What is the typical format for an NFL quarterback cadence?

I would imagine that they have different words for everything, but they should have the same format in calling the original play, pointing out defense, and snapping the ball, right?

  • 1
    my feeling is that this is going to vary widely, not just back to back, but game to game.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 3:26

2 Answers 2


A basic variation of a QB cadence: "Down, Set, Hike."

Before the snap, the QB considers(1):

  • What is the defensive personnel in the game?

  • What is my pre-snap read?

Regarding defensive personnel and the pre-snap read, the QB will most likely point out the Mike linebacker and read if any blitzes are imminent. Based on how the defense is set up, the QB deems what is best for the play at hand (whether it's the play called in the huddle, if an audible or "hot route" needs to be made, if offensive line protection needs changed, etc.). NOTE: In some cases, what the coach/offensive coordinator calls, goes regardless. Bill Walsh would go as far as scripting his team's first 25 offensive plays.(2) When the play is set, the QB will communicate such.

Before snapping the ball, the QB may employ a hard or long count to get the defense to jump offside. The defense may have heard similar cadence throughout the game, and may bite on a harder than normal count "4-3, 4-3 Blue 25, Blue 25, hut, HUT, hut" (hard count) or a longer than normal count "4-3, 4-3 Blue 25, Blue 25, hut, hut, hut, hut."(3)

Cadences vary due to strategy ("down, set, hike" is obvious, setting up the offense for the best chance at success), communication among offensive players, and offensive team philosophy (Consider QB Peyton Manning's pre-snap routine(4)) to name a few. In fact, it is against the rule for defenses to mimic offensive cadence as a way to get offenses to falsely start.


Cadences do vary & in no huddle the play is called during the cadence. The offense can make movements (linemen pointing, backs/receiver in motion/ qb dropping to shotgun) without flinching before the qb calls "set". After that the snap count starts unless the qb calls an audible... Then the cadence can start over and a formation shift or motion can happen.

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