Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to: email@example.com
While assuming that numbers being shouted by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage are for plays about to happen, what is with the preponderance of numbers such as those being called by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (“369”) and why does the ball often seem to be snapped in the middle of that very number? Put another way, whatever happened to “Hut?”
Farmer: Start with this: Rodgers is actually saying, “Green 19,” and it’s part of his standard presnap cadence. Most of that is gibberish aimed at throwing off the timing of defensive linemen and/or causing someone to jump offsides. A split-second edge could be the difference in a play working or not. Quarterbacks will often use a color system at the line of scrimmage in which everything said after a certain “live” color is actually a meaningful audible. Most of what is said is part of the cat-and-mouse game between a quarterback and a defense, with a quarterback trying to get a defense to show its hand before the ball is snapped.
“A number 99% of the time means absolutely nothing,” former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “Honestly, it’s just what a guy’s comfortable with, what a coach told him to use, what sounds good. It really means nothing, more often than not. Every offense is different. Green could be a live color to one offense — ‘Hey, we’re running this play’ — and a dummy color to another offense.”
That said, the words used in audibles can be really clever. For instance, in the Mike Holmgren era, the Seattle Seahawks weaved the names of quarterback coach Jim Zorn’s daughter (Sarah) and quarterback Brock Huard’s wife (Molly) into the offense. There’s an R in Sarah, so that was a screen to the right. Molly has two Ls so it was a screen to the left.
When Sam Wyche was coaching in Cincinnati, he used the acronym “BOSS” for the blocking scheme “Back on Strong Safety.” Because that was too easy a code to crack, the Bengals called that strategy “Bruce,” as in Springsteen, “The Boss.” When they were playing a division opponent for a second time, they switched the word for that assignment to “Paul,” in honor of their boss, Bengals owner Paul Brown.
Basically, words have different meanings to different teams on different weeks.
“I was in Peyton Manning’s offense, and he was the epitome of the word-based system,” Orlovsky said. “Originally, a jailbreak screen was ‘jailbreak.’ Then teams caught on, so we started calling them by names of actual prisons, and communicate them by what coast they were on, so it was, ‘Rikers’ and ‘Alcatraz.’”
Bet you didn’t think the NFL was a league of such punsters and wordsmiths.