The Basics : Game Play

Today, it’s all about game play.

And game play all starts with the kickoff.

Two things can happen here:

Kickoffs occur at the beginning of every new possession (excluding turnovers, when the ball is played from the spot where the turnover ended). You might hear a new possession being called a new “drive” – they’re the same thing.

The ball is placed on a tee on the Defense’s 30-yard line, and a Placekicker (not the other Kicker, who kicks field goals and extra points) kicks the ball to the awaiting Offense. Of note: the Offensive players on the field at this time are part of the Special Teams Unit, and they may or may not also play for the Offensive Unit. (Example: The Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester is the best Special Teams returner in the league, but they’ve also tried to utilize him in their Offense as a Wide Receiver.) Wherever the returner (“return man”) is stopped is where the Offense begins their drive.


If the ball is caught in the Offensive team’s end zone, the player who caught it can either try to run it out of the end zone and get as much yardage as possible before being tackled or he can chose to kneel down in the end zone, an action called a “touchback.” This results in the ball being placed on the Offense’s 20-yard line.

Next, downs!

Once the Offense starts their drive, they have FOUR chances, called “downs,” to move the ball 10 yards from where they started (this place is called “the line of scrimmage”).

Each play is then calculated by what chance (down) the Offense is on and how many yards they have left until they reach 10 yards total.

Once they reach or exceed the 10 yards in one set of downs, they get a new set – four more chances to move the ball 10 more yards.

[Example: On the first play, the quarterback hands the ball off to the running back, who runs three yards past the line of scrimmage. When the teams line up for the next play, the count will be “Second Down and Seven” because it’s their second chance and they have seven yards left to go to get to ten yards total.]

Third down is when life gets tense. Let’s say it’s 3rd and 3 – meaning that it’s the third chance and they have 3 yards left to go to get to 10 total – and the ball is on the Defense’s 30-yard line. The Offense runs a play but only gets 2 yards instead of the 3 they need for a new set of downs. It’s now 4th and 1. (The time when hairs turn gray.) The Offense has three options:

1. “Go for it” on 4th down and try to get the one yard they need. However, if they don’t get the yard, they turn the ball over to the Defense right where it is on the field, which would put the Defense in excellent position for the next drive.

2. Try a field goal. The field goal counts as a play, which counts as the 4th down. It would be a long shot because about 17 yards are added to the total distance (to account for the 10 yards of the end zone and 7 yards to the line of scrimmage – don’t worry about any of that). If the Kicker makes the field goal, awesome. If not, the other team gets the ball at the line of scrimmage.

3. Punt the ball. This means that they’re just kicking it off from where the ball currently is and the other team returns it.

So to review: plays occur in a set of four downs that repeat until the end result is a score, a punt, or a turnover.

Luckily, because of the magic of technology, figuring out this whole “down” situation is easier than ever. There is usually a bright electronic line drawn on the field that signifies how far a team has to go until they earn 10 yards and a new set of downs. Not that you need any help from technology, since you are well on your way to becoming a Football Knowledge All Star.

The Basics : Schedule & Game Timing

Today, let’s talk about the timing elements at play: the schedule and game timing.

Preseason starts in August (aka right now! WOOT!), the regular season runs from September to January, and the postseason is played in January and February. Preseason is 4 weeks long. It’s basically a warm-up – teams get to assess their new players and figure out how they want to implement their systems for the regular season. The regular season is 17 weeks long, with each team getting one week off at some point in the season (this is called a “bye week”). The postseason is when the playoffs occur and it culminates with the Super Bowl.

As far as game timing goes, games consist of four 15-minute quarters. The 12-minute break in the middle of the game is called halftime (during the Super Bowl, it’s way longer, and it’s called Over the Top Entertainment). There are also two 2-minute breaks that occur at the end of the first and third quarters to allow the players time to switch ends of the field (they rotate after every quarter).

After the sides have rotated at the end of the first and third quarter play resumes as normal – the Offense just picks up where they left off (but on the opposite end of the field). But after halftime, the team that did not kick off to start the game kicks off a whole new drive. It doesn’t matter if you were a yard away from the end zone when time ran out before halftime: you’re out of luck!

During each quarter, the “play clock” is running. This means that the Offense has 40 seconds from the end of a play to snap the ball and start the next play (except for injuries and time outs and a few other random things, after which the play clock is set to 25 seconds instead – just to be confusing). If the Offense doesn’t get the ball snapped in time, they receive a “delay of game” penalty.

There are a few situations in which the play clock stops. That happens when an incomplete pass is thrown, when a player steps out of bounds, or when a penalty is called.

Stopping the play clock when time is running out at the end of a half is a lucrative action for the Offense because it gives them more time to score. That’s why you’ll see people screaming for a player to “GET OUT OF BOUNDS!!!” when he has the ball and needs to score but time is running low.

