All You Really Need to Know About Football And Were Afraid to Ask by Sue Peterson
The field. Something important to note is that the field is split into two halves (50 yards long each, for a total of 100 yard playing field). Whichever end zone Team A is going towards is considered the opponent team’s end zone. Therefore, Team A’s end zone is the direction team B is going towards. So, if the ball were on team A’s own 30-yard line, then it would be 70 yards from the end zone. Compared to a situation where Team A is on Team B’s 30 yard line, then team A needs 30 yards to go toward scoring a touchdown in their end zone.
The kick-off and downs. Another iconic moment is the kick-off at the start of every game and at the start of half-time (i.e. the beginning of play again after a half-time break). ‘Kick-off’ means one team kicks the ball off to the other team. The offense (the players with the ball trying to score) has the objective to move the ball within four plays (i.e. chances to make downs) of ten yards total to receive another first down. A first down symbolizes a new set of downs to gain ten yards. The tenth yard to gain is often referred to as the first down marker. As the offense continues to gain yards, their main goal is to score by touchdown or field goal.
The line of scrimmage. Also, another important term is ‘the line of scrimmage’, which is the yard line the ball starts on at any given play.
Levels of play. Some of the most common levels of football play include high school, National Collegiate Athletic Association for college play, and the National Football League for professional play. Football has become so popular that many new leagues have been established including the Arena Football League for play inside, Canada Football League for play in Canada, and a few women’s pro teams.
High school leagues in the US consist of many divisions ranging from Division 1 to Division 7. The divisions that schools are assigned to are based upon their high school size, location and city size. Division 1 is the largest, with Division 7 being the smallest. High school football has time regulations of four 12-minute quarters, totaling for 48 minutes of play. In all divisions of high school football, teams deserving of playing for the state championship game are selected based on their final team win/loss record. Teams selected will play in a playoff style tournament where each team advances upon beating their opponent, ultimately playing in the championship game. There is a championship game for each division at the high school level in every state.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association leagues also have many different divisions ranging from Division 1 to Division 3. In addition, there are also smaller leagues within each division. For instance, there is a Division 1-AA league for smaller Division 1 teams who can compete at a higher level than Division 2 teams. There are Division 2-AA and Division 3-AA teams.
In college football, games have four 15-minute quarters, totaling for a 60-minute game. College football is somewhat different in terms of championships. In Division 1, the top-25 teams at the end of the regular season are selected for the bowl games. This selection process is based on the BCS, Bowl Championship Series, which is a selection system creating the best match-ups for each bowl game.
There are many different bowl games for certain honors of recognition. Some notable bowl games are the National Championship, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Tostitos Bowl.
The highest level of play is the National Football League (NFL). This league consists of 32 teams. Similar to college football, each game consists of four 15-minute quarters combining for 60 minutes of play. The NFL’s system for championships is a playoff style tournament. The NFL is split into two conferences (AFC, American Football Conference and NFC, National Football Conference); and the best 8 teams from each conference are placed into the playoffs for separate playoffs. The top remaining team in the AFC and the NFC play each other in the Super Bowl. The winner of the Super Bowl is crowned world champions.
National Football Conference
American Football Conference
New Your Giants MiamiDolphins
PhiladelphiaEagles New EnglandPatriots
WashingtonRedskins New YorkJets
San Francisco49ers Kansas CityChiefs
St. LouisRams San DiegoChargers
Green BayPackers ClevelandBrowns
New OrleansSaints JacksonvilleJaguars
The regulation football field is shaped like a rectangle of 120 yards long and 53 yards wide. The game is played the long way where the field in 120 yards long. Each end zone, where touchdowns are scored is ten yards long. Therefore, given that there are two end zones of 10 yards long each, the playing field for football is 100 yards long. On each sideline, there are hash marks (a white painted marking on the turf) for each yard on the football field. Also, every five yards there is a line marking, (also painted white) that extends from sideline to sideline, across the field. These markings help with measurements and also help the announcer to clearly inform the spectators where the ball is in play.
Field goal posts and field goals. In each end zone, there are field goal posts, which are designated for the teams’ kickers. If a kicker kicks the ball through the posts (18.5 feet wide and 10 feet off the ground) that team is awarded 3 points. If the kick is following a touchdown, this is referred to as a Point After Touchdown (PAT). Then that team is awarded 1 additional point for a total of 7 points: 6 for the touchdown and 1 for the field goal.
There are many different coaches on an individual football team. There are coaches for the offense, defense and special teams units. There are also certain coaches designated for specific positions.
For instance, the quarterbacks will have a quarterback coach within the offensive coaching staff. All coaches are under the control of the head coach. Furthermore, there are offensive, defensive and special teams’ unit coordinators. The offensive coordinator develops the offensive scheme and playbook and also helps the head coach determine which plays to call during a game. The defensive coordinator establishes the formation, playbook and scheme for the defense; and normally calls the plays during a game. The special teams’ coordinator creates the playbook and formations for the special teams units.
