What is a Hard Count in Football? (Full Explanation)

By Coach Martin | Football Offense


Quarterbacks are always looking for a competitive advantage.

That often comes in the form of preparation, film study, and even snap counts.

One of the most effective forms of snap counts happens to be the hard count - which most veterans use almost every single game.

But what exactly is a hard count?

Today we'll talk about what a hard count is and some of the drawbacks to using it. 

Also, we go over a few of the other forms of snap counts that don’t get as much attention.


What is a Hard Count?

A hard count is a type of snap that quarterbacks use in an effort to draw an opposing player offside.

Hard counts are typically used in fourth down situations.

You would hear the quarterback yell louder than usual and sometimes even shout the usual word used to signal the snap.

However, the center is often told not to snap the football unless the quarterback feels as if the defense isn’t well enough prepared.

These counts often take the entire play clock as quarterbacks use up 15-20 seconds to form an irregular, accented cadence in the snap count.

These hard counts can also occur outside of fourth down situations...

These are usually done by a few of the best quarterbacks in the league, most notably the Green Bay Packers' quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers seems to always draw the defense offside with his hard counts, which have become a staple of his game in the NFL (video below).

When a hard count works in a non-fourth down situation, sometimes the referees won’t stop the play which allows the offense to get a free play without any repercussions.

This is another reason why the hard count is so important in today’s game.

What Happens When the Hard Count Doesn’t Work?

Not every quarterback is able to draw an offside like Rodgers, but there isn’t much of a punishment on the teams end.

If the team is out of field goal range, they may decide to use up the entire clock and accept the five-yard Delay of Game penalty.

Or they might choose to burn a timeout with a second left if the head coach realizes that the hard count isn’t working the way that they had hoped.

Also, the offense has to be careful as there have been times when the hard count fails due to false starts.

Again, the whole goal is to bait the defending team to commit an offside penalty.

However, hard counts may accidentally throw the offense off guard too, causing them to jump the line of scrimmage, and set them back five yards.

It takes absolute discipline and comfort with your quarterback to be able to pull a hard count off successfully.

Other Forms of Snap Counts

While the hard count is very effective at drawing offsides on the defense, there are a few other snap counts that have different purposes.

a. The Soft Count

The first one is the soft count, which is essentially the normal count for quarterbacks. 

Here, the quarterback communicates to verbally on when and how the play will start.

The communication is essentially the exact same as the hard count, except this time there isn’t any attempt to draw the defense offside.

b. The Silent Snap Count

This one aims to catch the opposing team by surprise which is why it is often used in short yardage situations. 

It is also used when the crowd noise is too loud and the team isn’t able to communicate verbally.

Here, quarterbacks use physical signals rather than verbal ones -- such as tapping their shoulders or stomping their feet.

This could also make things easier for younger quarterbacks who are struggling to learn all the correct language at the helm.

How the Hard Count Has Evolved:

Quarterbacks, especially the veteran ones, prefer to keep opposing defenses on their toes when it comes to their hard counts.

Some like to throw out random words or phrases while others use numbers.

This is often the reason you may have thought you heard a quarterback yell out words such as “Rihanna” or “Yellow.” 

This has taken the hard count to new heights in recent years -- most notably during the 2020 NFL season due to the absence of the crowds.

With stadiums at minimal capacity, players like Rodgers were able to communicate better and work their magic with the hard count.

This meant they were rarely messing up offensively during hard counts and the defense was paying too much attention to what was being said.

As fans return to the stadiums, expect the next generation of quarterbacks to continue adapting their hard counts as the game changes.



At the end of the day, the hard count is a way to help your team out when you get into sticky situations.

Whether you draw somebody offside and get a first down or maybe even pick up a free play, you team will benefit from it.

If you happen to be a young, hardworking quarterback out there, I would put a lot of time into perfecting your hard count.

This is a great way to stay one step ahead of the opposing defense and is definitely something you should NOT ignore. 

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: