the play clock is set to 40 seconds. The teams huddles up, the Coach tells the QB what play to execute through headphones (through the QB’s helmet) and then the QB relays that to his team. This takes up half the time on the play clock. Just to make things even more super confusing and hard, the coach’s headset is shut off with 15 seconds left on the clock. So the team has to haul ass to make it in time to the QB.

After the play has been relayed, the QB has around 15-20 seconds to make his adjustments (if needed) and call his cadence. Then, the play finally begins. It’s not a wonder why the ball sometimes isn’t snapped until all of us at home are in a panic that they’re going to get penalised.

Did this help? Probably not.

I need to set a disclaimer that I am not a Quarterback, otherwise, I surely wouldn’t be sat here writing this. I am just an avid learner, but there is a 90-100% chance that everything I said is hogwash. Or it could all be 100% correct. Who knows?

QB language is not something that can be taught to outsiders of the game because it is far too complicated and unnecessary to know. I hope you gained an appreciation for the intelligence of an offensive side though because this stuff is wild.

Next Week

I hope this was helpful for all you Plonkers! What football topic do you want explained next week? Let me know in the comments or send a Tweet, Carrier Pigeon, DM, Telepathic Energy, FB Message, Letter, Postcard, etc. But, for the love of God, DO NOT send me an email. Because I live in the stone ages and don’t use email. (Pfft. Idiots.)

Featured Image: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

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