1 running back
1 full back
2 wide receivers
1 tight end
1 left tackle
1 left guard
1 right guard
1 right tackle
The center, both guards, and both tackles are considered the offensive line and are always present on the field for every offensive play. Whereas, the running back, full back and wide receivers are subject to change given the circumstances of the down and distance to the first down marker.
The goal of the offense. Like I mentioned before, the goal for the offense is to move the ball down the field to score a touchdown or a field goal. Every possession is given four downs to gain a first down and another set of downs. Each new set of downs means the offensive team has gained at least ten yards. When it is fourth down, the offensive team now must choose to punt the ball, kick a field goal, or attempt to convert the fourth down into a new set of downs (by gaining a total of 10 yards).
If the team chooses to go for the fourth down and fails to convert (i.e. make it), the defense takes over the ball and it is considered a turnover by the offense. This is why teams choose to punt the ball in certain situations.
Touchdown! A touchdown is when the player takes the ball in to the end zone, by having the ball cross the end zone line with control. This is considered a pass completion and the team is awarded 6 points. After the touchdown is successful, the team attempts the extra point.
Kicking a field goal. The team may kick a field goal at any point in their possession instead of going for a touchdown by running or passing. However, a field goal is only worth 3 points. A team may choose to kick a field goal on a fourth down where 3 points seem of value more than risking turning the ball over to the defense.
1 right end
1 right tackle
1 left tackle
1 left end
1 right outside line backer
1 middle line backer
1 left outside line backer
1 right corner
1 left corner
1 strong safety
1 free safety
The two ends and two tackles are considered the defensive line; however, there can be fewer than the 4 players on the defensive line to allow for more players in the secondary. The secondary, the unit behind the defensive line, is considered to be all the linebackers, corners and safeties.
Successful strategies for the defense. In order to succeed, the defense has to know the strengths of the offense. Therefore, if the offense is a team that relies heavily on running the ball, the defensive line may have all four linemen and the linebackers creep up closer to the line to get ready to attack. However, if the team is a pass-heavy team, the defense may play three linemen and have the secondary back off the line so they won’t get beat on a deep pass play.
Also, given which down it is, defenses are subject to switch. First downs are typically run by most offenses, so the defense will prepare itself for a run play by stacking the line with 4 linemen and have their linebackers creep up to the line.
Whereas, if it were third down, and the offense needed five more yards for the first down, the defense may have more players in the secondary to prevent a first down.
Turnovers, interceptions, fumbles. Another way defenses change the outcome of the game is creating turnovers. The defense can create many turnovers including interceptions and fumbles. An interception is when the offensive quarterback passes the ball and a defensive player catches the ball. A fumble is when an offensive player, who has possession of the ball, drops the football and the defense recovers it. In both instances, the defense can convert these turnovers into touchdowns by running to the end zone at time of interception or fumble.
It is the defense’s objective to stop the offense from converting first downs and to do this they must be good tacklers and create turnovers. An offensive player is ruled ‘down’ when he is tackled, and either his elbow or knee hits the ground. However, if the offensive player is not touched by the defense and falls to the ground on his own, he is not considered down and can get up and continue to run, because no defensive player can be attributed to the tackle.
Sacking the quarterback. A ‘sack’ is a term referring to a defensive player tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. Sacks and tackles for losses are good for the defense because it creates the need for the offense to gain those yards back, in addition to what is needed for a first down.
Safety. Additionally, if a defensive player tackles the offensive player who has the ball in the offense’s own end zone, it is ruled a safety. A safety gives the defensive team 2 points and the ball back.
The field goal unit consists of the nine offensive linemen, a placeholder (the player who holds the ball for the kick) and a kicker. The additional linemen are needed to protect the kicker and to make sure he gets the kick off in time. The placeholder is needed to hold the ball in place for the kicker. And the kicker’s goal is to kick the ball through the goal posts.
The punting unit consists of nine linemen also, a punter and another player for protection in the backfield by the punter. Punts normally take place on fourth down; therefore, the punter must punt the ball as far as he can so the opponent has further distance to reach the end zone.
The kickoff unit is used at the beginning of each game and after half-time at the start of the second half of the game, and after every score. Here, there are ten players and a kicker. After the ball is kicked, their objective is to prevent the return man from retuning the ball for a touchdown.
The onsides kicks’ unit is similar to the kickoff unit, but the objective is to recover the ball after it has been kicked to retain possession. The kicker must kick the ball at least ten yards before his own team can touch the ball. The players, besides the kicker, are generally wide receivers, cornerbacks and tight ends because their objective is to catch the ball after it has traveled ten yards.
The return team consists of ten players and one kick returner. This unit is often used during kickoffs and punts. Here, the additional ten players’ goal is to block for the return man so he can gain as many yards as possible. If the ball is kicked out of bounds, beyond the end zone, this is considered a touch back, so the ball is placed on the offense’s own 20-yard line, for the beginning of the offense’s possession.
If the returner catches the ball in the end zone and chooses to take knee, goes down on one knee, this, too, is called a touch back. Another instance is when the kicker kicks the ball off and the ball goes out of bounds before reaching the end zone, then this is a penalty and the ball is placed on the offense’s own 40-yard line to start their possession.
