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American Football Lists


Objective: American football is played by two teams who will have eleven players on the field at any one time. The object of the game is to get the ball to the opponents end of the field, and score more points than the opposing team.

To start a game, the referee will toss a coin. The visiting captain calls. The winner of the toss can decide whether to start in offense (receive the kick) or defense (deliver the kick). When play restarts in the second half, the captain who lost the toss at the beginning of the game chooses.

If a game goes into overtime, the first team to score wins, so the captain will almost always choose to go on the offense. Teams change ends at the start of the quarter.

Playing time lasts for one hour, divided into four fifteen minute quarters. There is a fifteen minute break between the second and third quarters (each half of the game).

The clock is stopped when the ball is not in play, when a foul has been committed, or when a fair catch has been caught. The clock is also stopped for time outs. Both teams are allowed three time outs, lasting a maximum of two minutes each, in each half.

Both the clock and the game itself are stopped two minutes from the end of each half by the referee to allow the teams to plan their strategies.

If the scores are level at the end of the fourth quarter, overtime will be played. In NFL games, only one period of overtime is played, and if the scores are still level, the game is declared a draw. For championship and playoff games, periods are played until a winner is decided (the first team to score).


Kick off

Play starts with a kick off at the start of the second half, but when the teams turn around and change ends at the start of the first and third quarters, play is started from the same position on the field as where it finished, but in the opposite half of the field. The same team will keep possession.

The kick-off is used to restart play after all point-afters and field goals. The kick-offs are always taken from the 35-yard line, unless a penalty has been given. The team making the point after always restarts the game with a kick-off. If the kick is unsuccessful, the defense starts play from their own 25-yard line and so they become the offense.


As with many sports, the object is to score more points than the opponents. There are several different ways of scoring in American football.

The largest single score comes from a touchdown. This is worth six points. It is scored when an offensive player runs into the opposing end zone while in possession of the ball. A receiver can also make a catch delivered into the same area. The ball does not have to be actually 'touched down' on the ground for the points to be scored.

A successful touchdown is followed by a kick through the goalposts, known as the conversion, or 'point-after'. This is worth one point. For this, the ball is placed on the 2-yard line and snapped (passed backwards through the legs) to the kicker, who tries to kick it over the crossbar and between the upright posts.

A player can touch the ball onto the ground in the end zone without their whole body being in the end zone, and the touchdown still counts. However, the scoring player must not be pushed or helped in any way by other players.

The next type of scoring is called the field goal. A field goal counts as three points. It is taken from 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage (the line where the last play ended, so the next play is made from there), to give the kicker more time, and some protection from the defense. Again, the ball must be kicked through the posts. The kicker is credited for the kick from whatever distance it was taken from.

The fourth and final way of scoring is called the safety. Two points are awarded to the offensive team when the defensive team are caught in possession of the ball in their own end zone.

Scoring Summary:

To score points the attacking (offensive) team is allowed four attempts (downs) to move the ball 10 yards forward. They must keep possession of the ball while going forward. If they do this, they are allowed another four downs to go the next 10 yards.

After each attempt at the down the official will measure the number of yards gained or lost, and play is restarted from in between the hash marks in the centre of the field, on the same line of play where the ball was stopped.

If a team does not make the 10 yards in four downs, the ball is given the defending team. Often, a team will punt (kick) the ball deep into the opponents part of the field. When this happens, the defending team then become the attacking team.

If the offense lose yards during a down, they have to make up the distance in their remaining downs.

The field

The field is made up of distinct areas marked on the field

Play is only restarted from between the central lines (hash marks), but there are not just lines through the center of the field, but also lines along the side. They assist the officials in deciding how long kicks and advances are, and thus give the field the 'gridiron' name (pronounced grid-iron).

Notes about the teams

There will be a captain for each team. Not just the two sides, but for each of the special units which are on the field.

There can be as many substitutions in a game as the team want. In this way, players can be on and off the field for particular plays, as long as the number of players on the field does not exceed eleven at any one time.

Often, the players on a team will all group together (huddle) to discuss strategy. The quarterback will usually give instructions to the rest of the team. The team are allowed thirty seconds to bring the ball into play, otherwise they will be penalized 5 yards, play will be moved back the next 5 yard line.

