What is the Definition of A Cutback in American Football?

A cutback is a strategic move in American football that involves a sudden change in direction by the ball carrier, typically against the flow of the play. This maneuver allows the ball carrier to exploit gaps in the opposing team’s defense and make significant progress down the field. One common type of cutback occurs when a player turns an end run into a run down the middle, showcasing their agility and ability to read the field.

The success of a cutback move depends on the ball carrier’s technique, quick decision-making, and anticipation of the opposing team’s defensive strategy. To execute a proper cutback, the ball carrier must maintain balance, have a strong sense of field awareness, and be able to swiftly change directions. Defending against a cutback requires defensive players to be disciplined, maintain their assigned positions, and react quickly to the ball carrier’s movements.

Key Takeaways

  • Cutbacks involve sudden direction changes by the ball carrier to exploit defensive gaps
  • Proper technique and swift decision-making are essential for executing an effective cutback
  • Disciplined defense and quick reactions are necessary to counteract cutback moves

Basics of a Cutback

Purpose in Offense

A cutback is a sudden change in direction by a ball carrier in American football. This tactic is usually executed against the flow of the play and serves to keep the defense guessing. The purpose of a cutback is to exploit open lanes that the defense may have left unguarded, creating opportunities for significant yard gains or even touchdowns. By employing cutbacks, offensive teams can diversify their play strategies and effectively confuse or outmaneuver the defense.

Running Back’s Role

The running back plays a crucial role in executing a cutback. As the primary ball carrier, the running back receives the handoff from the quarterback and quickly scans the field for viable running lanes. During this process, the running back needs to be agile and decisive to capitalize on any openings that may appear.

When performing a cutback, the running back plants their foot firmly on the ground and pushes off in the opposite direction. Maintaining a low center of gravity and proper body control are essential to executing a successful cutback. By changing directions, the running back exploits any over-pursuit by the defense, which can result in significant yardage gains for the offense.

In summary, cutbacks play a pivotal role in modern American football offense strategies. Running backs must be quick, agile, and decisive in their movements on the field in order to execute cutbacks effectively. This tactic helps to create opportunities for the offense by exploiting the weaknesses of the opposing defense.

Types of Cutbacks

Inside Cutback

An inside cutback is a football move involving the ball carrier changing direction from an end run to a run down the middle. This type of cutback is common for running backs who are trying to find a gap in the defense. By making sharp and sudden adjustments, the ball carrier can exploit an opening in the defensive line and gain additional yardage.

An efficient inside cutback requires quick footwork, agility, and a strong sense of timing. The player must be able to read the movements of the defense and decide on the optimal moment to change direction. Inside cutbacks are effective against aggressive defenses that might over-commit to the original direction of the play, creating an opportunity for the ball carrier to reverse course.

Outside Cutback

An outside cutback is another change-of-direction maneuver, but it is executed with a move from the middle of the field towards the sideline. This type of cutback is often used by ball carriers to avoid defenders who have closed in on the original play design. By moving towards the sideline, the ball carrier can create space between themselves and the pursuing defenders.

Executing a successful outside cutback requires speed, footwork, and vision. Ball carriers need to identify potential running lanes or exposed weaknesses in the defense. Developing the intuition for when and where to cut back is crucial to maximizing yardage gains during the play.

Both inside and outside cutbacks are critical for a diverse and unpredictable offense. Ball carriers who can effectively employ these moves can keep defenses on their toes, creating more opportunities for successful plays and advancing the team down the field.

Cutback Technique

The cutback technique is an essential skill for American football players, particularly running backs. It involves a sudden change in direction by the ball carrier, typically going against the flow of the play. The cutback allows ball carriers to exploit gaps in the defense and can result in significant gains on the field. Below are three critical aspects of the cutback technique: vision, decision-making, and footwork.


The central and most crucial aspect of a successful cutback move is the ability to read the field with excellent vision. A ball carrier needs to be able to survey the defense and spot defenders’ positions and movements quickly. This includes identifying defensive gaps, determining the best angles for making the cut, and recognizing when and where blockers can create optimal running lanes.


Once the ball carrier has a clear view of the field, they must make a split-second decision on whether executing a cutback is the best option. The decision-making process involves not only reading the defender’s positioning but also anticipating their movements. A ball carrier must weigh the risks and rewards of the cutback before making the move. This entails considering factors such as the down and distance, game situation, and potential yardage gained or lost if the cutback is not successful.


Finally, a player’s footwork is essential to perfecting the cutback technique. Quick, agile feet are vital for a ball carrier to change direction suddenly and maintain balance. Excellent footwork allows the ball carrier to plant their foot firmly, pivot, and then explode in the opposite direction while avoiding defenders. Furthermore, maintaining a low center of gravity and keeping their legs driving contributes to the effectiveness of this move, while increasing the chances of breaking tackles and gaining extra yards.

Defending a Cutback

Pursuit Discipline

Pursuit discipline is key when defending against a cutback in American football. Players must maintain their positions and track the ball carrier throughout the play. By remaining in their assigned lanes, defenders can effectively prevent the offensive player from executing a sharp change of direction. Moreover, maintaining a proper angle while pursuing the ball carrier can deter the cutback and make it easier for defenders to make a tackle.

Gap Control

Gap control is essential for effectively defending against cutbacks. Each defender should be assigned to a specific gap to ensure that all possible running lanes are covered. It is important for every player to be disciplined, focused, and prepared to fulfill their responsibility to maintain gap integrity. Through proper gap control, defenders can limit the ball carrier’s options, reducing the likelihood of a successful cutback and increasing the chances of a tackle.


Tackling is a fundamental component of defending a cutback in American football. Defenders should focus on the ball carrier’s hips and lower body movement, as this can provide essential cues to anticipate the cutback. By concentrating on these areas, defenders can improve their reaction time and make more effective tackles to counter the cutback move. Additionally, using proper form when executing a tackle can increase the likelihood of bringing the ball carrier down and limiting their yardage gained.

Impact on Game Strategy

Counteracting Defenses

A cutback in American football is a sudden change of direction by the ball carrier, usually against the flow of the play. This tactic can be utilized to counteract defenses that focus on pursuing the ball carrier in one direction. By quickly changing direction, the offense can take advantage of overcommitting defenders and create open running lanes.

This technique is often used in the counter run, a play designed to deceive the defense into thinking the ball carrier is running one way before executing the cutback and running in the opposite direction. An effective cutback puts pressure on the defense, forcing them to adjust their pursuit angles and maintain proper gap control.

Opposing Team’s Adjustments

Successful use of the cutback forces the opposing team to make adjustments. Defenders need to be aware of the potential for a cutback and may need to alter their approach, ensuring they maintain proper leverage and don’t overcommit to the initial direction of the play.

Linebackers and safeties must also be prepared for cutbacks, as they are responsible for filling gaps and preventing big plays. The defensive line can benefit from maintaining gap integrity and staying disciplined in their pursuit, avoiding the temptation to chase down the ball carrier on the opposite side of the field.

One potential method of defending against cutbacks is the use of a “scrape exchange” between the defensive end and linebacker. In this technique, the defensive end will aggressively pursue the ball carrier, while the linebacker will maintain discipline and cover the cutback lane. This approach can help to keep the runner contained and reduce the likelihood of a successful cutback.

Overall, a cutback is a powerful tool that can keep defenses on their heels, forcing them to adjust their tactics and execute with discipline to prevent big plays.