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Football for dummies

Everything you want to know but are too afraid of getting judged to ask

What does a tight end do? What’s the difference between an incompletion and an interception? Why does everyone just pile on top of each other??

Watching football is always lots of fun, but it can also be quite confusing. If you’ve ever found yourself squinting at the field or TV, trying to figure out what’s going on, if it’s good or bad and whether you should be cheering or booing, this article is for you.

Foremost, here are a few basics that apply to every game. Two teams with 11 players on the field at a time battle it out over the course of four 15-minute quarters. The aim of the game is to win more points than your opponent before the time runs out. Simple, right?

Touchdowns are your most lucrative point-scoring option. A touchdown is scored when the ball is either passed or carried to your opponent’s end zone (the 10-yard long area at the end of the field). How does one score touchdowns? Well, there are two common ways that a play can start. Either the quarterback sends a pass to the receiver or the quarterback hands off the ball to the running back who rushes it forward. You’ve probably heard of the quarterback, but it’s important to understand all positions to paint a better picture of what goes on play by play.

First, here’s a brief outline of the offense:

The Quarterback 

The quarterback (commonly abbreviated QB) decides the plays in the huddle and directs the action at the line of scrimmage. In other words, he’s the leader of the team. Play begins when the quarterback gets the ball from the center (the guy that snaps the ball back). Then, he makes the decision to hand it off to a running back, throw to a receiver or run with it himself. Worst case scenario, he gets sacked by the opposing defense, which means a loss of yardage (This is bad because the whole point is to get closer to the end zone!).

The Center

This is the guy you see hiking the ball between his legs back to the quarterback. This action is actually called a snap.

The Running Back

This the player that runs ( Football is actually sometimes kinda straightforward). Don’t get confused though, because running backs are also called tailbacks, halfbacks and rushers. Essentially, if the quarterback chooses to hand the ball off to the running back instead of throwing it to a receiver, the running back attempts to move the ball forward as many yards as possible.

The Wide Receiver

These are the guys you see weaving in and out of defenders attempting to catch the football. They have to be super fast and super agile. They attempt to catch the ball if the quarterback decides to throw it. Teams usually have two to four wide receivers for each play.

The Fullback

After play begins, the opposing team’s defense is going to charge at the offense and attempt to prevent them from gaining yards and keeping possession. The fullback’s job is to block the running back as well as protect the quarterback, so that their team can stay in control of the play.

The Tight End

Lined up alongside the offensive tackle, the tight end can act as a receiver or a blocker.

Left and Right Guard

These are the two inner players in the offensive line.

Left and Right Tackle

These are the two outer players in the offensive line. Along with the center, the two guards and two tackles constitute the offensive line who work to protect the quarterback and anyone carrying the ball from the opposing defense.

 

On the opposing team, you would have the defense, with a whole different set a positions with various roles. Here’s a quick summary of each:

The Defensive Tackle

The goal of the defensive tackle is to either prevent a running play or penetrate the offensive line in order to harass the quarterback to try and force a mistake and prevent the opposing team from gaining yards. These players are the inner two members of the defensive line.

The Defensive End

These players are the outer two members of the defensive line. The defensive ends do everything they can to overwhelm the opponent’s offensive blocking and tackle the quarterback or whoever is carrying the ball. If the quarterback passes the ball to instigate a running play, the defensive ends must pressure the opponent out of bounds or towards other defensive players.

The Linebacker

Linebackers tend to be the team’s best tacklers. Usually, a team utilizes three or four at a time to both defend the run and the pass.

The Safety

These players are the last line of defense. They have to defend any deep passes or runs that evade the rest of the defense.

The Cornerback

These are the players who position themselves on the wide ends of the field to defend the offensive receivers from successfully winning a pass and gaining yards towards the end zone.

 

Understanding each position clarifies each play and helps frame what’s happening, but one more point to note is about gaining or losing possession. Have you ever heard the announcer shouting about first or second down and not known what he or she meant? “Downs” are just football talk for phases of play. A down begins when the ball is put into play and ends when the ball is dead. The offense only gets four downs to get the ball 10 yards forwards. Failure to do so results in conceding possession to the opponents. This typically happens by punting on the fourth down toward the other team.

Other common ways possession can also be lost are through incompletions or interceptions. An incompletion occurs when a receiver either fails to catch a forward pass, drops the pass or catches it out of bounds. If the opposing team recovers the ball after its been fumbled, it gains possession. An interception is when a forward pass from the offense is directly caught by the defender and possession is immediately overturned.

Hopefully, this provided a bit of insight into the exciting game of football. In case you’re still confused, however, don’t worry: if all else fails and other people start standing and cheering, just follow suit!

 

Contact Elizabeth Dunn at eldunn14 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

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