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Basically football is a game of territory. The object for the team in possession of the ball (the offence) is to advance it towards the opponents’ goal line. Once the goal line is crossed, a touchdown worth six points is scored. The play is organised in a series of 'downs' or attempts at moving the ball, there is a 25 second break between each of these, for the teams to plan their next attempt.
The offence is given four downs to advance 10 yards. If the objective (the first down marker) is reached, no matter the amount of downs spent, four new downs are rewarded. If ten yards are not gained, the ball is given to the opposing team at the spot where the last attempt fell short.
There are two ways of advancing the ball: running it forward, or passing it to a teammate who has moved down the field.
On a running play the teammates of the ball carrier (runningback) will try to clear a path through the defence blocking the defenders out of the way. This may look entirely random at first, but it is actually very detailed, each player having a specific assignment of who to block and where. The runningback will run as far as he can until he is tackled. Then the ball will be placed at the spot he reached, and four new downs given if the ten yards have been gained.
If the ball is passed, the passer (quarterback) will drop backward, as you may only throw the ball forward from a position behind the line on the field where the ball was placed when the play started (the line of scrimmage). A wall of players (offensive linemen) will form in front of the quarterback, looking to buy him time to find his target. These targets are the (receivers) running down the field in careful patterns designed to break free from the defenders coverage. If a pass is completed the receiver can continue running downfield toward the opponents’ goal line until he is tackled. However if the pass is dropped or sails by the intended receiver, the ball will be placed back at the previous line of scrimmage, thus gaining no yardage on the play.
The defences’ goal is to stop the advancing offence. To accomplish this, the eleven defenders have to work as a team to cover every possible spot where the offence might attack. They also have to coordinate their pursuit, to ensure that the ball carrier has nowhere to run.
On a running-play the front seven players on the defence; the defensive line and linebackers, must break free of the blocking, find the runningback and tackle him for at minimal gain. A tackle is usually preformed by bending at the legs, exploding with a shoulder into the opposition and wrapping him up with the arms. If the initial contact doesn't knock him down, the defender must wrestle or drag the ball carrier down. The play stops once the ball carrier touches the ground with anything other than his hands and feet.
The defenders may not strike or kick, and it is forbidden to grab any part of the ball carriers helmet, but they may grab the cloth of the opponents’ jersey, to jerk him down. Also if the defenders manage to knock the ball loose from the ball carriers grip before he is on the ground, called a fumble, they may then grab the ball and advance it in the opposite direction. This is known as a turnover and is a huge shift in game.
On passing plays the front defenders (defensive linemen) will rush toward the quarterback, attempting to tackle him before he can pass the ball, this is known as a sack and will place the opponents further away from their objective than the previous down, thus a very effective play for the defence.
The remaining defenders, the linebackers and defensive backs, will try to cover the receivers. This can be done by dividing the field into zones to cover, by assigning a defender to each receiver in man-coverage or even a combination of the two. Once the ball is in the air the defenders may not touch the receivers, instead they can try to get in the way of the ball, knocking it down or catching it themselves. The latter is called an interception, and such a turnover is a huge play for the defence.
There are a number of situations during the course of a football game where the ball is kicked; these are all referred to as special team plays.
Kickoffs from one end of the field to the other team, is the way games are started and restarted after scores and halftime.
Another instance is when an offence faces its fourth and final down, on their own half of the field. Rather than risking the turnover should they not make it past the first down marker, and placing the opponent in a good position to score, the team will kick the ball away. This punt as it is called, gives the opponent possession, but hopefully for the punting team at a position further away from their goal line.
If the offence is in a better position on the opponents half, but again facing the fourth down, the can kick a field goal worth 3 points. The ball must pass between the goalposts and clear the bottom bar of the goal for the field goal to be accepted.
This is also the case on an extra point, which is kicked immediately after a touchdown is scored.
These are just the fundamentals of the complex game, if you whish to learn more, we suggest you visit one of the following links.
A well organised page where you can find specific rules:
Download the NCAA college rules that apply in Europe:
The NCAA football rule book is 272 pages long.
Seven officials are required to referee games at the top levels of the sport, though many European leagues allow games with just five officials.
"The first and foremost requisite of a good football player is that he must have a burning desire to play the game. There is absolutely no substitute for this."
Frank Leahy, former Notre Dame Head Coach
“The dictionary is the only place success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must all pay for success. ”
Vince Lombardi Hall of Fame NFL Coach