How to understand football
How to understand football and enjoy the game that dominates Fall sports seasonSo, you'd like a beginner's guide on how to understand football? The Sundays spent in front of the TV haven't helped -- You're still confused. What is he doing with that strange shaped ball in his hands? No worries.
Let's take a look at the basics of the sport and (hopefully) give you the requisite knowledge you'll need to begin to enjoying those Sundays just a little bit more.
Let's start with the basics: There are 11 players on each side of the ball. Offensive players try to move the ball down the field to score points while the defensive unit going against them does everything in their power to stop this from happening.
The playing field itself runs 100 yards in length and 53 yards in width. The field has an end zone at each end, which adds another 10 yards on each side.
How It Breaks Down
You've seen kickoff returns and maybe you, as a newbie fan decked in the requisite jersey, have asked yourself: "Why isn't Peyton Manning taking back kickoffs as well as quarterbacking?"
Well, there are three distinct units for a team: the offense, defense, and special teams.
- Offense: This will consist of eleven players (quarterback, running back, wide receivers, linemen, etc.)
- Defense: It will also consist of 11 players (safety, cornerbacks, linebackers, etc.)
- Special teams: Special teams players will come on during kicking situations, i.e.: punts, field goals, and kickoffs.
A game will start with the kickoff at the opponent's 35-yard line with the placekicker teeing off and usually (with the new kickoff rules) sending the ball into the opposite end zone. The team with the ball (offense) will try to move down the field in order to score a touchdown or kick a field goal to earn points.
A touchdown (TD) equals 6 points for the offense and they can then add on an extra point (1 point) or try for a two-point conversion (2 points). If the offense has to settle for a field goal, it is 3 points added to the scoreboard.
The defense will try to impede this movement by tackling the offensive player with the ball; they will also try to intercept the ball so the receiver can't catch the football, force a fumble, and/or play solid defense to make the other team punt the pigskin away.
For the offense, they need to gain a first down (go 10 yards) in four tries. If they make it, then they will get another set of downs (four more tries) to get 10 more yards down the field. Obviously, they can throw or run the ball longer than 10 yards (at least, that's what they're trying to do each time).
Ways in which the offense can move the ball down the field include:
- Passing -- The quarter back (QB) -- or other eligible player -- throws the ball to an open receiver down the field
- Running -- The QB hands the ball off to the running back (RB) or other very large man and they plow forward to get yardage
The game operates under time constraints, with four quarters of action bisected by a 12-minute break during halftime. Each quarter runs 15-minutes with additional 2-minute breaks at the end of both the first and third quarters which allow the teams to switch sides after every quarter.
The clock will stop when a quarterback throws an incomplete pass, when a player goes out of bounds, or a penalty is called during the game. For these instances, the game clock will resume after the official re-spots the ball. When offensive ball carriers go out of bounds during the last 2 minutes of the first half or the last 5 minutes of the second half the clock will remain stopped until the next play begins.
There is a play clock involved during breaks within plays; what this means is that teams have 40 seconds from the end of their last play until they have to snap the ball. If they do not get the next play off in time a penalty will be called.
There are overtime rules in play, as well, with a 15-minute overtime being played if the game happens to be all knotted up at the end of regulation. New overtime rules were taken from the playoffs and applied to regular season with both teams having the opportunity to possess the ball, instead of a sudden death format (except in the case of a first-possession TD or safety).
For a ton of information on penalties and rules/regulations within the game, head over here to find a compilation of articles on the sport. Thus, the question of how to understand football can be answered through repeated viewings, by asking questions of more knowledgeable parties, and doing your own research.
In the end, understanding the game brings its own unique rewards -- Those lazy Sundays become more interesting -- special, even -- with family and friends gathered to watch those freakishly talented athletes battle it out on the gridiron. With good company, NFL team gear, food, and drinks, what more can you ask for?
Livestrong.com: Football Rules.
NFL.com: Rule Book.
Above photo attributed to Ed Yourdon