Football Basics

Football basics to understanding this complicated, but exciting sport!

Football is a complicated sport. There are many strategies, positions, plays -- enough to confuse someone who did not grow up watching it.

These basics will get you started on the way toward loving the sport. If you understand the basic information presented here, your viewing enjoyment with increase enormously. Here is a guide to viewing, with frequently asked questions.

What is the goal of the game of football?

The goal is for the team to move the ball to the opponent's end zone and score more points than the other team.

How are points scored?

Points are scored with touchdowns (6 points), the extra point after a touchdown (1 point), field goals (3 points) and safeties (2 points).

How can a team move the ball to the other team's end zone? And what is an end zone?

Each football field has two end zones, one at either end of the 100 yard field. There are goal posts at the end zone.

The ball can be moved by throwing it (called passing) or running it (called rushing).

What is a down and a first down?

When a team has the ball, they can move down the field toward the opponent's end zone in 10-yard increments. They get four "attempts" to move the ball ten yards. Each attempt is called a "down." If they successfully move the ball ten yards or more, it is called a First Down.

Why is a First Down so special?

It means the team can have four more attempts (downs) to get another First Down. As long as they keep getting First Downs, they stay in possession of the ball. They do not have to turn it over to their opponent.

Who throws the ball?

The quarterback passes the ball. The person who catches the ball is the "receiver." A "wide receiver" is one position who is eligible to catch the ball. When the ball is caught, the receiver tries to run toward the end zone. He can run until he is tackled or forced out of bounds. The point where this happens is called the new line of scrimmage and is the starting point for the next play. If the ball has traveled ten yards from the last line of scrimmage, a first down has occurred.

Who gives the ball to a runner?

The quarterback gives the ball to the person who "rushes." This rusher is often called a running back. (There are other backs, but that gets confusing and goes beyond the basics.)

The running back runs with the ball as far as he can, toward the opponent's end zone, without getting tackled or running out of bounds. Where he stops, the play has ended and it is the line of scrimmage for the next play. If the runner achieved a first down, the place where he stopped is the line of scrimmage for the next play.

What are all those really big guys doing?

They are blocking. Offensive blockers protect the quarterback so he can pass or hand off the ball. They also protect the runner, forming an alley that he can run through.

What is a sack?

The quarterback begins each play. Think of the joy the other team feels if they block the play from being started! They can do this by tackling the quarterback. To do this, their tacklers have to break through the offensive line and get to the quarterback while he still has the ball. Their tackle of the quarterback is called a sack.

What is offense?

Offense is the team in possession of the ball.

What is defense?

Defense is defending their end zone. In other words, they are the team that does not have the ball.

What is an interception?

An interception occurs when the quarterback passes the ball and it is caught by the other team, who then gains possession of the ball.

Are offensive and defensive players all the same people?

No, when the ball changes teams, the offense of one team goes off field and their defense comes in. The new team with the ball sends its defense to the sideline and brings out its offense.

What is a touchdown?

A touchdown occurs when the ball is caught by a player in the end zone, or run into the end zone by a player. Six points are scored.

Is there an extra point after a touchdown?

Yes, one extra point can be scored if the kicker can kick the ball through the goal posts. Two points can be scored if the offensive team runs or throws the ball (and it is caught) in the end zone.

Why are penalties so bad?

In football, the goal is to achieve yards toward the end zone. Penalties punish teams by taking away yards that they earned. Or, if the penalty is against the defense, the offensive team can be rewarded with additional yards.

What is a Field Goal?

A Field Goal earns three points, and is scored when the kicker kicks the ball through the goal posts. This is not in conjunction with a touchdown. What happens is that, in many cases, the team is close to the opponent's end zone but is having trouble getting a first down. Rather than chance losing the ball to the team (since they are having trouble getting a first down), they make a field goal attempt. They may be 30, 40, or even more yards away from the goal posts, but they hope the kicker can score.

Why do teams punt?

If a team is having trouble making a first down and they are too far from the goal posts to kick a field goal, they punt the ball toward the opponent's end zone. In essence, they are giving possession to the opposing team, but they do not want the other team to have good field position. By punting the ball, it makes the other team travel further in their attempt to score a touchdown.

Understanding the basics of football is the first step in a life long appreciation for the sport.

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