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The Snap Count in the NFL

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I always find amazing how professional football players make the most complicated task look simple. Take the snap count.

When you watch a game on Sunday, it probably is something you take for granted. Teams just snap the football. More goes into it than that.

Just take a look at this Jets playbook from 2001. There are nine different points where the ball could be snapped in the snap count.

  1. On Set (First Sound)

"SET..."

2. On the Color

"SET...BLUE"

3. On the Second Color

"SET...GREEN 15...GREEN"

4. On One

"SET...RED 14...RED 14...HUT"

5. On the First Hut

"SET...HUT"

6. On Two

"SET...RED 14...RED 14...HUT...HUT"

7. On the Second Hut

"SET...HUT...HUT"

8. On Three (Staggered Hard Count)

"SET...RED 14...RED 14...HUT...HUT...HUT"

9. On the Third Hut

"SET...HUT...HUT...HUT"

(The on one, two, or three refers to the "HUT" after the team calls out an audible or fake audible designated by saying a color.)

You might say, "Isn’t this silly. Why can’t the team just snap the ball?"

NFL players on defense aren’t just great athletes. They are very smart. If you come out and snap the ball on "SET...HUT...HUT" soon they will have the timing down and will be able to fire off the ball the second it is snapped. By the time they hear that first HUT, they will be ready to explode. You have to mix it up so they can’t time the snap count and get a head start.

If you see the defense firing off the ball immediately before the ball is snapped sometimes even before the offense gets off the ball, the quarterback is likely not varying the snap count enough.

Few defenders ever made quarterbacks pay for it like the great Troy Polamalu.

On the other side, a quarterback who knows what he is doing can play cat and mouse with a defense. He can set a tendency and then break it. "SET...HUT...HUT" "SET...HUT...HUT" "SET...HUT...HUT" "SET...HUT...HUT...(defense jumps offsides thinking it has the snap count timed)...HUT" (free play)

Few have mastered the cat and mouse hard count like Aaron Rodgers.

As the New York Times noted a few years ago, Rodgers' hard count has benefits beyond penalties. Sometimes it just makes defenders give away their assignments before the snap.

He might begin his cadence with his hands inside the warming sleeves on his waist,  (Trent) Dilfer said, then remove them, as if indicating that he is preparing for the snap. When the ball does not come, the safeties may have already flinched, declaring their intent and thus giving Rodgers a precious bit of information.

Just listen to the work Rodgers puts in to perfect this skill.

He might use his normal snap count for five, 10, 15 consecutive plays before changing it; for instance, if the ball has been snapped on two, he will adapt by emphasizing the second "hut" and expecting the ball on three.

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Besides reviewing the coaches’ film, which shows all 22 players on the field from above, Rodgers watches the network broadcast of a game.

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He listens to his voice, trying to detect any variations in volume or inflection from his regular snap count to his hard count to his double cadence — the fake signals he chirps in an effort to expose the defensive strategy before he must call the play. When necessary, Rodgers said, he makes changes.

Would you ever imagine something so subtle making such a difference? Would this be the type of thing you would imagine a player spending time working on during the week? It's this type of work and attention to detail that separates the greats like Rodgers.

When we talk about homefield advantage, this is one way it comes into play. We talk about how a loud home crowd might force the road team to utilize a silent snap count. That can cause problems for the offense as some players might get the timing of the snap mixed up and false starting.

What gets lost is that when crowd noise forces a team to use a silent count, this skill is taken off the table for a quarterback who knows how to use it.

Who knew there could be so much involved with simply snapping the football?