The Basics : The Where

Today, we’re going to talk about where all of this football play happens, in two parts:

Part I : The Field

A football field is 100 yards long and 53 yards wide. Each end zone is 10 yards long and is in addition to the field (so the entire field measures 120 yards).  The 20 yards prior to each end zone is referred to as the “red zone” because it’s where all of the important stuff goes down. At the back of each end zone is a goal post (the “uprights”) into which field goals and extra points are kicked.

Part II : The Locations

Geographically, there are 32 teams located all over the United States. The NFL is arranged in two conferences comprised of four divisions each – a north, south, east, and west component for each division – with four teams in each division. (We went over this briefly last week as well.)

Teams have an equal number of home and away games (eight each). The away games are determined on a rotating schedule so that eventually all of the teams get to play each other – but not all in the same season.

Sometimes games are played in Canada and London. It’s strange but true.

Our Training Camp : Week 1 Quiz

Ok ladies, here we go! You can answer these quiz questions privately or post your answers in the comments – official answers and shout outs as earned will be posted tomorrow!

1. Which of the following is NOT an offensive position?

  1. Center
  2. Linebacker
  3. Right Guard
  4. Tight End


2. What is the Center’s job?

  1. He catches passes
  2. He receives the hand off from the QB
  3. He blocks the Offensive Line
  4. He snaps the ball to the QB


3. Who kicks the ball during kickoff?

  1. The Kicker
  2. The Placekicker
  3. The Kickoff Kicker
  4. Some Guy Who Doesn’t Look Especially Busy


4. Which of the following is a Defensive position?

  1. Tight End
  2. Left Guard
  3. Center
  4. Cornerback


5. Cornerbacks and Safeties are often referred to as the:

  1. Defenders
  2. Linebackers
  3. Primary
  4. Secondary


6. The Baltimore Ravens were originally the:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Cleveland Browns
  4. Baltimore Blue Jays


7. The Quarterback Battle in Cleveland is between:

  1. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow
  2. Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson
  3. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton
  4. Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden


8. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a running back for the Bengals. He used to play for:

  1. The Patriots
  2. The Colts
  3. The Giants
  4. The Packers


9. James Harrison is a Steelers linebacker best known for:

  1. His flowing curly locks
  2. Receiving frequent fines from the NFL
  3. His unbelievable catches in the endzone
  4. His toughness


10. How many teams are in each conference?

  1. 8
  2. 16
  3. 32
  4. 4

The Basics : The Players


Your absolute basic guide to who is on the field

Offensive Players:

The Quarterback (QB): The guy who gets all the glory and all of the criticism, too. He orchestrates the Offense, throwing or handing the ball off to other members of the Offense in order to score points.

The Center (C): He’s the guy who snaps the ball to the quarterback. It’s important to know who he is because he handles the ball on every play and is usually a key to the whole Offensive system.

The Offensive Guards and Offensive Tackles (RT, LT, RG, LG): The four other guys who, along with the Center, comprise the Offensive Line and keep the Defense at bay. They’re often burly.

The Running Backs (RB): The Running Back lines up behind the QB. He receives a handoff, looks for holes in the Defense (“open lanes”), and tries to plow through for as many yards as possible. There are other varieties of this position – Fullbacks, Halfbacks, Tailbacks – but the one you’ll see most often is the Running Back.

The Tight Ends (TE): The tight end can either block the Defense or catch the ball. He’s all about versatility.

The Wide Receivers (WR): These are the guys who run down the field and make spectacular catches. They insight cheers and groans depending on which team you are rooting for.


Defensive Players:

The Defensive LineEnds and Tackles (DE, DT): These guys form the first line of protection, going head to head against the Offensive Line, which is lined up directly across from them. They can also be quite burly.

The Linebackers (LB): Linebackers defend against the pass but can also move up to the Defensive Line to protect against a running play.

The Cornerbacks (CB) and The Safeties (S): Commonly referred to as the “Secondary” or the Defensive Backs, these players cover passing plays and protect the end zone. They are also most often at the receiving end of a “pass interference” penalty.


The Special Teams Unit:

The only player to know on this unit is the Kicker (K), who kicks field goals and extra points. Other than that, the Special Teams unit handles kickoffs and…well, that’s pretty much it. But it’s an important job, even if it isn’t the most lucrative, because a lot of crazy things can happen when Special Teams is on the field.

Our Training Camp : Posting Schedule

Girls, it’s time to have our own version of training camp. It’s going to be long. It’s going to be jam-packed with information and homework. But it’s going to be way more fun than actually being in training camp.

Over the next 6 weeks we will be learning all of the basic information you need to know to survive the 2012 NFL season.

Here’s our training camp schedule:

Mondays: A Basics post containing vital information to build a foundational understanding of the game

Tuesdays/Wednesdays: Divisional Breakdown posts featuring what you need to know about the four teams in each of the eight divisions

Thursdays: A QUIZ about the Basics and Divisional posts!

Fridays: The answers to Thursday’s quiz

Interspersed/Weekends: Training Camp coverage, Preseason coverage, relevant news, player information, and recipes. Because, come on. We’re girls.

Sound good?