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.
In short, the quarterback is using his voice to let the defense believe they know when the ball is going to be snapped. The trick is the quarterback has already planned with his center to not snap the ball during his hard count.
Benefits Of A Hard Count In Football
Once the player jumps offside the offense can either accept the penalty and take five yards. Or attempt to snap the ball just after the player jumps in order to get a “free play”.
You will often notice on fourth downs under five yards teams will send out their offense in an attempt to get the defense to jump offside.
This is because a penalty in this situation would lead to a first down. This makes a hard count a handy tool to have under the belt for an NFL QB.
If the player is offside yet the quarterback isn’t in immediate danger you will find that the referees will allow the play to go on. Since a penalty has been called against the defense the offense doesn’t have any risk in this play.
If they throw an interception the offense will accept the penalty which wipes out the interception and awards the offense a five-yard penalty. If the offense completes a long play they will then decline the penalty and move the ball to where their player was tackled.
The free play is an incredibly helpful play to have in your reptoire if you can pull it off. One of the best of the league at this play is Aaron Rodgers. You can see an example for yourself in the video below.
Hard Count, Soft Count, And Silent Count
Now that you have heard the term hard count you may be wondering what these other terms mean as well.
A soft count is simply your typical audible calls before you snap the ball. In other words, the soft count is the same as a hard count except there is no trickery built in to get the defense to jump offside. You are simply communicating verbally with your team so they know when the play will start.
A silent snap count on the other hand uses no audible signals at all. This type of count relies on physical signals. Such as taps on the shoulder or the QB stomping their feet as their count. This style of count is most typically used in short-yardage situations to catch a team by surprise. Or when the crowd noise is too loud to effectively communicate with verbal signals.