5-Minute Football : Turnover vs. Fumble vs. Interception vs. Pick 6

football, basics, turnovers

Football terminology is similar to all terminology in the English language: there a multiple terms for the same thing that sound the same but aren’t the same and can’t always be used interchangeably but sometimes can.

But just like there/their/they’re, there are easy ways to remember which terms go with which actions once you know what they mean. So consider this a little grammar lesson for turnovers! It’s going to be way less painful than any other grammar lesson you’ve ever had!

You’ve probably heard all of the terms listed in the title at some point in time: Turnover, fumble, interception, pick 6. They all have to do with a similar event, but all mean separate things. Let’s go through them from least specific to most specific:

Turnover: A turnover happens when the team that has possession of the ball loses possession of the ball and the other team gains possession of the ball as a result. They are literally turning the ball over (giving it over) to the other team, hence the term “turnover.” When the running back is carrying and the ball comes lose and the other team recovers it, it’s a turnover. When a defensive back picks off a pass intended for a wide receiver, it’s a turnover. Any time the team that had the ball loses the ball and the other team recovers it, it’s a turnover.

Fumble: To fumble, as a verb, literally means to, “use the hands clumsily while doing or handling something.” And that’s what it means in football, too. It’s when the football is mishandled in one way or another and ends up on the ground. You may have heard of quarterbacks “fumbling the snap,” which is really a joint effort between the center and the quarterback to not get the snap off correctly. You’ll notice a fumbled snap when the ball is bouncing around somewhere in between the center and the quarterback and everyone on the field is trying to jump on it. Fumbles can also occur when a ball carrier gets distracted or loses his grip or runs into any set of circumstances in which he loses possession of the ball. There are also forced fumbles, which occur when a defensive player causes the impetus for the fumble, usually by punching the ball out from behind. Fumbles all relate to the football being on the ground when it isn’t supposed to be.

Not all fumbles are turnovers. If the other team recovers the fumbled ball, it is a turnover. But if the team previously in possession recovers the ball – like if the snap is fumbled but an offensive linemen jumps on it to recover it – then they keep possession of the ball. It is not a turnover. It is cause for celebration.

Interception: An interception is when a pass intended for an offensive player is caught by a defensive player instead. This happens most frequently when defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties) pick off a pass intended for a wide receiver. Interceptions also happen often when a quarterback throws a bad pass, or when a receiver runs a bad route and isn’t where he was supposed to be, or when the ball gets tipped.

Interceptions always refer to passing plays (or any play in which the ball goes through the air without hitting the ground first) and are always turnovers (because the other team is catching the ball, and therefore has possession of it).

Pick 6: A Pick 6 is a specific type of interception in which a pass is picked off by a defensive player (hence “pick”) and is returned for a touchdown (hence “6” – since touchdowns are worth 6 points). All Pick 6’s are both interceptions and turnovers.

So, to review:

A turnover is any time when the team that was in possession of the ball loses possession of the ball and the other team gains it as a result.

(Turnovers = other team gains possession.)

A fumble is when the ball is mishandled and ends up on the ground.

(Fumbles = on the ground.)

An interception is when the ball doesn’t go through the air to it’s intended target and gets caught by a defensive player. Interceptions are always turnovers.

(Interception = turnover through the air.)

A Pick 6 is an interception that gets run into the opponent’s end zone for a touchdown.

(Pick 6 = interception returned for a touchdown.)

See? Easier than English, right?!

NFL Synonyms : What the Heck is a Wide Out?

Yesterday we learned all about receivers and their specific roles: split ends, flankers, tight ends, and slot receivers.

So if those are all of the specific positions, what the heck is a wide out?

football, definitions, wide out

Good question!

You’ll often hear analysts and commentators referring to receivers on the field as “wide outs.” It’s a term that is usually synonymous with wide receiver – as in, “the team’s wide outs are having a great game today.” But it can also specifically mean the widest receiver out, who is technically referred to as the split end. Either way, the term wide out refers to a wide receiver.

