What Is A Sack In Football? And What Is A Half Sack?

what is a sack in football

In football, besides a turnover (like an interception, fumble, or downs), a sack is one of the key defensive plays that all teams on defense strive for. It’s a significant play because it results in a loss of yardage for the offensive team. And maybe even more importantly, it can be a major momentum shifter in the game.

And that means you reached the quarterback! Which can make the other team’s quarterback feel a bit more pressure every time he steps back to throw. And that can lead to all sorts of good things for your defense.

What Is A Sack In Football?

A sack happens when a defensive player successfully tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while the quarterback is intending to throw a forward pass. If the quarterback is tackled while running a designed run play, it is not considered a sack, but simply a tackle for a loss.

The rules for a sack are quite straightforward:

  • The quarterback must be intending to throw a forward pass.
  • The tackle must occur behind the line of scrimmage.
  • If the quarterback intentionally grounds the ball to avoid a sack, it may result in a penalty. But in the NFL, even if the player intentionally grounds the ball, they won’t get credit for a sack in the stats.

What Is A Half Sack?

A half sack (0.5 sack) is a statistic that is recorded when two or more defensive players share the credit for taking down the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

This typically occurs when two or more defensive players manage to tackle the quarterback at the same time. Thus making it difficult to determine who should be awarded with a full sack.

If more than two players contribute to the sack, each player will be awarded a half sack.

Why Is A Sack Important?

  • Loss of Yardage: A sack usually results in a significant loss of yards. Thus making it harder for the offense to achieve a first down.
  • Momentum Shift: Sacks can drastically shift the momentum of the game, boosting the defensive team’s morale.
  • Psychological Impact: Repeated sacks can demoralize an offensive team and disrupt the quarterback’s rhythm and confidence.
  • Defensive Statistics: Sacks are a key statistic for defensive players, often leading to accolades and recognition.

Impact on the Game

  • Offensive Strategies: To counter sacks, offenses may use quicker passes, better blocking schemes, or mobile quarterbacks who can evade defenders.
  • Defensive Tactics: Defenses strategize to create sack opportunities through various means like blitzes, where additional players rush the quarterback.
  • Game Planning: Both teams plan their strategies with the possibility of sacks in mind. For example, a team with a strong defensive line will focus on applying pressure to the quarterback.

Origins Of The Sack & When It Became A Statistic

The term “sack” in American football has an interesting origin. It was popularized by Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones. Who played in the NFL in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily with the Los Angeles Rams.

Deacon Jones, known for his aggressive and highly effective pass-rushing style, described his thought process behind the term “sack.” He likened sacking the quarterback to a city being sacked in ancient times. Explaining that just as cities were devastated and conquered, he aimed to overwhelm and “sack” the quarterback with similar devastating effect. Jones envisioned the quarterback as a city to be sacked. And his role was to break through the offensive line, conquer the quarterback, and bring him down, thereby stopping the offensive play.

It’s important to note that while Deacon Jones helped popularize the term. Sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982.

Top NFL Sackers of All Time

The title of “best sacker” in NFL history is often debated among fans and analysts. But there are a few players who consistently appear at the top of the list. Here are some of the most renowned sack artists in NFL history:

  • Bruce Smith: With a record 200 career sacks, Bruce Smith stands at the top of the list. He played primarily for the Buffalo Bills and had incredible strength and agility.
  • Reggie White: Known as “The Minister of Defense,” Reggie White recorded 198 sacks in his career. White’s combination of speed, power, and technique made him one of the most feared defensive players.
  • Kevin Greene: Ranking third in career sacks with 160, Greene was relentlessly pursuing QBs with his energetic play style. He played for multiple teams, including the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Julius Peppers: Peppers, with his remarkable athleticism and versatility, accumulated 159.5 sacks over his career. He played for teams like the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears.
  • Chris Doleman: Doleman amassed 150.5 sacks, showcasing his prowess with the Minnesota Vikings and other teams. His ability to rush the passer was a key component of his team’s defense.
  • Michael Strahan: Famous (as an anchor on GMA) for setting the single-season sack record with 22.5 sacks in 2001. Strahan finished his career with 141.5 sacks. He spent his entire career with the New York Giants.
  • Jason Taylor: With 139.5 career sacks, Taylor had speed and ability to evade blockers. He had a storied career with the Miami Dolphins and other teams.

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