A free play occurs in football when the defensive team commits a penalty at the snap. This allows the offense to play aggressively with zero risk as they are able to accept the penalty if their play does not go as planned.
Free plays almost always occur because a defensive lineman jumps offside. Due to the value of a having a free play quarterbacks have worked to practice getting the defense to jump offside for this purpose.
How To Generate Free Plays
The best way to generate free plays is by utilizing a hard snap count. A hard count in football occurs when the quarterback intentional changes the rhythm, volume, or cadence of his audible snap in order to get the defense to jump offside.
They are essentialy tricking the defense into believing they know when the ball is going to be snapped. The defense will jump on the count they believe is supposed to start the play. At this point the quarterback should look to snap right after the player has jumped offside.
This will allow him the best chance of achieving a free play.
Why/When Are Free Plays Blown Dead
When watching football you will notice that sometimes when a player jumps offside they will blow the whistle. This does not allow the offense gets to utilize their free play.
This is put in place as a safety measure in order to keep the offensive players from taking big hits. After all, if a player jumps offside he is going to have a much better shot at the quarterback.
This situation we are referring to is called a neutral zone infraction. The official rule book on a neutral zone infraction is as follows;
a) a defender moves beyond the neutral zone prior to the snap and is parallel to or beyond an offensive lineman, with an unabated path to the quarterback or kicker, even though no contact is made by a blocker; officials are to blow their whistles immediately”
So essentially if you want a defender to jump offside for a free play you are going to have to block him. If you do not manage to get an offensive lineman between him and your quarterback it is quite likely the play will be blown dead.
Benefits Of A Free Play
The benefit of a free play is that you have a zero-risk play in which you can attempt a long pass. Oftentimes football teams have quality deep ball receivers. These plays can come down with over 50% of deep passes thrown their way. The only issue is that these deep passes are often intercepted.
The free play allows you a quality chance to gain a large chunk of yards. All while the risk of interception is not a factor.
On top of this your play will result in a minimum of five yards and a re-do of the down.
Now that you understand what a free play is in football its time to break down exactly what causes it. The penalty which can cause a team to earn a free play is offside.
Offside in football occurs when a defensive player finds himself on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. In football, the defense is supposed to line up a foot away from the front of the ball.
If a defensive player lines up too close or past the football then he is going to be assessed an offside penalty.
On many occasions, a player will only be an inch or so offside when the play starts. This means the offside player will not have an unabated path to the quarterback as he is still in front of the offensive line.
This will then generate free play for the offense as the officials will not blow the play dead.
That said if a player is so offside he finds himself with a clear path to the quarterback the whistle will be blown and the penalty will be assessed.