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A beginners guide to American Football

nflIf you’re new to American Football and you don’t quite understand what’s going on, here’s a mini beginners guide!

Let’s start with the basics…

There are 11 players from each team on the field at any time. There are four 15 minute quarters with three time-outs per half for each time. If at the end of the game the score is tied, there will be a 15 minute ‘sudden death’ overtime.

The point of any game is to move the ball down the field and in to the opposition’s end zone. This is generally achieved by throwing the ball down the field to a team mate, or by running with the ball until the player is tackled.

Plays – These involve all 11 players to move the ball down the field. The Plays are planned pre-game and then called by the head coach or by the quarterback during the game. Although the term generally refers to the attacking team (Offense), the defending team also use set plays to stop their opponents moving forward. The Offensive team has 30 seconds to get the ball in play or to kick a field goal.

Downs – This is where the Offense needs to move the ball forward at least 10 yards each time (hence why the pitch is marked in yards). They get four chances or ‘Downs’ to gain the 10 yards. When the ball has advanced that far, the team earns the first down, and is then given four more chances to go a further 10 yards. If they fail to move 10 yards within four downs, they have to surrender possession although by this point the team will kick (or ‘punt’) to the defending team on the fourth down.

Scoring – A team can gain points in a number of ways. A touchdown gets six points and is scored when a team crosses the opposition’s goal line with the ball, or by catching it whilst in the end zone. You can also gain one extra point by kicking a field goal after a touchdown, but you can make this two points if the team goes for another touchdown. A field goal when attempted on the fourth down (if the kicker is close enough to the end zone) will get you three points. If a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball within his own end zone, the defensive team will be awarded two points. This is known as safety.

Team Positions – As mentioned there are 11 players from each team on the field at any time, however, the team itself is generally made up of around 45 players who each have a specific role.

Offensive Team:

  • Quarterback– This is the leader of the team who calls the plays and receives the ball from the centre, He’ll hand off the ball to a running back, throw it to a wide receiver or run with it himself.
  • Centre– This is the player who snaps the ball to the quarterback and handles the ball on every play.
  • Running back– This is the player who runs with the football.
  • Fullback – This is the player responsible for blocking for the running back and also for pass-blocking to protect the quarterback. Fullbacks are generally bigger than running backs and are short-yardage runners.
  • Wide receiver– This is the player who uses his speed and quickness to avoid defenders and catch the football. Teams use as many as two to four wide receivers on every play.
  • Tightend– This is the player who serves as a receiver and also as a blocker. This player lines up beside the offensive tackle to the right or the left of the quarterback.
  • Left guard and right guard– These are the inner two members of the offensive line, whose jobs are to block for and protect the quarterback and ball carriers.
  • Left tackle and right tackle– These are the outer two members of the offensive line.

Defensive Team:

  • Defensive tackle –These are the inner two members of the defensive line, whose jobs are to maintain their positions in order to stop a running play or run through a gap in the offensive line to pressure the quarterback or disrupt the backfield formation.
  • Defensive end –The outer two members of the defensive line. Generally, their jobs are to overcome offensive blocking and meet in the backfield, where they combine to tackle the quarterback or ball carrier. On running plays to the outside, they’re responsible for forcing the ball carrier either out of bounds or toward (into) the pursuit of their defensive teammates.
  • Linebacker –These players line up behind the defensive linemen and generally are regarded as the team’s best tacklers. Depending on the formation, most teams employ either three or four linebackers on every play. Linebackers often have the dual role of defending the run and the pass.
  • Safety – These are the players who line up the deepest in the secondary — the last line of defense. There are free safeties and strong safeties, and they must defend the deep pass and the run.
  • Cornerback – These are the players who line up on the wide parts of the field, generally opposite the offensive receivers.

You also have ‘Special teams’ who are responsible for all plays involving kicks (punts). They play a small yet vital role in that they come on to the field to achieve a field goal or attempt extra points. It is also their role to block the opposition’s kicks, as well as attempting to return them as far as possible in the opposite direction.

Article written by:

Liz has covered the NFL for five seasons and currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for NFLGirlUK.com. Since launching the website in 2014, she has made regular appearances on the TalkSport2 ‘All American Sports Show’ with Nat Coombs and in 2016 was ranked No.37 (of 400+) in the “Super Bowl: Top 50 UK Influencers” by marketing software producers Analytica for “igniting conversations” between fans.

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