Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.
The A Gap is the space, or split, between center and guard on either side of the offensive line. Gaps can be widened by blocks, used as holes or lanes by running backs, and/or targeted by defenders as an entry point to the backfield. As the play develops, so does the gap, either being filled with rushers and/or blockers, or expanding. Delayed blitzes exploit this space between players even as they move. Each specific gap is identified by a letter (A through D) on either side of center.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the shortest distance to the quarterback is right up the middle:
On defense, an interior defender or defenders ‒ most commonly inside linebackers and defensive tackles ‒ are responsible for the A gaps. Assigning gaps to each defender within a defensive front helps the defense account for each running lane on a rushing attempt:
Offensively, gap assignments are used as part of the protection scheme and pre-snap reads. The center is key in protecting the A Gap, needing to make good decisions when faced with direct pressure. Teams that successfully pressure the two A Gaps affect the quarterback’s field of vision, preventing him from climbing the pocket.
At the snap, both linebackers initially appear to blitz. Watt (#65) and right guard Johnnie Troutman (#63) both look to engage Casillas, who drops back into coverage after his initial action. That leaves Collins unblocked and he bursts through the line for an easy sack. Even without knowing the protection scheme, it’s easy to imagine that Watt blocked the wrong man, since Troutman was on the wrong side to pick up Collins.
The Carolina Panthers linebackers Thomas Davis (#58) and Shaq Thompson (#54) align on either side of Houston Texans center Ben Jones (#60) to show a double A-gap blitz, or to sugar the A gap, pre-snap. Neither player rushes the quarterback, but Jones has to account for them, which makes him late to help when Kyle Love (#93) swims past the left guard and gets pressure on the quarterback forcing a quick throw.