How to play American football?

The Rules of American Football. The object of the game is for your team to score more points than the opposing team. Teams are made up of 46 players in the NFL, with 11 players taking the field at any one time. The field is 100 yards long by 53 yards wide, with two 10 yard endzones at each end. White markings on the field help players, referee’s and spectators keep track of what’s going on.


The game starts with a kickoff. The team with possession of the ball is known as the offense, and the team without the ball is the defense. The job of the offense is to move the ball up the field and score points. This can be done by either running forwards with the ball or by throwing it up the field for a teammate to catch.

The offense is given 4 chances (or 4 downs) to make at least 10 yards. If the offense manages to move the ball 10 yards or more, they will retain possession of the ball whilst given another 4 downs to make another 10 yards. On your TV screen, you will see this graphic. This tells you what down the team is on and this tells you how many yards they need to make. If you’re also watching this on TV, they will also show the lines they need to cross in order to make their downs.

The defense’s job is to stop the offense moving the ball forward by tackling. This includes pulling them to the ground, stopping them from moving forward or forcing them off the field. If the offense fails to move the ball 10 yards within 4 downs, the ball is given to the defending team at that point. The defending team will then bring on their offensive players and try and move the ball in the opposite direction so that they can score. You will most likely see an offense kick the ball away on fourth down to make it more difficult for the other team to score. The teams will usually have three different units of 11 players that come on the field at different times. They include

The Offense

These players will usually come on the field when they have possession of the ball. The offensive unit consists of these positions The quarterback is the most important player on the field as he’s the one who decides to pass the ball up the field, hand it off to a teammate so that they can run with it, or run with it himself. These offensive line positions are usually responsible for protecting the quarterback. The wide receivers are responsible for running down the field to catch the ball thrown by the quarterback, the running back and full back is responsible for running with the ball up the field.

The Defense

These players will usually come on the field when the other team has the ball. The defensive unit consists of these positions – The defensive line is responsible for moving past the offensive line. The line-backers stop running backs coming through the defensive line and they also are responsible for attacking the quarterback. The cornerbacks try and stop the wide receivers. And the safeties try and stop a pass up the middle of the field.

Special Teams

Special teams are specialist players that come on the field when there is a kick involved. Within the special teams is a mix of offensive and defensive players mixed with either a punter or kicker for offense or a punt returner for defense. Now you know what all the players do and how the game is played. But how do you score? In American Football, there are four different ways of scoring:

1. Touchdown

The main way of scoring is via a touchdown. If the ball is carried into the endzone area, or thrown and caught in the endzone, this is a touchdown and is worth 6 points. Unlike in Rugby, you do not need to touch the ball down on the ground, all you have to do is cross the line with the nose of the ball to score.

2. Extra points

Once a touchdown has been scored, you have the option of kicking it through the uprights for an extra point, or try and pass or run the ball into the endzone again for an extra two points. Most teams play it safe and go with one point.

3. Field Goal

At any time, the team with the ball can kick the ball between the posts and over the crossbar. To do this, they must hand it to a teammate who will hold it on the ground ready for a kicker to make the kick. A successful kick scores 3 points.

4. Safety

If the defense tackles an offensive player behind his own goal line, the defending team scores two points.

The game is played in 4 x 15 minute quarters, for a combined playing time of 60 minutes. The highest score at the end of 60 minutes wins. Ties are rare in American Football, and overtime periods are played if necessary to determine a winner. Different leagues have different rules about tie games. Is that it? Is that all I need to know. Well, you’re almost there, but American Football is filled with lots of rules, and you’ll need to understand a few more of them before you watch or play a game. For example:


If a ball carrier or passer drops the ball, that’s a fumble. Any player on the field can recover the ball by diving on it or he can run with it. The team that recovers a fumble gets possession of the ball.


An aggressive defense can regain possession of the ball by catching (intercepting) passes that are meant for players on the other team. Both fumble recoveries and interceptions can be run back into the end zone for touchdowns.


If the defense tackles a Quarterback whilst he has possession of the ball, this is known as a ‘sack’. This is detrimental to the offense, as a down is wasted and it usually results in a loss of yards.

Incomplete Pass

If a pass intended to a receiver hits the ground first, it is ruled an incomplete pass. A down is wasted and play restarts from the sport of the last down.


If a player breaks one of the rules, referees will throw flags onto the field. They will determine who made the foul and how many yards his team should be penalized.


If a coach disagrees with a decision on the field, they can throw red flags onto the field. The previous play will then be reviewed and if the challenge is successful – the ruling on the field is reversed. If the challenge is unsuccessful and the ruling on the field stands, they forfeit one timeout.


If a team wants to stop the clock to regroup, take a break or discuss strategy, they are allowed three time-outs per half. Each time-out lasts 60 seconds. Players get a break of 12 minutes at half time. This is all a lot to take in, but once you start playing or watching American Football, the rules will become clear.

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