Football for Beginners & Swifties

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Learning the NFL rules may take time but knowing these basic football rules will definitely make you enjoy the game more. Each NFL team has 53 players on their rosters. The offense tries to move the ball forward down the field by either running with it or throwing it. Points are scored by crossing the goal line and getting into an area called the end zone.

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There are only a few positions that can legally touch the ball: the quarterback, the wide receivers, the tight ends, and the running backs.

  • The quarterback (QB) either passes or hands off the ball, usually to a running back (RB).
  • The offensive line (OL) comprises of three positions:
    • The center (C), who snaps the ball to the QB and blocks the defensive players.
    • Two guards (G) and tackles (T), who also keep the defense at bay.
  • Two to four wide receivers (WR) catch the ball when thrown, usually by the QB.
  • One or two RBs take the ball from the QB and run with it.
  • One or two tight ends (TE) are used to block defensive players as extra OL, but they are also eligible to catch passes.


The defense’s task is to stop the offense. The 11 men on the defensive team work together to keep the offense from advancing toward the defense’s end zone.

  • Linebackers (LB) can defend against the pass and also push forward to stop the run or tackle the QB.
  • The defensive linemen (DL) are comprised of defensive ends (DE) and defensive tackles (DT). They battle head-to-head against the OL to stop RBs and can also create sacks (a stat used to record the tackling of the quarterback).
  • Cornerbacks (CB) and safeties (S), collectively known as defensive backs (DB), usually defend against passes from the QB to the WR  or TE and can also help to stop the run.


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An NFL football field’s dimensions measure 100 yards long and 53 yards wide. There are white markings on the field, yard markers, that help the players, officials, and fans keep track of where the ball is. The yellow line on TV is generated by a computer for viewers. The most important part of the field is the end zone, which is an additional 10 yards on each end of the field and where you score.


NFL games are divided into four 15-minute quarters, separated by a 15-minute break at halftime. There are also two-minute breaks at the end of the first and third quarters as teams change the ends of the field. The second half starts with a kickoff just like the one when the game began in the first quarter. Each team will have 40 seconds on offense from the end of a play until they have to snap the ball. Otherwise, they will be penalized for the delay of game. If a game is tied at the end of regulation, there will be one 15-minute overtime (OT) period as well. It is possible for two teams to end up with a tied score if they cannot win in OT.


A game starts with the kickoff, where the ball is placed on a kicking tee at the defense’s 35-yard line. The kicker (K; also known as a placekicker) then kicks the ball to the other team. A kick-returner (KR), usually an offensive player, will try to catch the ball and advance it by running. The place where he is stopped is the point from which the offense will begin its drive or series of offensive plays.


The offensive team tries to get as many yards as they can. Each time the offense gets the ball, it has four downs or chances to gain 10 yards. If the offense can successfully move the ball for 10 or more yards, it earns a first down and another set of four downs. If the offense fails to get those 10 yards, ball possession is given away to the other team. The defense tries to prevent the offense from gaining the 10 yards needed for a first down. If the offense reaches fourth down, it usually punts the ball, which is the way to kick it over to the other team.



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A touchdown (TD) is the way to score the most points on a single play in a football game, worth six points. The ball must cross the goal line into the end zone one of these ways to be scored as a touchdown: be caught in the end zone, be a fumble recovered in the end zone, or be an untouched kickoff that was recovered in the end zone by the kicking team.


After a TD, the ball is placed at the opponent’s two-yard line. At that point, there are two options. Usually, the offense will kick an extra point (XP), which is also called the point-after-touchdown (PAT). The offense can also score a two-point conversion, which is done by either running or throwing the ball into the end zone, just as you would score a touchdown.


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If the offense can’t score a TD, it may try to kick a field goal (FG) instead. For a FG to be considered good, the ball must be kicked through the goal-post uprights and over the crossbar, all of which are at the back of the end zone. Field goals are worth three points, and they are oftentimes the deciding plays in the last seconds of games, especially close ones. The defense tries to block the kick and stop the ball from reaching the goalpost.


Safeties are worth two points and can only be scored by the defense. They occur when the offensive ball carrier is tackled behind their own goal line. It usually occurs on passing plays when the quarterback is sacked before they can throw the ball.


While trying to get the ball to the end zone, the offense may turn over the ball accidentally to the defense in two possible ways: fumbles and interceptions. Fumbles occur when the ball carrier or passer drops the ball before they are tackled. Any player on the defense can recover the ball by diving on it or running with it. Interceptions occur when the defense regains possession of the ball by catching (intercepting) passes that are meant for players on the offense.

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