What Is A Sack In Football?

As a football fan, you would find very few defensive aspects of the game as exciting as sacking the quarterback. It boosts the morale of your team, excites the fans, and confuses your opponents. 

This is one aspect of football that enhances a change of momentum during the game. Therefore, folks who want to be abreast with American football have to understand what a sack is in football. 

What Is A Sack In Football?

A sack in football is said to have taken place when a defender launches a tackle on a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while the quarterback has the ball.


A sack in football causes a loss of down and yardage and mostly occurs during a blitz. A blitz can be described as when the defense releases extra players to charge at the quarterback.

History Of The Sack In Football

Sacks are a mainstay in the NFL and this has been the case for a very long while. Although the action is an advantage for defenses and a disadvantage for offenses, you’d be shocked to know that a significant number of football fans are not conversant with the origin of the term. 

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Normally an actual sack is referred to as a rectangular-shaped bag and one cannot help but wonder how this relates to the game of football.

The term was popularized by David ‘Deacon’ Jones, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman in the NFL, that carved a niche for himself as one of the most prolific sack artists in the history of the NFL. 

He began using the term after hearing his coach, George Allen, use it to motivate the team. 


Ahead of a game against the Dallas Cowboys, in an attempt to motivate his side, Allen said: “Before we play those Dallas Cowboys, we’re going to take that Morton salt and pour him into a sack.” 

Jones began using the term to describe what was once referred to as “tackling the QB for a loss.” It should be recalled that the NFL previously used the term ‘dump’ in place of ‘sack’. It should be known that the NFL had no interest in tracking how many times a QB was tackled for a loss until 1961.

The Rules That Govern Sacking the Quarterback

Although a sack has become popular in football, a good number of things can either hamper the play from happening to even annul a sack that has already happened. 


It is one of the reasons why some players occasionally wait before they celebrate a sack, just to be sure that the play has stood and that no penalty will be called. 

It has been previously explained that a sack takes place when the defender tackles the QB behind the line of scrimmage. This might not be a thorough description as there are some cases where the defender tackles the QB behind the line of scrimmage and it is counted as a run for a loss.

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For a sack to count, the QB should be in the pocket to outside the pocket during a pass play. However, if a designated play is for the QB’s run and he is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it would count as a run for a loss instead of a sack, Meanwhile, find below some factors that can prevent a sack from occurring in football.

  • The offensive lineman successfully blocks and gives the QB enough time to find a receiver.
  • The QB can decide to run the ball past the line of scrimmage for a gain if no open receiver is available.
  • The QB can decide on a backward pass to another player to ensure that the play remains active if the QB can’t find any receiver.
  • If a penalty is committed by the defense on the same play that a sack occurs, the sack is negated
  • The QB can also give himself more time to find a receiver if he manages to break free from the player that wants to sack him.

You should also know that the ball can be knocked loose during a sack and this is the case if the QB drops the ball before his knee or arm hits the ground.

This is counted as a fumble and is recorded as a strip sack by the defense. This ensures that the defense can recover the ball and gain possession. Meanwhile, play counts as safety if a sack takes place in the offense’s end zone.


Once a sack occurs, the ball is placed where the QB was ruled down with the ball.  

The offense will retrieve the ball and proceed from there if it was a first, second, or third down. However, if it was on a fourth down. the drive is surrendered by the offense and it is recorded in the books as a turnover on downs.

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NFL All-Time Sack Leaders

According to an article by ESPN, find below the top 10 NFL all-time sack leaders in football.

  1. Bruce Smith – 200 sacks
  2. Reggie White – 198 sacks
  3. Kevin Greene – 160 sacks
  4. Julius Peppers – 159.5 sacks
  5. Chris Doleman – 150.5 sacks
  6. Michael Strahan 141.5 sacks
  7. Jason Taylor – 139.5 sacks
  8. Terrell Suggs – 139 sacks
  9. Demarcus Ware – 138.5 sacks
  10. Richard Dent / John Randle – 137.5 sacks

The aforementioned American football players are the ones with the most sacks in the game. Although some of the players on the list spent their playing time in defense, some of them did defensive tackles and outside linebackers which should suffice for them to be on the list.