A term that is not synonymous with wide out or wide receiver? Primary receiver. Usually, a team’s primary receiver is a specifically designated player who the quarterback goes to first on a specific play or in a specific system. (I could try to use specific one more time, but I’ll stop there.) The primary receiver is usually a team’s best offensive weapon, so having the quarterback try to go to him first makes sense if you’re trying to get your best player the ball most often (which isn’t such a bad plan).

Definitions : The Blind Side

Chances are you’ve seen the movie The Blind Side. But do you know the term for which it was named?

The blind side refers to the side the quarterback is facing away from when he drops back and sets up to pass. For right-handed quarterbacks, this is the left side. For left-handed quarterbacks, it’s the right. Here’s Ravens tackle Michael Oher, whose life the movie documents, protecting Joe Flacco’s blind side (which is right-handed Joe’s left side) (putting it like that makes him sound like a cowboy in a western, doesn’t it?):

football, definitions, blindside

image source

The quarterback’s blind side is protected by the left tackle (presuming he is a right-handed QB). While all offensive linemen have a specific role to play, the left tackle position has long been put at a premium due to his role in protecting the quarterback when he drops back to pass. Getting hit on the blind side is a disaster for a quarterback. He never sees the hit coming, so he doesn’t have time to prepare his body for the hit or protect the ball from getting jarred loose. Hit on the blind side = prime opportunity for a turnover. Protecting the blind side is critical for the health of the quarterback and effective ball security.

NFL Homonyms : What’s the rush?

football, definitions, rush

In a typical NFL broadcast you’re likely to hear a lot about the rush – rushing yards, rushing the passer, pass rush, stopping the rush, rushing attempts – and so on. Now, it’d be well within reason to think that the word rush and/or rushing pertained to the same action, seeing as how it is used to describe action occurring on a football field. And if there were different types of action happening on a football field, wouldn’t there be different words to describe it?

Apparently not. The NFL likes to keep you guessing!

But really, the difference between rushing terminology is not hard at all once you understand how it’s used in each context.


Rush can describe action on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. On offense, rushing plays are synonymous with running plays. Defensively, rushing plays are plays designed to get to the quarterback and prevent him from passing effectively. 


On Offense:

The official word used for running plays in NFL statistics and records is “rush.” (It didn’t start out that way, but for one reason or another running plays became rushing plays in 1937. We don’t know why.) So when you hear announcers talking about “rushing yards” or “rushing attempts” they are talking about how many yards a team is getting by running the ball or how many times a team is attempting to run rather than pass. Rushing, offensively, basically means advancing the ball downfield in a non-passing play.

It begs the question why running backs aren’t called rushing backs – even though that sounds weird – but that’s another question for another day. When asked why the NFL doesn’t just call it all running, Bob Carroll, NFL Historian, said, “Everybody on the field runs. Even big fat tackles run. Rushing is a precise term that describes running with the ball. After all, you don’t call passing throwing.”

Man’s got a point.

On Defense:

You’ll hear about rushing on defense in conjunction with passing plays, which is completely confusing because didn’t we just establish that rushing pertains to running plays?


Thank you, football.

But defensive players aren’t running with the ball (barring an interception), so the term can’t apply to running plays for them.* Instead, defensive players rush the quarterback – literally meaning causing him to hurry for fear of getting sacked. You’ll hearing it talked about in terms of “rushing the passer” or “pass rush.” Both terms mean that the defense is making it’s way into the backfield to disrupt the quarterback before he has a chance to pass accurately.

*”Stopping the rush” is a phrase used to describe a defense that is trying to stop the running game, so that’s the exception to the defense-rush-running rule. Just in case the mud was looking any clearer and you wanted to cloud it up again.

All in all: rushing on offense = running; rushing on defense = hurrying.

Potato…slightly different potato.

Got it?

(Add one more to the list – there’s also NFL Rush, the league’s kid-friendly initiative. Start ’em young.)

