What is the Definition of a Hole in American Football?

A hole in American football refers to the space between defensive linemen through which a running back aims to run. Also known as a running lane, the holes play a crucial role in the intricacies and strategies employed by the teams on the gridiron. The spacing between players before the snap can predesignate these holes, or they can be established by the movement of players, creating gaps after the snap.

Offensive and defensive players alike need to understand the concept of holes and their corresponding gaps, as they are essential for executing various plays and schemes. Running backs, in particular, rely on offensive linemen to create suitable openings in the defensive line, allowing them the opportunity to charge forward and gain yardage. On the other hand, the defense must work diligently to close these holes and prevent the opposing team from advancing down the field.

Key Takeaways

  • Holes in American football are spaces between defensive linemen that running backs aim to run through
  • A thorough understanding of holes and gaps is vital for offensive and defensive strategies
  • Proper execution by the offense involves creating holes, while the defense focuses on closing them

Basic Definition of a Hole in American Football

A hole in American football refers to the space between the defensive linemen, which the running back aims to run through. This area is also known as a running lane. Holes can be either predesignated spaces defined by the spacing between players before the snap or established by moving players around and creating the holes after the snap. It is important to remember that both the offense and defense can make use of the holes for strategic purposes during the game.

The simplicity and standardization of the gaps and holes allow football players from various positions and teams to comprehend plays and responsibilities efficiently. Holes and gaps in football are technically the same thing; they refer to the spaces between two offensive linemen.

In American football, a play is a close-to-the-ground plan of action or strategy executed to move the ball down the field. A play starts at either the snap from the center or at kickoff. Typically, plays occur at the snap during a down and can range from basic to very intricate.

Holes play a significant role in determining the success of a play, as running backs attempt to find openings in the defense to create space for themselves or their teammates. Understanding holes and gaps, along with numeric symbols assigned to them, is crucial for both offensive and defensive players to enhance their game strategies and ensure a well-coordinated performance on the field.

Roles and Responsibilities

Offensive Line

The offensive line in American football is made up of five players whose primary responsibility is to block opponents and protect their quarterback. These players are tasked with creating space, or “holes,” between the defensive linemen for the running back to exploit. The offensive line positions include the center, two guards, and two tackles. Each has a specific role in the formation, working together to open up running lanes for the running back.

  • Center: The center is responsible for snapping the ball to the quarterback and then blocking the defensive lineman in front of him.
  • Guards: The two guards, positioned on either side of the center, block the defensive linemen and linebackers in order to create a hole for the running back.
  • Tackles: The two tackles on the ends of the offensive line work to block the defensive ends and outside linebackers, helping to widen the running lane and prevent defenders from closing it down.

Running Back

The running back’s primary role in American football is to receive hand-offs from the quarterback and make use of the holes created by the offensive line. Possessing speed, agility, and vision, the running back’s goal is to maneuver through the openings in the defense by identifying and exploiting the hole that has been created. In order to do this effectively, the running back must:

  • Read the defense: Before the play, the running back should evaluate the defensive alignment and anticipate where a hole may open up for them to exploit.
  • Follow the blockers: Once the ball is snapped, the running back should stay close to their offensive line, using their blocks to navigate through the defense.
  • Make quick decisions: As the play develops, the running back will need to make split-second decisions on which hole to choose and how to navigate the open field.

By understanding the roles and responsibilities of the offensive line and running back in the creation and utilization of holes in American football, one can better appreciate the strategy and teamwork involved in executing successful running plays.

Offensive Strategies

Zone Blocking

Zone blocking is a versatile offensive strategy used by many American football teams. It involves each offensive lineman blocking a specific area or “zone” on the line of scrimmage. The primary objective is to create running paths or “holes” for the team’s ball carrier. While advancing down the field, linemen focus on their zone rather than specific defensive players. This allows for more adaptability and fluidity in the running game.

The zone blocking scheme has two main concepts: inside zone and outside zone. In an inside zone play, the offensive line moves in unison and blocks to create a hole between the tackles. The running back swiftly reads the blocks and chooses the best path. An outside zone play involves the linemen blocking towards the sideline, opening up potential lanes for the running back to cut through or bounce to the outside.

Gap Blocking

Gap blocking, also known as the power blocking or drive blocking, is another popular offensive strategy in American football. Unlike zone blocking, gap blocking assigns specific defensive players for each offensive lineman to block. The goal is to create clear running lanes or “holes” by directly attacking the defense.

In this scheme, offensive linemen use different blocking techniques, such as:

  • Double team: Two linemen combine forces to block a single defender, typically a stronger player in the defensive line.
  • Pulling: A lineman, usually a guard or tackle, leaves his initial position and moves to another area of the line to block a defender or lead the ball carrier through the hole.
  • Down blocking: An offensive lineman blocks a defender diagonally, driving them away from the intended gap.

Gap blocking is typically more aggressive and physically demanding than zone blocking, as it requires linemen to engage in one-on-one battles with defensive players. However, successful execution can lead to significant gains in yardage and valuable scoring opportunities for the team.

Defensive Counters

Defensive Line

The defensive line is the first line of defense against the offense’s running game. One of their main responsibilities is to clog up the gaps between the offensive linemen and close the holes to prevent the running back from gaining yardage. The defensive linemen often use various techniques to shed blockers and maintain their gap assignments, such as the bull rush, swim move, and rip move.

A strong, disciplined defensive line can effectively limit the available running lanes and force the offense to rely on its passing game. Additionally, the defensive linemen put pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback, disrupting the passing game and potentially causing turnovers.


Linebackers play a crucial role in containing running plays, as they are responsible for reading the gaps and filling the holes left by the defensive linemen. They must quickly diagnose the direction of the run and react accordingly, ensuring they meet the ball carrier at the point of attack. Linebackers are generally divided into three categories:

  • Outside Linebackers (OLB): Positioned on the edges of the formation, they focus on containing outside runs and blitzing the quarterback. They need to be agile and fast, able to fight off blockers and make accurate tackles.
  • Middle Linebacker (MLB): Located in the center of the formation, the middle linebacker is vital for defending against inside runs and short pass plays. They are usually the “quarterback” of the defense, responsible for calling plays and making adjustments before the snap.
  • Inside Linebacker (ILB): Similar to the MLB, the inside linebackers must be strong and agile to effectively read the run and cover the offensive gaps. They also often have coverage responsibilities against tight ends or running backs in the passing game.

It’s essential for linebackers to maintain gap integrity and avoid over-committing to a specific running lane, as doing so may create cutback lanes for the ball carrier. A well-coordinated linebacker group can significantly increase the defense’s success in stopping the run and limiting the effectiveness of the offense’s attack.