What Is The Box In Football – Terminology

Terms like “stacking the box” or “eight men in the box” are used when tackle about football. Though many fans are sure what area of the field this term represents.

The box in football refers to an imaginary rectangle that starts at the line of scrimmage and goes three to five yards deep into the defensive backfield. The width of the box is the same as the width of the offensive line. In most cases, the box is used to quickly identify the defense.

diagram showing where on a football field the box is located.
Example of eight players in the box. Four defensive linemen, three linebackers and a strong safety,

This article is going to explain what the box is in football as well as the role it plays in the defensive formation.

What Is The Purpose Of The Box

Now that we know where the box is on the field let’s break down what the box is used for in football. Some common football terms you may have heard include “stack the box” or “eight in the box”.

Both of these football terms are referring to this box that is located in the defender’s backfield.

These terms refer to the number of players that start the play in this imaginary box.

When the play is about to start the quarterback attempt to read the defense. In most cases, he will see three or four defensive linemen and three or four linebackers starting the play in the box.

This is all dependent on if the defense runs a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. But as you can see from the number both add up to seven. Seven is the standard amount of players a quarterback should expect to see in the box on a given play.

But say for example the strong safety moves down towards the line of scrimmage and sets up in the box. This can be seen in the illustration of the box shown earlier in the article.

At this point, the quarterback will notice there are eight players in the box. This is important for the quarterback to read before the play.

The number of players starting the play in the box is going to affect how successful the next offensive play will be.

Reading The Box

It is at this point the coaches and quarterbacks will begin to read the box as part of their play selection process. If the box is stacked (eight or more players) it is going to be very hard to run the ball.

In these situations, eight defenders start the snap close to the line of scrimmage. This makes it very difficult for the running back to progress down the field.

On the other hand, eight players in the box mean there are only three players outside of the box. This leaves plenty of space for the quarterback to throw the ball to his receivers.

For this reason you will often see quarterbacks change their play call depending on how many players are in the box to start the play.

By creating this imaginary box coaches and players are able to quickly identify the defense by reading the number of players close to the line of scrimmage.

This isn’t going to tell you what play the defense is running but it will give you some insight into whether you should run or pass the ball.

What Players Are Usually In The Box

football players lining up in the box on defense

As we stated earlier the majority of players that are going to be in the box on a given player are defensive linemen and linebackers.

If you run a four-three defense you will have four defensive lineman and three linebackers on the field. While a three-four will have three defensive lineman on the field as well as four linebackers.

These players make up the standard seven players you should see in the box on a given play. But as we stated earlier sometimes teams will bring in an eighth player and stack the box. In these situations, it is almost always a safety that is the extra player in the box.

Either the free or strong safety will often come down into the box in order to bolster the run defense.

Defensive Box Vs Tackle Box

When you hear people refer to the box in football they are most often talking about the one on defense.

That being said there is an alternate version of the box for offense. This area covers is the width of the offensive line and goes five yards back into the offensive backfield.

It is this section of the field that is referred to as the tackle box. This area is important because being inside the tackle box can affect the quarterback’s ability to throw the ball away.

If a quarterback is to throw a ball away under pressure he cannot be in this area. If he is in the tackle box he will be assessed an intentional grounding penalty. While if the quarterback were out of the tackle box he is able to throw the ball out of bounds so long as it reaches the line of scrimmage.

This is just one example of how a tackle box differs from a defensive box.

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