NFL Homonyms : Safety vs. Safety

There are two types of safeties in the NFL: safety the player, and safety the play. Today we’re going to define both and make the subject a little clearer than mud.

Safety the player is a defensive back, which means his main priority is defending against long passing plays. Safeties come in two varieties: free safety and strong safety. Usually, free safeties are the smaller and faster of the two; they defend the deep middle of the field. Strong safeties, as per their namesake, play on the strong side of the field – the same side as the tight end. They are usually larger and stronger, and often play closer to the line of scrimmage in order to tackle tight ends and running backs on running plays.

Here’s a visual to bring that all together:

football, basics, coverage

Safety the play is a defensive score worth 2 points. A safety is awarded under several circumstances:

1. When an offensive player is tackled with the ball in his own end zone. This usually happens when a team is pinned all the way back to their own 1-yard line and has to line up in the end zone. If the quarterback drops back to throw and is tackled before he has a chance to get rid of the ball, it’s a safety.

2. When an offensive player who has the ball is forced out of bounds in his own end zone. This is called a “safety touch” but is still considered a safety and still results in 2 points being given to the defense.

3. When the offense incurs either a holding penalty or an intentional grounding penalty while in their own end zone.

A safety is a dynamite play for the defense, because not only are they awarded 2 points, they also receive possession of the football for the next drive. Double whammy.

Safety vs. safety. Player vs. play. Makes sense, right?

What the heck is an OTA?

So I realized the other day that it’s OTA season…but no one ever really explains what an OTA is. We’re going to take care of that today!

OTAs are in full swing...but what is an OTA, anyway? Come on over and find out!

OTA stands for Organized Team Activity. While it sounds like a fancy phrase for a field trip, OTAs are actually really important to a team’s preparation for the new season. OTAs are also riddled with rules about what can and can’t be done so that offseason practices are equal for every team and conducive to player safety. Here are the basics:

  • OTAs are voluntary. But this is by no means a free pass for extra vacation time – it’s not like cutting class on the Friday before break. Aside from the physical conditioning that happens at practices, new schemes and systems are also installed during OTAs, and players can miss out on a lot of necessary training if they decide to skip out. Usually, the only reasons why a player wouldn’t attend OTAs is due to family emergency, injury, or contract holdout. (The latter is currently taking place between the Giants and wide receiver Victor Cruz.)
  • OTAs and minicamps are two different things. First and foremost, OTAs are much shorter – no more than 2 hours on the field, no more than 6 hours total (per OTA) – whereas minicamps are multi-day, all-day affairs. Minicamps are also different in that teams are allowed to have one mandatory minicamp for veterans. Teams with new coaches are also allowed an additional voluntary minicamp for veterans, and everyone is allowed as many voluntary rookie minicamps as they want, though most teams only have a single voluntary rookie minicamp.
  • OTAs occur in the final phase of the offseason program, which is a 9-week program with three phases (strength and conditioning, individual instruction and installations, OTAs and mandatory minicamp).
  • Reading the rules for what is and is not allowed during OTAs may transport you back to 5th grade when word problems lurked around every corner: “Phase Three consists of four weeks, during which a total of 10 days of “Organized Team Activities” may be conducted.  A maximum of three OTA days may be conducted per week during the first two weeks of Phase Three, and four OTA days may be conducted in the third or fourth week, with the mandatory minicamp scheduled for the other week. (In weeks with three OTA days, a Phase Two day may be conducted on the fourth day.)  Helmets may be worn, but no other pads.” (Whew – Thanks to Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk for a great explanation!)
  • No direct contact is allowed during OTAs, and players only wear helmets – no shells or pads. One-on-one drills (receivers against defensive backs, for example) are also not allowed.

Wondering when your team is scheduled for OTAs? You can check out the full list here.

Wondering how exactly players and coaches benefit from OTAs? Tune in tomorrow to be filled in by Coach Billick!