American Football – How to Play?

Getting Ready

American Football starts with the toss of a coin, just 3 minutes before the game. The referee meets both team captains and calls for a toss. The winner of the toss has can choose from either receiving the kickoff or just kickoff to start the game. Apart from that the winning team chooses an end of the field and the loser of the toss other end of the field.

Players & their Positioning

Each team is divided in three different units

  • The Offense, the players who have the possession of the ball indicated in the picture below as the grey team

  • The Defense, the other team players who line up to stop the offense indicated in the picture below as the blue team.

  • Special teams, the team that takes care of free kicks, kickoff, and field goal attempts along with the punts. Only 11 players are on the field from each team at any point of time.

Players Position

The offense team lines up the field on the line of scrimmage, with 1 center player having the control of the ball, 2 guard players on both right and left side of the centre player, 2 tackle players positioned outside of the guard players on both sides. A quarterback player standing right behind the centre player is the primary passer and ball handler. A tight end player is lined up on the left side of the centre player slightly behind the tackle players. He is the powerful player who has extra blocking control.

There are 2 wide receiver players stationed 7 yards away from the centre player on both strong and weak sides, who will receive the ball and are fastest in passing the ball. A halfback player placed behind the wide receiver players runs, blocks, receives, and passes the ball. An important player who is extremely powerful runner, excellent blocker and good passer is positioned in the fullback on the strong side.

The defence team lines up on the defence line of scrimmage, exactly opposing the offense team, with 2 tackle and 2 end players blocking the centre player of the offense, being the strongest are known as front four. The front four players battles headto-head against the offense. Their main aim is to stop the running attack, rush the passer and take control of the ball. They are even permitted to use their hands against the offense.

A nose tackle player positioned as the middleman to help the defence line players. There are 3 linebackers stationed exactly behind the tackle and end players. They are the most handymen with their main objective to pursue running, play, drop back, defending against the passes, and disrupting the pass plays. Two cornerback players, also known as defensive backs, are placed a little behind the linebackers in the area of defence called secondary area. These players are required to tackle fast runners in the plays and interrupt the passing. They also have commendable speed to strike down the wide receivers of the offense. The last two players called the safeties will try to take the control of the ball from the offense.

Quick Glimpse of the Game

The offensive team with 11 players takes possession of the ovoid ball and tries to advance the ball by throwing and running to the opponent team’s goal post to score points. Both the teams try to gain points by crossing the goal line and getting into the end zone. The opponent team called the defence tries to stop the offensive team and takes the control over the ball. Out of both the teams, the team with the ball has to score more points or the team is forced to give up the possession of the ball. The offensive and defensive teams change roles (the offensive team goes on defence and the defensive team goes on offense). The same continues back and forth, until all four 15 minute quarters of the game have been played.

The game starts with the kickoff. The ovoid ball is placed on a tee (a cone shaped platform which holds the ball) at the defence’s 35-yard line, and a special kicker also known as a placekicker kicks the ball to the offense. Any player from offense team will try to catch the ball and advance to the defence. When a kickoff is caught in the offense’s end zone, the kicker has two options to play. First option is to run the ball away from the end zone and second option is to kneel down in the end zone to gesture a touchback and to stop the play immediately. The ball is positioned on the 20-yard line and game is started again.

The offensive team tries to get as much space as it can to try and move closer to the defence’s end zone. Every time the offense gets hold of the ball and has four downs or chances to gain 10 yards. If the offensive team effectively passes and moves the ball 10 or more yards, they earn a first down and similarly other set of four downs. If the offense fails to gain 10 yards space then they lose control of the ball. The defence tries to prevent the offense from scoring and gaining the 10 yards needed for first down. If the offense reaches fourth down then they end up punting the ball (kicks it away). This makes the defence team to begin its game from further down the field.

One of the important game rules of American Football is the play from scrimmage. It is the movement of the game during which one team tries to advance the ball, get a first down, or a point, and the other team tries to stop them or take the ball away. These plays from scrimmage include–field goal attempts (from either a place kick or a drop kick), passing the ball, retaining the ball and running, punting the ball (dropping the ball from the hands and then before it reaches the ground, kicking the ball), or freekicks such as kick-offs and fair catch kicks. The game also consists of a series of downs, referred to as a time period in which the individual plays in a certain duration, outside of which the ball is dead or not in play.

Replacement of players can be made only between the downs, which allows for a great deal of choice for the team to send in the best suitable player for that particular situation.

Moving the Ball –The Run and the Pass

Usually the game begins with the snap of the ball at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback of the offense calls out a play in code and the centre player passes or snaps the ball under his legs. The quarterback than continues from there and takes a quick decision on either to throw the ball or run with it.

The offense can advance the ball in two ways. First one is The Run and this happens when the quarterback player passes the ball off to a running back player, who attempts to gain as many yards as possible by escaping the defensive players. The quarterback is also one of the runners and is permitted to run with the ball.

Another alternative to taking the ball is to Pass it. The quarterback player generally passes the ball to trick the defence. Any other player from the offensive team can also pass the ball as long as the pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage. A pass is complete after another offensive player catches the ball, typically the wide receiver or tight end player of the catch the ball. If the ball smashes the ground before any other player catches it, then it’s an incomplete pass.

The defence players stop the offense from progressing with the ball by getting the ball to the ground. A player is said to be Tackled when the players knees touch the ground. This results in end of the play. A play also finishes in case if the player runs out of boundaries.


The game is played on a point based scoring system. The main objective of the players is to score points and team with scoring highest number of points is declared winner of the game. According to the scoring structure points can be scored in four methods that is Touchdown, Extra point (PAT), Field goal, and Safety points.

A Touchdown is achieved when a player carries the ball and crosses the opponent team’s end zone. The player who is successful in advancing the ball or otherwise gains control of the ball by catching it in the end zone is qualified as a touchdown. If a forward pass was thrown on the play, the quarterback is also credited with a passing touchdown. It is the biggest single score in the whole game worth six points, and it allows the scoring team an opportunity to attempt to get an extra point.

Run and Pass Ball

Following a Touchdown the ball is spotted at the opponent’s two-yard line, the offense has two possibilities. Either the offense will try for an extra point called the Point After Touchdown (PAT) conversion or the offense magnificently kicks the ball through the goal post to earn one point. Two extra points can also be scored by running or throwing the ball into the end zone similar to a touchdown.

A Field Goal can be recorded by the team if the ball is place kicked, drop kicked or free kicked in between the goal posts in the opponent’s end zone. With field goal a team is worth of three points and often are the determining points in the climax of the game. These goals can be tried from anywhere on the field on any down, but mostly are kicked from inside the defence’s fourth down position. If a field goal is missed, the ball is kept back on the original line of scrimmage or on the 20-yard line if ball goes further from the goal line and the control of the ball goes to the other team. Place kick is the best way to make a perfect field goal. The defence attempts to block the offense from making a field goal and stop the ball from reaching the goal post.

The Safety is worth two points. A safety rises if the player grounds the ball making it a dead ball in his own end zone. In that case two points are awarded for safety to the opponent team. A safety is also granted to the team if the other team commits a foul in its own end zone.

A Turnover happens when the team is trying to advance the ball to the end zone and by chance loses the possession of the ball without kicking it.

A Fumble occurs when the ball mover or passer drops the ball, any player can recover the ball by leaping on it or he can run with it. The team that recovers a fumble gets the control of the ball. A violent defence can regain the ownership of the ball by intercepting (catching) passes than an Interception takes place. The fumble recoveries and interceptions can advance up to the end zone to score a touchdown.