If the quarterback is shouting at the players it is usually numbers to inform them of a change of play.

Gaining yardage

Moving the ball upfield 10 yards is done by a series of 'plays' by the offensive team. The coach will deliver strategies to the quarterback who is effectively the team leader.

The simplest way to gain yards is to throw the ball through the air to the receiver. When the ball is caught by the receiver, it is called a 'completion', but the receiver must be in bounds (on the field), and must have both feet on the ground.

Another way is for the quarterback to pass the ball to the half back or running back who will run forward with the ball. This is called the running game. This is effective when running into the defensive pocket (finding a gap in the defense and running through it), or by a sweep (when the running back takes the ball from the quarterback and 'sweeps' around the scrimmage).

Only one member of the offensive team is allowed to move just before the snap, and even then, is only allowed to move parallel with or away from the line of scrimmage.

A player attempting to catch a pass cannot be blocked or interfered with. The ball can be intercepted. Accidentally interfering is not against the rules, although it is of course difficult for the official to judge it.

When a pass receiver makes a catch and goes downfield, they cannot be blocked after they have gone five yards. Tackling is allowed.

A receiver can make a catch, and then step out of bounds. Play would restart at a point level with where the player went out.

Not every player is allowed to receive a pass. The offensive linemen, the center, the guards and the tackles are known as ineligible receivers for this reason. Ineligible receivers cannot move downfield until the ball has been passed.

If the receiver and a defender both catch a pass at the same time, the pass is said to have been completed and the receiver keeps possession.

Fair catch kick

After a fair catch, the receiving team has the option to put the ball in play by a snap or a fair catch kick (field goal attempt), with fair catch kick lines being ten yards apart. The same rules apply as for a field goal attempt from scrimmage.

The clock starts when the ball is kicked. There is no tee or placeholder allowed for the ball. If playing time ends while the ball is still in play and a fair catch is awarded, the receiving team can decide whether to continue the period with one fair catch kick down.

The teams, what they do, and their playing positions (formations)

While only eleven players per team play at any one time, most professional teams will have squads of forty-five players. This line-up usually consists of an offensive team, a defensive team, and a special team. There will also be reserves.

Players wear numbered shirts according to their playing position, whether they are playing offense or defense.

1-19 - quarterbacks and kickers
20-49 - running backs and defensive backs
50-59 - centers and linebackers
60-79 - defensive linemen and interior offensive linemen (including centers)
80-89 - wide receivers and tight ends
90-99 - further defensive linemen and linebackers


Offensive positions. There are only be eleven in play at any one time.

1 - split end
2 and 6 - tackles
3 and 5 - guards
4 - centre
7 - tight end
8 - quarterback
9 and 11 - running back
10 - full back
13 - tail back

The front line of the offense is the heaviest part of the team, and it is their job to protect the quarterback and the ball from the opposing front line. The running backs and receivers run upfield and try and get the ball from the quarterback.

The only players allowed to receive a forward pass from the offensive line-up are the two players on the outside ends of the scrimmage, and any other player who is at least one yard behind the line of the scrimmage. Interior linemen are not allowed to catch a forward pass.

The players


Defensive positions.

1 and 3 - cornerbacks
2 - safety
4, 5, 6, 7 - linebackers
8 - free safety
9 and 11 - defensive ends
10 - defensive tackle

The defensive team simply tries to stop the scoring plays. They do this by preventing the offensive team from gaining yardage, and preventing them from scoring. They do this by tackling and breaking up offensive plays.

There are three parts of the defensive team, linesmen, linebackers, and secondary.

The players

Special teams

The special teams are used for particular purposes, mostly kicking and punting, or the return of both.

Kick-off team

When kicking off, the kicker has a defensive team. The kicker tries to kick the ball high and far. The longer the ball stays in the air, the more time they offensive team have to get downfield and tackle the receiver. The further to the opposing line, the better.

The ball must be kept within the field. The kicker will usually kick the ball so that it hits the ground, and rolls, and thus becomes very difficult for the receiver to catch it.

