Football 101 – The Basics of Football
The game of football can seem very confusing if you don’t know the rules, but actually, the basics of football are very simple. Check out the following sections and you’ll be watching football like an expert in no time.
Keep in mind, this was written for the person with little or no football knowledge. If you ever need any assistance or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
THE FOOTBALL FIELD
Learning the exact dimensions of the field is not necessarily that important, but it is good to have a basic knowledge of the field itself.
- The playing field is 100 yards long.
- It has stripes running across the field at five-yard intervals.
- There are shorter lines, called hash marks, marking each one-yard interval.
- On each end of the playing field is an end zone (red section with diagonal lines) which extends ten yards.
- The total field is 120 yards long and 160 feet wide.
- Located on the very back line of each end zone is a goal post.
- The spot where the end zone meets the playing field is called the goal line.
- The yardage from the goal line is marked at ten-yard intervals, up to the 50-yard line, which is in the center of the field. After reaching the 50-yard line, the yardage markers start to descend (40, 30, 20, 10) every ten yards until they reach the opposite goal line.
Each team is comprised of an offense, defense, and special teams. Check out the basic functions of each unit along with their fundamental responsibilities.
- Each game features two teams playing against each other.
- Each team is allowed 11 men on the field at a time. Any more than 11 could result in a penalty.
- Unlimited substitution is permitted, but players may only enter the field when the ball is dead.
- Each team is comprised of an offense, defense, and special teams.
- If team A has possession of the ball, they use their offensive team to attempt to advance the ball toward the opponent’s end zone.
- If team B has the ball, team A will use their defensive team to attempt to stop team B from advancing the ball.
- If a kicking play is expected, both teams will use their special teams.
OBJECT OF THE GAME
Organized chaos? What are those guys running around on the field trying to accomplish?
- The object of the game is to outscore your opponent by advancing the football into their endzone for as many touchdowns as possible while holding them to as few as possible. There are other ways of scoring, but a touchdown is usually the prime objective.
BEGINNING THE GAME
Know what’s going on right from the opening kickoff!
- Before each game, the captains from each team and the referee meet at the center of the field for the coin toss.
- The winner of the coin toss has the option of starting the game by kicking the ball to the other team or receiving the kickoff from the other team.
- The game begins when one of the teams kicks off to the other.
- The receiving team must catch the ball and try to advance it as far back toward the kicking team as possible.
- The play ends when the player with the ball is knocked to the ground (tackled), or makes it all the way to the kicking team’s end zone (touchdown).
- The spot where the kick returner was tackled becomes the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage is a term for the place the ball is spotted before a play is run.
- Once this starting point is established, the offensive squad of the receiving team will come in and try to move the ball toward the opposition’s end zone.
DOWN AND DISTANCE
This is the key! If you can get a grasp on this section, the rest of the game will come with time!
Understanding down and distance is probably the biggest key to understanding football, so make sure you really understand this part before moving on to the next section.
- Basically, a down is a play. From the time the ball is snapped (put into play), to the time the play is whistled over by the officials, is considered one down.
- A team’s offense is given four downs (plays) to move ten yards toward the opponent’s end zone.
Distance is the number of yards a team needs to get a new set of four downs.
- If they make the ten yards needed within four downs, they are given a new set of downs. This is called getting a first down.
- If they don’t make it the required ten yards, the other team’s offense takes possession of the ball.
- The first play of a series is called first-and-ten because it is the first down and ten yards are needed to receive a new set of four downs.
- Suppose on the first play, the team on offense picks up three yards. The next play would then be second-and-seven, because it is the second play of the set and they still need seven yards to get a first down.
- If they were to pick up six yards on the second play it would leave them one yard shy of the first down marker, therefore setting up a third-and-one situation. Third-and-one because it would be the third play of the series and they would still need one yard to get a first down.
- If the team with the ball can pick up one yard or more on the third-down play, then they will be given a first down, which means they get to start all over with a new set of four downs.
- A team can continue moving the football down the field as long as they continue to pick up first downs.
If a team fails to gain the required yardage on third down, several things could happen on fourth down:
- A team can elect to “go for it” on fourth down and try to pick up the remaining yardage, but they run the risk of turning the ball over to the other team if they do not get to the first down marker. If they do not get the required yardage, the other team takes possession of the ball at the spot of the last tackle and now has four downs to move ten yards back in the other direction.
- The majority of the time, teams will elect to “punt” the ball away on fourth down. A punt is simply a form of kicking the ball that gives possession of the ball to the other team, but also pushes them back considerably farther away from the end zone.
- Another option is to kick a field goal. If a team feels they are close enough to kick the ball between the upright bars of the goal post in their opponent’s end zone, they may attempt a field goal, which is worth three points when converted successfully.
After a Score
- After a team scores via a touchdown or field goal, they must, in turn, kick off to the other team, and the process begins all over again.
METHODS OF SCORING IN FOOTBALL
- The biggest goal for an offense every time they take possession of the ball is to score a touchdown. To score a touchdown, a player must carry the ball across the opposition’s goal line, or catch a pass in the end zone. Once the ball crosses the plane of the goal line while it is in a player’s possession, it is scored a touchdown. A touchdown is worth six points.
- The team scoring a touchdown is given the bonus of trying to add one or two more points. These are called extra point conversion attempts.
- If a team elects to go for two extra points, they will line up at the two-yard line and make one attempt at either running or passing the ball into the end zone. If they make it, they are awarded two points. If they don’t, they get no extra points.
- They can also elect to go for just one extra point by kicking the ball through the goal posts while snapping it from the two-yard line.
- Another way for a team to score is by kicking a field goal. When a team finds themselves in a fourth-down situation, many times they will attempt to kick a field goal if they feel they are close enough for their kicker to kick the football between the upright bars of the goal post in the opponent’s end zone. A field goal is worth three points.
- A team can also pick up two points by tackling an opponent possessing the ball in his own end zone. This is called a safety!
- Perhaps the rarest way to score in football is on the little-used fair-catch kick. If a team fair catches a punt from the other team, they have the option of attempting a field goal on a free kick on the very next play from the spot the punt is fielded. The ball is kicked off the ground with the aid of a holder, and is worth three points just like a regular field goal. The down is not timed.
Summary of Scoring
- Touchdown = 6 points
- Extra Point Conversion = 1 point
- Two-Point Conversion = 2 points
- Field Goal = 3 points
- Safety= 2 points
Content adapted from About.com-NFL