Game Play Thursday : You Decide!

Just so we’re clear: I’m copping out of this week’s Game Play Thursday post because I didn’t make time to write it. That’s what’s happening here.

But in other news, the entire house is decked out for Christmas and I’m pulling ahead in this year’s race to watch as many cheesy Christmas movies as possible between now and December 25th.

SO, instead of actually writing a Game Play Thursday post, I’m letting you write it: What do you want to see explained on these days? What should we cover over the next few weeks of Game Play Thursday? Defensive schemes? Penalties? Passing routes? What would be most helpful for you?

Let your thoughts loose in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!

Game Play Thursday : 8 in The Box

I’m in the process of trying to really learn the game. As in, I totally understand everything that is going on on the field, everything the announcers say, what the lingo and play calls mean, ALL of it. It’s an uphill climb, but I’m loving it!

So I wanted to start sharing with you all the little bits of knowledge I’m picking up throughout the week. We’ll call it Game Play Thursdays.

Today, it’s an explanation of something I kept hearing but had no idea what it meant: having “8 in the box.” Here’s the breakdown:


  • 8 refers to the number of defensive players who are occuying “the box”
  • The box is the defensive area directly across from the offensive line (the 5 man line consisting of the Left Tackle, Left Guard, Center, Right Guard, and Right Tackle)
  • Usually, there are 7 defensive players in the box – linemen and linebackers.
  • When a defense is trying to stop a running play or wants to blitz the QB, they might have another defensive player – usually the Strong Safety (the Safety who is playing on the same side of the field as the Tight End) – come down from his usual position upfield where he defends against the pass and “shake down” into the box. This gives the defense the advantage of having an extra man in coverage near the line of scrimmage.


Here’s a visual, thanks to a screen shot from FOX and a breakdown on Bleacher Report (I just added the numbers) of 8 in the box:

Roman Harper, the strong safety, is the “8th” in the box, and his path is identified by the red line in front of him.

This play ended up not going very well for the Saints. RGIII, the Redskins QB, totally sold the run. But it was a fake – he was actually going to throw it to his Wide Receiver, Pierre Garcon, down the field. And he did. And Garcon caught it. BOOM.

And thus the disadvantage of bringing 8 in the box: less protection against passing plays.

Does any of that make sense?

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.