What is the Pocket in Football?

The pocket in American football is a U-shaped area that forms around the quarterback behind the scrimmage line. The offensive linesmen preserve the pocket.

When the ball is snapped for an offensive play, the quarterback drops back and has to pass it to his open receivers for yards gained. 

However, the defensive team wants to deny the quarterback and tackle him for a successful sack. Successfully sacking will result in the loss of yards for the offense and yield advantage for the defense. 

The offensive linesman knows this and has to protect the quarterback from the sacks. Moreover, they must ensure that the QB has ample time to look for a good passing opportunity.

Hence, the linesmen will form protection around the quarterback’s area on passing plays, forming the Pocket.

Pocket in Football

The pocket is a U-shaped area that forms around the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

The offensive linemen will drop back a little, then form a wall to protect the quarterback from the incoming defenders. This will create the pocket and give the quarterback more time to contemplate where to throw the ball.

When the team performs longer passing plays, the quarterback will drop further back, so the offensive line will create a deeper pocket. For instance, when the team opts for long passes or Hail Marys, the quarterback will need more time since wide receivers need to run longer yards.

 The pocket is not set through specific markers like the yards. We will have to visualize the area, which can be easily done by analyzing the game from overhead. Generally, Pockets are seven yards wide and five yards deep.

It is not effective for the offensive line to preserve the pocket in a straight line, as the defense can penetrate it by going around. Hence, they will form a U-shape to handle the defenders better.

Pocket Protection Process

The offensive linesman consists of five members, each with a strategy to preserve the pocket.

The tackles sit at the outer side of the line and form the outside pocket. They aim to prevent the defensive ends from circling the line to reach the QB. The tackles will drop back 4 to 7 yards based on the designated playstyle. 

The offensive guards sit in the inner area, and their purpose is to push back the defensive tackles. They will drop back less than the offensive tackles to form that u-shape. 

However, the guards must remember that the linebackers can also designate a strategy to join in with the defensive line. That’s why they have to look out for these linebackers as well. 

The center position will be the player to drop back the fewest yards after snapping the ball. His primary purpose is to look out for the Middle Linebacker. However, if Mike does not move toward the QB, the center will divert his attention to aiding his two fellow guards. 

The Tight ends will occasionally join the offensive line in protecting the pocket.

How Much Time Does A Quarterback Have In The Pocket?

Even with a skilled offensive line, the quarterback only has seconds to scan the field and pass the ball for a successful catch. 

If you look at the NFL statistics of 2022, as per Fantasy Pros, the best Quarterbacks take less than 3 seconds in the pocket on average. Patrick Mahomes spends 2.6 seconds to throw, Josh Allen has 2.5 seconds of pocket time, whereas Tom Brady spends 2.2 seconds.

With more time spent in the pocket, the defenders have more opportunity to go for a sack, and the QB will only feel pressure. A pressured QB increases the probability of making loose balls or fumbles. 

Football Coaches Value The Pocket Area

QB Coaches focus on the pocket when they provide training to the offensive team.

The quarterback is the player that dictates the play, so it is important to preserve the pocket. The offensive coordinators always try to bolster the offensive linesmen’s physical prowess. 

The QBs are trained to set their feet firmly when they drop back to pass the ball. This exercise helps the QB to make an accurate throw to the open receivers.

When the QB moves too much in the pocket, this is a sign of a big weakness and can hamper the play style.

Rules Relating To The Pocket

Although the pocket is not established through physical means, some rules apply to players in the pocket area.

These rules have been designated to provide fair play to both the dense and offense.  

Intentional Grounding Rule

The intentional grounding rule was made to prevent a quarterback from passing the ball forward when he feels pressure in the pocket.

Without this rule, the QB can simply make forward passes whenever he likes to prevent a sack for the loss of yards. 

The grounding penalty will be enforced if the Quarterback makes the forward pass with no realistic chance for the receivers to catch it.

So, how do we define the realistic chance of receiving? It is described as a pass made in the receiver’s direction and lands close to them.

