The Football Game

Watching your first football game may seem perplexing, but it can quickly make sense if you understand the big picture.  For starters, let’s go over the basics of the football game. You’ll learn about the offense, the defense, the football game strategy, and the field its played on.

The Object of The Football Game

Two teams of 11 players each attempt to score points by kicking goals or putting the ball across the opponents goal line. The winning team is the one that scores the greatest number of points. Points can be scored by:

  1. Carrying (rushing) the ball over the opponent’s goal line (touchdown).
  2. Catching a pass thrown over the goal line (touchdown).
  3. Kicking the ball through the opponent’s goal posts (field goal or PAT).
  4. Tackling an opposing ball carrier in his own end zone (safety).

The Football Field

The rectangular playing field is 120 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide. It is divided by parallel yard lines, 5 yards apart.  These are intersected by short in-bounds lines 70 feet, 9 inches from each side line. Each of the lines used in try-for-point plays is within the playing field and 2 yards from its related goal line.

The lines at the ends of the field are called end lines. Those on each side of the field are called side lines. The goal lines are the lines 10 yards from and parallel to the end lines.  The end zones are the areas bounded by the end lines, goal lines, and side lines.

Here is a more detailed diagram of High School football field.

Football_field_diagram-HS-Horiz-Football Game

Video is Property of the NFL

The Football Game Duration

A standard football game consists of four 15-minute quarters (12-minute quarters in high-school football and often 10 minutes at the youth level).  There is a half-time intermission after the second quarter. Depending upon the level of competition, the duration of the half-time ranges from 10 to 20 minutes. At all levels, a down (play) that begins before time expires is allowed to continue until its completion, even after the clock reaches zero. The clock is also stopped after certain plays, therefore, a game can last considerably longer (A typical College or NFL football game will last three hours in real time). If a game is broadcast on television, TV timeouts are taken at certain intervals of the game to broadcast commercials outside of game action.

Advancing The Ball Down The Field

The team that takes possession of the ball (the offense) has four attempts, called downs, in which to advance the ball at least 10 yards toward their opponent’s (the defense‘s) end zone. When the offense succeeds in gaining at least 10 yards, it gets a first down.  A first down awards the offense a new set of four downs (plays) to gain yet another 10 yards or to score. If the offense fails to gain a first down (10 yards) after four downs, the other team gets possession of the ball at the point where the fourth down ended. The defensive players exit the field while the offensive players take the field. The offense will begin with a first down to advance the ball in the opposite direction.

Except at the beginning of halves and after scores, the ball is always put into play by a snap. Offensive players line up facing defensive players at the line of scrimmage (the position on the field where the play begins). One offensive player, the center, then passes (or snaps) the ball backwards between his legs to a teammate behind him, usually the quarterback.

Offensive Players Can Advance the Ball in Two Ways

  1. By running with the ball, also known as rushing.
  2. By throwing the ball to a teammate, known as a pass. If the pass is thrown down-field, it is known as a forward pass. The offense can throw the ball forward only once during a down and only from behind the line of scrimmage. However, the ball can be handed-off to another player or thrown, pitched, or tossed sideways or backwards (a lateral pass) at any time.

Video is Property of the NFL

Defensive players line up facing the offensive players and try to prevent the offensive from advancing the ball down the field and scoring. In order to do this, one must tackle the ball-carrier until their knee, elbow or rear end hits the turf. Or if all else fails the defense can push the player out of bounds.

Here Are Some Things The Defense Can Do

  1. Sack the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of yards.
  2. Blitz the offensive by sending an extra player or two across the line of scrimmage. The goal is to sack the quarterback, or at the very least force him to make a bad throw.
  3. Interception. During an offensive pass play the defensive backs cover the offensive receivers. If they are in good position, a defensive back can steal a pass intended for the receiver which is called a ‘pick’ or an interception. Once the defensive player has the ball in their possession, they turn into an offensive player and can score a touchdown by running it to the opposite end zone.
  4. Fumble. If the football slips out of the ball carriers grasp, or jarred free by a defensive player, it is called a fumble. Anyone from either team can recover a fumble and put (or keep) their offense on the field. A fumble is considered a ‘turnover’ and can greatly impact the outcome of the football game.

Video is Property of the NFL

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Comment (1)

  • Chris

    Great informational on the basics! Thank you. I’m a grown up who never learned the game and this has been helpful, especially given the athletic-based, after school program that I operate.

    July 7, 2016 at 11:56 am

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