For a kicked PAT, the ball is placed on the 2 yard line; and if the team chooses to convert the PAT into 2 points by rushing or passing the football in to the end zone the ball is placed on the 3 yard line. Although converting the PAT into 2 points poses more of a challenge for the offense, it is very rewarding if converted. These are cases where the offense is doing all the scoring; however the defense can score as well
For example, if an offensive player has the ball in their own end zone and he is tackled and ruled down, the opponent is rewarded 2 points and the ball back. This is known as a safety, when offensive players with the ball are ruled down in their own end zone.
Following each score, the team who has scored has to kick the ball to the opposing team. On the contrary, after a safety, the team who has just been awarded 2 points now receives a punt from the opposing team.
What is a punt? Now, I’d like to make you aware that there is a difference between a kick-off and a punt. A kick-off is only at the beginning of the game, after every offensive score, and to start every half; whereas, a punt is after a safety, or when it is fourth down and the offense would rather punt the ball away to the other team rather than to risk converting the fourth down play into a new set of downs.
In this last scenario, the offensive team may punt the ball because if they fail to convert their fourth down passing the first down marker, they must surrender possession of the ball to their opponent. That is why teams choose to punt because if a team is on their own half and not converting first downs efficiently, punting the ball seems like a good idea because the opponent will have to move the ball further to score, rather than picking up possession where the team failed to convert a first down.
How many officials are there? There are 7 officials on the football field at all times including the referee, umpire, head linesmen, line judge, field judge, side judge and back judge.
has responsibility for the general supervision of the game and has the final authority on all rulings
wears a white cap, to denote his referee position
counts offensive players
Watches a play from behind the defensive line
calls holding and blocking penalties
stands at one end of the line of scrimmage looking for possible offsides (when the offense crosses the line of scrimmage prior to snapping the ball), encroachment (when the defense crosses the line of scrimmage prior to snapping the ball), and other fouls before the snap
marks the forward progress of the ball and is in charge of the chain crew, which signals the current down and the distance needed for a first down
assists the head linesman at the other end of the line of scrimmage, looking for possible offsides, encroachment and other fouls before the snap (i.e. when the ball is handed off by the center to the quarterback)
determines whether the play is out of bounds or not
works downfield in the secondary on the same side as the line Judge
rules on pass interference (obstructing a player from catching a ball when it is in the air), illegal blocks downfield (when the offensive player holds or pushes to the ground from the back to stop them from reaching the ball carrier), and incomplete passes
rules if a field goal is good or not
works downfield behind the defensive secondary on the same sideline as the head linesman
makes decisions near the sideline on his side of field, judging the action of nearby running backs, receivers and defenders
rules on pass interference, illegal blocks downfield, and incomplete passes
counts defensive players
serves as a second judge on field goal attempts
stands deep behind the defensive secondary in the middle of the field, judging the action of nearby running backs, receivers and defenders
rules on pass interference, illegal blocks downfield, and incomplete passes
gives the final say regarding the legality of kicks not made from scrimmage
What are penalties? Penalties are signaled by the throwing of a yellow flag onto the field by an official. Any official can call a penalty. When a penalty is called, a yellow flag is thrown on the field by the referee(s). Here are the most commonly called penalties in a football game:
a penalty where an offensive player holds a defensive player. A hold is different from a block in that the offensive player physically holds back the defensive playerresulting in a 5 yard loss
a penalty when either an offensive or defensive player obstructs the other from catching the ball while the ball is in the air
resulting in a 15 yard loss if an offensive player commits foul
resulting in the placement of a ball at the spot of the foul if the defense commits foul
a penalty where an offensive player blocks a defensive player in the back, or when offensive linemen undercut (taking someone out directed at the legs) defensive players. The undercutting of defensive players is referred to as the “chop block” which is very dangerous for the offensive players, risking extreme knee injuries for their victims
resulting in a 10 yard loss
a penalty where an offensive player is lined up over the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.
resulting in a 5 yard loss
a penalty where an offensive player crosses the line of scrimmage prior to the snap
resulting in a 5 yard loss
a penalty where a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage prior to the snap resulting in a 5 yard gain for the offense
Delay of game
a penalty where an offense does not start play exceeding the play clock
for every play (down) there is a play clock of 40 seconds, so the offense must snap the ball and begin play before the 40 seconds is up
resulting in a 5 yard loss
a penalty when a defensive player grabs the face mask of an offensive player
resulting in a 15 yard gain for the offense
Touch down Field Goal
Delay of Game
Coin Toss: at the start of every game, an official flips a coin to determine the direction each team is going and who will start with the ball first.
End Zone: touchdown region; two total end zones on the field, with one on each end of the field (one designated for each team playing).
Line of Scrimmage: the yard line where the ball is placed prior to the play.
PAT: point after touchdown; generally a field goal from the 2 yard line worth one point; but it can be a play from the 3 yard line worth 2 points.
Sack: when a defender tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.
Block: when an offensive player clears space by pushing out defenders for the ball carrier to run.
Safety when a defender tackles or sacks an offensive player in the offense’s own end zone.
Fumble: when an offensive player loses possession of the ball by dropping it on the field; then any team can gain possession of the loose ball.