The alternative to the kick off is the onside kick, where a losing team will kick the ball along the ground to a minimum of 10 yards (9.14 metres), and try to recover the ball themselves and take possession.

At the time of the kick-off, all players on the kicking team must be behind the ball. All players on the receiving team must be at least 10 yards (9.14 metres) away from the ball at the time when the kick is made.

Kick-off return team

The receiving side try and protect the receiver, and block tacklers, and allow the receiver to advance upfield. If the receiver feel that they cannot make any progress forwards, they can call for a fair catch, by raising the arm while the ball is still in the air.

This means that when the receiver catches the ball, they will not be interfered with by the defensive team. Once the catch has been made, the receiver cannot move upfield anymore. The play is restarted with a scrimmage from the point where the catch is made (but between the hash marks in the center of the field).

Punting team

The punting team does a similar task to the kick-off unit. The difference is that a kick-off is taken from the ground, whereas a punt is kicked after dropping the ball from the hands, before it hits the ground.

The punt is usually made when the team has had three downs and cannot do much else, although it can be taken at anytime during play. The punt is useful as it restarts play deep in the opposing teams half, even though they then gain possession.

To make a punt, the punter lines up about 10 yards (9.14 metres) behind the line of scrimmage, and is protected by the linesmen, who try and stop the punt return team from breaking up the play after the kicker has received the ball from the snap.

If a punt goes out of bounds (over the field sidelines or endlines) play is restarted in the middle part of the field at the point level with where the ball went out. If the punt goes into the opposing half then that team have possession.

As with the kick-off team, the punt team also try and stop the receiver from gaining yardage (getting back upfield after getting the ball).

Punt return kick

Just like the kick-off return team, the punt return team are responsible for protecting the receiving player from the opposing team. They are also allowed to try and stop the opposing punter from making the kick, and to hold their place on the scrimmage line to make sure that the punt does take place, and that the punting team has not got a different play in mind.

Field goal units

These units are brought into play when the opposing goal posts are in the range of the kicker, and the team is facing a fourth down, or in overtime, they feel that they can score.

The kicker and the holder (often the quarterback) are protected by the linesmen. After receiving the snap, the holder places the ball on the ground and the kicker attempts to send it over the crossbar for three points.

The defensive team will try to block the kick, prevent the kicker from making the kick, and be on the lookout in case the quarterback decides to run or pass instead of going ahead with the kick. Field goal attempts are made in front of the posts, so the success rate is high.


Of course the rules are not always followed. What follows is a guide to what can be done wrong in the game of American football, and what happens when a player commits one of these offences.

Infringements are penalized with a loss of yards and sometimes a down.

15 yards and automatic first down
- Piling on
- Roughing the passer
- Roughing the kicker

15 yards
- Spearing (diving helmet first) at an opponent
- Clipping (when a player blocks another from behind)
- Kicking, or interfering with a ball that has run loose
- Blocking below the waist
- Unsporting conduct, and excessively rough play

10 yards
- Illegally using hands on the offense
- Having an ineligible player upfield for a pass play
- Tripping

5 yards and automatic first down
- Holding (by a defender)
- Running by the kicker
- Illegally using hands when on the defense

5 yards and loss of down
- Making a forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage
- Intentional grounding

5 yards
- Player out of bounds at the snap
- Forward pass not from a scrimmage
- Crawling
- Encroachment, if a player makes contact with an opposing player before the ball is snapped
- Kick-off out of bounds
- Accidentally grabbing opponent's face mask
- Any formation, return of punt, shift, substitution, or motion that is illegal
- Invalid fair catch signal
- Having less than seven players on the offensive line at the time of the snap
- A time out longer than two minutes
- Delay, after a play has ended the offensive team must restart play within thirty seconds
- An infringement at the 'point after' attempt, the kick is moved 5 yards closer if the defense are at fault, 5 yards further away if the offense are at fault

Loss of down
- A second forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage (only one forward pass is allowed in any one play)
- A forward pass which touches an ineligible receiver


Listed above is what happens if a player or team infringe the rules. But who is responsible for making sure that the rules are followed? It is a fast game, and there are seven officials in action.

The other three officials are positioned at the back of the defense.

There are other officials who are not directly involved in the action.

