Hard count (gridiron football)

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The defensive and offensive lines square off prior to a snap

In gridiron football, the hard count is a strategy used by offenses. It is most frequently used to "convert" on fourth down with less than five yards to go.[citation needed] In this situation, the quarterback uses an irregular, accented (thus, the term "hard") cadence for the snap count in the hope that the defense will jump offside, giving the offense the five yards needed to convert the first down.[1]

Also, if the defense jumps offside, but the offense begins their play, it is designated as a "free play" (as in, there are no negative consequences to the offense on the play, with the exception of penalties). The offense may choose to use the hard count throughout the game, in an attempt to confuse the defense, and get them to play more conservatively.

However, if the defense does not go offside, the offense will either call a time out or take a five-yard penalty for delay of game and punt the ball away. Also, the offense's own offensive line might react to the hard count, resulting in a false start.[2]