What is a Sack in Football: Everything You need to know about Tackle knows as “Sack” | NFL Rules Explained

Snehith Vemuri
|Published 10/09/2020

What is a Sack in Football: Taking a look at the definition of a sack in football and the history of the term.

Football is one of the most technical sports in the world. From penalties to positions, from rules to the scoring system, it can all be a bit overwhelming for new fans.

Today, we take a look at what a sack is and why they are so so important to NFL defenses.

Also read: NFL Waiver Order: How Do Waivers Work in the NFL and What is the Current NFL Waiver Order?

What is a Sack in Football?

A sack occurs when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, prior to an attempt to complete a forward pass. The last part of the definition is important. For a sack to be recorded, it has to be clear that the QB was attempting a forward pass or was in the pocket with no clear objective.

If officials rule that the play was designed as a run, the defensive player/s will not be credited with a sack. They will, however, be credited with a tackle for loss and it will count as negative rushing yards for the QB.

Wait, that’s it? Well, not exactly.

Other Important Things to Note about Sacks

  • A sack occurs when a defensive player makes contact with the QB, who is then ruled down by contact. Therefore, it is not technically required that the QB is “tackled”.
  • A sack also occurs if the passer runs out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage following defensive pressure.
  • If two or more players are involved in a sack, each player will be credited with half a sack.
  • When the defense forces the QB to fumble the ball behind the line of scrimmage, it is known as a strip sack. If the defense recovers the ball, it will be a turnover.
  • If the QB is sacked in their own end zone, it is known as a safety. The defensive team will be awarded 2 points and the ball back.
  • A sack counts as negative passing yards for the team’s offense. However, it will not affect the QB’s individual stats.

Also read: How To Watch NFL Games Without Cable: Streaming options for every 2020 NFL game

History and Records

The term “sack” was first popularized by DE Deacon Jones in the 1960s. He compared the devastation an offense felt after letting up a sack to that which a city felt after being sacked.

“Sacking a quarterback is just like you devastate a city or you cream a multitude of people,” Jones famously stated. “It’s just like you put all the offensive players in one bag and I just take a baseball bat and beat on the bag.”

Before the term was coined, tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage was known as “dumping the passer”.


Most NFL career sacks: Bruce Smith, 200

Most NFL single season sacks: Michael Strahan, 22.5

Highest NFL single game sacks: Derrick Thomas, 7

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