Chain crew / Chain gang

Three officials on the sideline who measure yards gained or lost by the offensive team, and indicate the number of downs. They do this by displaying two numbers. For example, 1st and 10, or 2nd and 6. What this means is that the play has is the first down with 10 yards to make, and the next one means the next play is the second down, with 6 yards to go.

One member of the crew will hold the marker level with the point of the start of the first play, and the other will stand along the touchline ten yards away (the chain between the poles is ten yards long). The third member of the crew holds an indicator to say which down is next and will stand at a point level with where the down was made.


The size of the pitch is 91.4 metres (300 feet) long, 48.77 metres (160 feet) wide. The lines through the middle and along the edge of the pitch are 4.57 metres (5 yards) long.

Many pitches, especially in the NFL, also have markings at 91 centimetre (1 yard) intervals to allow the ball to be placed correctly at downs. No matter where play stops, the play is always restarted from between the central lines on the 5 yard line where play stopped.

The playing surface can be grass or artificial materials. Grass is the more popular playing surface due to the slightly higher level of injuries on artificial surfaces.

At the end of each side of the pitch, there are two areas known as the end zones. These are 9.14 metres (10 yards) deep. At the edge of the end zones are the end lines. If the ball goes beyond here it is dead. On the back lines of the end zones are the goalposts.


The goals are 5.64 metres (18 feet 6 inches) wide and the crossbar (horizontal bar) is at a height 3.05 metres (10 feet) above the ground. The tops of posts go up to about 9.14 metres (30 feet) from the ground.

A line called the 2-yard line is marked on the pitch 10.97 metres (12 yards) from the end line and at a central point between the goalposts. Regardless of where the touchdown was made, the kick for the conversion is taken from the 2-yard line.

The ball

The ball is oval shaped and pointed at each end (although not sharply). It weighs about 397 grammes (14 ounces) and is about 27.9 to 28.6 centimetres (11 to 11 and a quarter inches) long.

The circumference (distance around) the middle of the ball at its widest part is about 54.6 centimetres (21 and a half inches) and the circumference around the ball from end to end is about 72.4 centimetres (28 and a half inches).

Most balls are made of pebbled leather, but some are made of pigskin.

Another small piece of equipment relating to the ball is the kicking tee, a small plastic item used to hold the ball at the kick-off.


Players will wear protective clothing. This includes:


The rules given above are for the professional game. The college game is broadly similar, with the following main differences.

The kick off is made from the 40 yard line, instead of the 35 yard line for the professional game.

One point is scored for kicking the ball through the posts, and two points for running or passing it over the goal line. In professional football one point is awarded for kicking the ball through the posts only.

The ball is spotted at 3 yards in the college game for a conversion kick, instead of 2 yards.

If the game ends after four periods with a level score, the game finishes as a tie. Professional games use extra time to find a winner.

When a fumble in a college game touches the ground, only the team that has fumbled can advance the ball, instead of either team. However, if a fumble is caught in the air, either team can play the ball. This applies to college and professional football.

The penalty for holding an opponent in the college game is 10 yards, as opposed to 15 yards.

In professional football, a player must have both feet inbounds (on the field of play) while in possession of the ball, the college game allows for only foot to be inbounds. There is no fair catch kick.

A college player in possession of the ball must stop running if any part of their body touches the ground, (other than their hands or feet) without a tackle being made on them. Professional players can slip over without being tackled and carry on.

College players return missed field goals to the 20 yard line, instead of the 20 yard line or the point where the kick was made, depending which is furthest from the goal line for the professional game.

College players may have as many uniformed players in their squad as they wish, ninety or more for a home game, sixty or more for an away game.

College footballs do not have to be leather covered, they can be rubber or composition covered if agreed beforehand, and the ball is fractionally smaller. There are also five or six officials, instead of seven.

The field is the same size, but the inbound lines are only 16.35 metres (53 feet 4 inches) in from the sidelines, and the goal line is the equivalent of the end line on the professional field. In professional football the inbound lines are 21.55 metres (70 feet 9 inches) in from the sidelines.

In college football there is a 7.1 metre (23 feet 4 inches) width between the goalpost uprights.


American Football Lists


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