What Is A Cadence In Football? Terminology

Have you ever heard a football commentator refer to a cadence and wonder what they were talking about? Well, you are not alone, this football terminology is often used on Sundays leaving many fans questioning what it means.

A cadence in football refers to an audible signal used by the quarterback to let the rest of the team know when he is going to snap the ball.

Why Are Cadences Used In Football?

Now that you know cadences are used to let teammates know when the ball is snapped you may be wondering if it is even necessary. After all, offensive players can’t start the play until the ball is snapped.

There are actually several reasons that teams utilize cadences in football. The main reasons are, keeping the defense guessing the snap, utilizing hard counts, and enhancing communication.

Keeping The Defense Guessing

One of the main benefits of utilizing a cadence is that it keeps the defense guessing the snap count. When playing a high level of football the defense will attempt to read offensive signals that reveal when the ball is going to be snapped.

For example, if a quarterback simply clapped his hand and the ball was snapped the defense would key in on this and begin jumping the snap the moment the quarterback clapped his hands.

Using a customized cadence each time you snap the ball is going to make it difficult on the defense to time the snap accurately.

football cadences

Additionally, the offense will change the cadence throughout the game in order to keep the defense on its toes.

This is why you will often see quarterbacks yelling several different things well before snapping the ball. A cadence is going to reveal to the offense what word or words are going to result in the ball being snapped.

That means a quarterback may yell different words before the snap in order to confuse the defense.

This way the defense will start the play when they see the ball move as opposed to trying to jump the snap when they hear the quarterback yell.

Utilizing Hard Counts

On top of keeping the defense guessing the snap, a team can actually use cadences to benefit their offense.

A hard count is a fake cadence that is used to trick the defense into thinking the ball is going to be snapped. When a hard count is used the end goal is to trick a defensive player into jumping across the line of scrimmage.

If a defender jumps over the line an encroachment penalty will be called. At worst this is going to result in a five-yard gain for the offense.

At best it can result in a free play, this is a play in which a penalty flag is thrown which allows the offense to take a big risk as any negative outcome can be cancelled out by accepting the penalty.

For example, let’s say a player jumps offside and the offense throws an interception. The offense can simply accept the offside penalty and the interception will not stand.

For this reason, offenses will often take deep shots down the field when a free play is given to the offense.

Hard counts are used almost every single game in the NFL which shows how important a good cadence can be in football.

Enhancing Communication

The main reason that teams use a cadence in their offense is to maintain communication amongst the offensive players.

By having a set cadence on each play the offensive players will be able to know the exact moment the ball is going to be snapped.

This will allow these players to get a great first step to start the play. Additionally, words in the cadence may also communicate pre-snap motions.

For example, receivers may move laterally across the backfield prior to the snap. These sorts of motions are often built into the cadence itself.

In this case, one word of the cadence will let the player know when to start the motion and another word will cue the center to snap the ball.

Since the quarterback is in the middle of the field he will be able to communicate with all offensive players by yelling the cadence.


I hope you have enjoyed this guide to understanding what a cadence is in football.

Remember a cadence is a verbal cue that is used by the offense to communicate with one another or to throw off the defense.

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