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Balls.ie NFL Crash Course: The basics of the game explained.
You’ve turned on Sky Sports on a Sunday evening. There’s NFL on. You’re kind of interested but you definitely don’t have a clue what is going on.
To the uninitiated it can seem indecipherable initially.
“Hold on, I thought they had to throw the ball, why is that guy running with it?”
“What the feck is a fumble?”
Fear not though, we’re here with a guide to the game that could even have your local gombeen politician looking like a seasoned NFL viewer.
A game consists of 4, 15 minute quarters. The game lasts much longer than this in real time though due to TV breaks and timeouts. You’ll find on average that a game will last 2.5 – 3 hours.
Each team has 11 players on the field at one time.
The roster of each team is basically broken down into 3 units. Defence, offence and special teams. Defence and offence are self-explanatory. Special teams is the unit that takes the field on kick-offs, field goals and punts.
Only one of these units is on the field at a time. Most of the time you’ll be watching one team’s defence against the other’s offence.
The team with the possession of the ball has 4 attempts (downs) to advance the ball at least 10 yards towards their opponents endzone. If they do advance the ball 10 or more yards then they get a new set of downs, if they fail to do this then the other team gets possession of the ball.
When you’re watching on TV you’ll see a line marking the point on the field which the ball has to pass in order for the team to get a new set of downs. This is called the 1st down marker.
If the offence moves the ball into their opponents endzone then they score a touchdown (the ball does not have to be touched down like in rugby though) worth 6 points. Each touchdown is followed by an extra point attempt, like a conversion in rugby. The other main way of scoring is by a field goal (like kicking a penalty in rugby) worth 3 points. A team can also score through a safety, worth 2 points.
Advancing the Ball
The image most people have of American football is the quarterback stepping back with the ball and throwing it forward to a receiver. The receiver has to gain possession of the ball before it touches the ground or he steps out of bounds. A team can only throw the ball forward once on each play.
The quarterback passing the ball probably happens 60% of the time on offence in the NFL. The other way of advancing the ball is through running it. The quarterback takes the ball and hands it off the the player standing behind him, the running back. He then tries to carry the ball forward as many yards as possible.
It is possible for the defence to gain control of the ball by either stopping the team advancing the ball 10 yards within their 4 downs, intercepting a pass from the quarterback or causing a player to fumble the ball. A fumble happens when an offensive player in control of the ball has it knocked loose from their posession. The defence can then recover the fumble.
The season kick-off on September 5th with the Dallas Cowboys playing the Super Bowl winning New york Giants.
If you love sport then you’ll wonder where the NFL has been all your life.
- In the next installment of the Balls.ie guide to the NFL we’ll explain the format of the league.
- Previously…Why you should become an NFL fan.