What Is Play Action In Football?

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Have you ever heard of play-action in football? It’s a tactic to confuse the defense and give the offense an advantage. But what is play-action exactly, and how does it work?

In this post, I’ll break down the basics of play-action so you can better understand when and why it’s used.  

What Is Play Action? 

Play action is a type of trickery used by offensive teams in football. The offense will run a play that looks like it could be either a run or a pass, but it’s just an elaborate ruse to fool the defense. This trickery can be very effective because, if it works as intended, the defense won’t know whether they should focus on defending against a run or a pass. 

When Is It Typically Used? 

Play action is usually used on passing plays where the quarterback has little time to throw the ball before getting sacked by defenders. Using play-action, the quarterback will have more time to throw and more room to move around while looking for open receivers downfield.

It can also be used in short-yardage situations where it might be difficult for the offense to gain enough yards on their own and need an extra boost from some trickery. 

How Does It Work? 

The key to successful is deception. The offense needs to look like they are running an ordinary running play until the last possible second when they switch gears and attempt a pass instead.

This requires excellent timing from the quarterback and his offensive linemen, who must carry out their fake blocking motions convincingly enough that the defense only catches on once it’s too late. Of course, if done correctly, this deceitful tactic can give offenses plenty of advantages over their opponents.

How Can A Defender Recognize Play Action?

Look at the Offensive Line: They often give away the play by their stance and alignment. If they are in a run-blocking stance, it’s likely coming.

Look at the Running Back: He will usually be lined up close to the quarterback in a play-action pass, whereas in a regular passing play, he would be farther back. The running back will also often fake a handoff before going out for a pass.

Look at the Quarterback: The QB will usually sometimes tip off what’s coming by his stance and movement. He will often take a shorter drop than usual and may even turn his back to the defense for a split second to sell the run.


Play action can be an incredibly effective way for offenses in football to gain an advantage over their opponents without relying too heavily on athleticism or brute strength. It requires precision timing between all parties involved—the quarterbacks, linemen, and wide receivers.

But if executed correctly, it can create confusion among opposing defenses and give offensive teams more time and space to execute plays successfully. Understanding when and why teams use certain plays will help you become more informed about strategy in American football.