An intentional grounding penalty yields a loss of down and losing 10 yards from the previous play spot. If the QB does the forward pass from his end zone, it results in safety and a 2-point gain for the opposition. 

Quarterback out of Pocket rules

When defenders chase the quarterback, he can leave the pocket. 

In doing so, the QB can throw the ball out of the field to prevent a sack. This will not yield any penalty. 

However, the defensive ends and outside linebackers will try to tackle him before the balls get thrown. 

Leaving the pocket is risky for every quarterback because they are outside the protection zone. Hence, all the QBs are expected to take this chance only at the last moment, when all other measures have failed. 

Illegal Contact

When the defensive side holds, locks arms, or grapples with the opposition’s receivers after the 5 yards at the line of scrimmage, it will result in illegal contact. 

In the NFL, an Illegal contact penalty will result in a 5-yard gain for the offense and an automatic 1st down. 

In the NCAA, there is no penalty for it. However, the defense can’t hold onto the receivers at the line of scrimmage. 

Roughing the Passer

This rule is applied to protect the Quarterback from injury. When the QB has the ball, the defenders cannot make a rough tackle as the QBs are vulnerable in a rush. 

The defensive team has to ensure that they don’t perform unnecessary tackles after passing the ball. Even if the QB has not passed the ball, making a full body contact will still result in the rule’s enforcement, 

Roughing the passer will yield a big penalty in the NFL, i.e., a 15-yard gain for the offense and an automatic 1st down. The NCAA also enforces the same rule.

Quarterback Types Based on Pocket Plays

Two types of quarterbacks are distinguished based on their pocket playstyle: Pocket Passers and Mobile Quarterbacks.

Pocket passers are the types who prefer sitting in the pocket and making plays with their passing arm. Many famous players fall under this type. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Peyton Manning are the most notable. 

Pocket passers are the traditional types and can be traced back to NFL’s famous players in the 1980s and 1990s. Joe Montana, the 49ers legend, was a pocket passer, and the New Orleans Saints legend, Drew Brees.

Mobile Quarterbacks have started to become valuable in the newer generations. These QBs excel in passing but can also run similarly to the receivers. A Quarterback taking the ball and gaining yards is referred to as Scrambling.

If we look at the NFL stats per Pro Football Network, the top 10 Quarterback rushing attempts have been made since 2017. These athletic QBs have come in high demand, making for Quarterbacks’ evolution. 

Baltimore Ravens Lamar Jackson and Philadelphia Eagle’s Jalen Hurts come to mind when we think of mobile QBs filled with athleticism. 

When a QB has a good passing arm and scrambling ability, they become known as Balanced QB, and many NFL and NCAA teams will prefer them.

Pocket Terms in American Football

Many terms are related to Pocket in American Football.

Many analysts and coaches use these terms to describe every game’s offensive and defensive playbooks. 

Pocket Presence

Pocket Presence is defined as the awareness of the Quarterback in his pocket. 

Every QB must look for his open receivers to successfully deliver the ball in their direction. However, the player must also watch out for the incoming defensive rush. 

A Quarterback with a good pocket presence will not need to divert their eyes to where the defenders are present. They can feel the defensive positions and focus more on their receivers. 

However, a quarterback with a bad pocket presence will make poor decisions since he is watching two sides simultaneously, his pocket and his receivers.

Stepping up in the Pocket

When the Quarterback moves forward in the pocket to give himself more room for movement or throwing, it is referred to as ‘stepping up in the pocket.’

This is utilized when the defenders come rushing from the sides or the back. 

The quarterbacks are taught to maintain their foot positions and awareness to improve their ability to step up in their pocket whenever necessary. 

Pocket Collapse

Pocket Collapse will happen when the offensive line fails to hold the wall and the defenders get inside.

If the defense successfully penetrates the pocket, then the Quarterback will have to improvise his strategy and go outside the pocket or perform a scramble.

Scrambling will lead to yard gainage and is the only beneficial move the offense can perform.