The Pocket in Football - Definition and Explanation

The pocket is the area of protection in the backfield provided by the offensive linemen for the quarterback when he drops back to pass the ball. This area is also referred to as the tackle box.


After the ball is snapped on a passing play, the offensive line creates an upside-down U-shaped pocket around the quarterback to protect him from oncoming defenders looking to tackle him, while also providing him with him adequate time to pass the ball. The longer that the offensive line can hold off the defense, the more time the quarterback has to make a play.

Rather than just stay directly on the line of scrimmage, outside members of the offensive line drop back slightly in order to form the pocket. In the common five-man protection scheme, the offensive tackles set the initial depth of the tackle box by sliding backward from their spot on the line of scrimmage. The distance that the tackles drop back varies, but it is typically between four and seven yards. Proper depth of the tackle box is important as it allows the quarterback space to get momentum behind his throw. The guards are next, and they typically drop back about half of the distance that the tackles did. It is the duty of the guards to watch out for additional rushers. The center will initially pay attention to the middle linebacker, making sure that he does not rush the quarterback. If the middle linebacker does rush the quarterback, it is the center’s job to pick him up and block him. If the middle linebacker does not rush the quarterback, the center can help the guards block.

Intentional Grounding

Intentional grounding is a rule that applies directly to the tackle box. If a quarterback is within the constraints of an established pocket, which is marked by the two outside offensive tackles, he is not allowed to throw a forward pass that doesn’t have a realistic chance of being completed. For example, he cannot throw the ball far out of bounds or to an area of the field without an eligible receiver nearby. This rule prevents quarterbacks from simply throwing the ball away in order to avoid a sack and a loss of yards.

If intentional grounding is called, the offense loses ten yards, as well as the down. Intentional grounding from inside one’s own end zone results in a safety.

Related terms

  • Stepping up in the pocket: The term ‘stepping up in the pocket’ refers to when the quarterback throws the ball from within the pocket’s protection.
  • Pocket collapse: A pocket collapse is when the quarterback’s protection breaks down and members of the defense infiltrate the pocket. When the pocket collapses a quarterback is forced to improvise with the football. He can either attempt a pass, try to run with the ball, or simply fall to the ground to avoid a hit or a potential turnover. When the quarterback leaves the protection area created by the offensive linemen he is said to be “out of the pocket.” Typical intentional grounding rules no longer apply once a quarterback is outside of the pocket.
  • Pocket presence: Pocket presence is a quarterback’s instincts and awareness inside the pocket.