American Football - Learning the Basics
As the UK’s NFL home team, we appreciate that American Football is a little more complicated to follow than traditional football in the UK. Something that became very obvious when former England striker Peter Crouch met Jaguars legends, Tony Boselli and Mark Brunell for his first lesson.
So here we have explained the basics so that you too can differentiate your players from your plays…
How do you play American Football?
This is the most asked question by our new fans, how do you actually play American Football? Whilst there are a fair few rules to follow, it all boils down to getting those points on the board. The ultimate goal is a ‘touchdown’ – getting the ball into the ‘end zone’ – which is worth six points.
So how do you get a touchdown? Well to start with we have to consider the ‘team’. As Mark Brunell, Jaguars Quarterback Legend describes in our ‘That Peter Crouch American Football Show’: “Within a team there’s three different teams, or units. There’s the Defence whose job is to keep the other team from scoring; the Offense who go down the field to get points on the board; and then there’s the Special Teams – this includes the kick-off team and the kick-off return team.”
Typically, on the field you will see one teams offensive unit take on the opposing team’s defensive unit. “The premise on defence is pretty easy - see ball hit ball. So, whoever has the ball, go get that guy!” as Jaguars Legend, Tony Boselli summaries.
For the offense you are working to move the ball down the field towards the end zone. The team have four ‘Downs’ (which is essentially an attempt or ‘play’) to move the ball at least ten years to get a ‘first down’. If successful they get another four ‘downs’ (attempts) to get another ‘first down’ or 10 yards. If the team haven’t reached the minimum of 10 yards within their four downs, then the opposing team gain control of the ball.
As Tony Boselli explains: “Typically, after three downs if you haven’t got the first down yet you have three options: you’re going to punt (kick) the ball away to the opposing team; you’re going to kick a field goal if you’re close enough to the goal; or if you are close to getting a first down and have a really short yardage left to get you might go for it on the fourth Down to get the first down.”
How many players in an American Football team?
Whilst there are 11 personnel (or players) from each team on the field at a time (sound familiar?) American football actually has 53 players. So, whilst the number of players in an American Football team remains the same, the combination varies hugely depending on which unit is on the field (offensive, defensive or special teams) as well as the play they are going to do.
What are the player positions in American Football?
Well, it’s fair to say there are a lot of different player positions in American Football – there are after all 45 players on a team.
If we break it down per unit the key players to look out for and the role of the player position can be summarised as:
The Offence – who move the ball forward and score touchdowns. The most critical player here is the Quarterback (QB) who throws, receives, hands to a Running Back (who’ll take the ball and run up the field) or passes it downfield to a Receiver. They’re supported by the Offensive Linesmen who provide blocking for the QB and hike the ball to them at the start of play.
The Defense – made up of Defensive Linesmen who apply pressure on the QB by tackling them before the release of the ball, the Linebackers who break up the Linesmen and try and contain the Runners as well as covering the Receivers. The Cornerbacks who try and prevent the Wide Receivers from ball possession and the Safeties whose role is to prevent runs or long passes. The defence also have the power to tackle, or sack, the quarterback to knock the ball from their grasp.
The special team – playing a small but very important role, they are essentially responsible for kicking. They execute field goals or extra point attempts as well as trying to block the opposition’s kicks and punts and try to return these as far as possible in the other direction. The Placekicker kicks the ball through the goal to score further points, the Punter free kicks the ball to score points and the Returner tries to catch the ball and return it so they can score a touchdown.
How long is an American Football game?
A good question, as the length of an American Football game can vary hugely! Technically the game is only 60 minutes, made up of four 15-minute quarters, and then a 12 minutes half time. However, you also have stoppages where the clock is paused which means the 60 minutes of game time can take hours. Stoppages can be for when the ball goes out of bounds, is thrown and dropped or there are timeouts, penalties and post scoring celebrations. All in all, in turns into a three hour plus production. But you can’t complain about more of a good thing!
How does the scoring work in American Football?
We have already mentioned the ‘touchdown’ which is worth six points and is scored by carrying the ball into the end zone or receiving the ball from a pass whilst in the end zone. Then you have the PAT (Point After Touchdown) that can be scored by kicking the ball through the goal posts after a touchdown (one point) or alternatively the team can go for two points by lining up on the field two yards out from the end zone and attempting to move the ball into the end zone.
A team also has the option of a field goal, worth three points, most frequently attempted on a fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts successfully.
Unsurprisingly, the team with the most points is the winner. If it is a knockout game (i.e. in the playoffs) and there is a draw on points, the teams will play another quarter until a winner is determined.
Find out even more in our That Peter Crouch American Football Show, where we talk about everything from rules to strategy to celebrations and initiations with the former England striker and Jaguars legends Tony Boselli and Mark Brunell.