So you want to watch some football (Part 3)

So we’re finally wrapping up the technical details.  Hopefully this will give you enough to enjoy today’s games!  I’ll finish up the series with a general commentary on the NFL in general.

{If you pissed Part 2, you can read it here.}

A football game is divided into 4 quarters, each lasting 15 minutes, for 60 minutes total.  However, football games average 3 hours in length, due to TV breaks, timeouts, and clock stoppage.  The clock automatically stops when there is an incomplete pass (missed throw) or a player goes out of bounds.  (There are other rules for when the clock stops, but these are the main two I know.)

There are two quarters in each half.  Teams maintain possession of the ball across quarters (so from first to second or third to fourth), but not across halves.  Therefore, you will see teams playing at the end of the first half as if it were the end of the game.

When teams line up on the line of scrimmage to begin a play, they have a certain amount of time to start a play (called the play clock), which is around 30 seconds or so.  You’ll see a countdown of this time when watching games on TV.  Sometimes the play clock counts down in sync with the game clock, but sometimes the game clock is stopped until the play starts.

Teams get three timeouts per half, and can use them at their discretion.  There is an automatic stop when there are two minutes left in the half, known as the 2-minute warning.

If a game ends in a tie, the game goes into overtime, which is an additional 15 minute quarter.  Possession of the ball is decided by a coin toss.  There is only one quarter of overtime.  If a game is still tied at the end of overtime, the game is considered time.  (This may be different in the playoffs.)

During the regular season, whoever scores first wins, so most teams just go for a field goal.  In the playoffs (post season), if the first score is a field goal, the other team gets the ball back and tries to score.  If the other team scores a touchdown, they win, but if they score a touchdown, the game goes into sudden death, meaning whoever scores next wins.

Last 2 Minutes of the Game
The last two minutes of a half are some of the longest minutes in football, because teams employ a lot of strategy to get the most out of the remaining time.  This is especially true at the end of the game.

During the last two minutes of the game, teams will employ the two-minute drill, during which they seemingly play better and more efficiently than have at any other point in the game.

If it’s a close game and the team who needs to score to win has the ball, expect to see players trying to get out of bounds a lot (because this will stop the clock and prevent them from having to use a time out).  If it’s a close game and the team who doesn’t need to score to win has the ball, they’ll take their time and try to stay in bounds (eating up the clock), and the other team will call time outs to try to save as much time as possible.

Teams get two challenges per game, where they can challenge a call made on the field.  If their challenge is unsuccessful, they lose a time out.  If they challenge twice and are successful both times, they get a third challenge.

Deferring the Coin Toss
It is popular now for teams who win the coin toss to defer to the second half, which means that instead of receiving the ball at the beginning of the game, they are guaranteed to have possession of the ball at the beginning of the second half.  This can be an advantage if they end the second half with the ball as well, as this gives them two possessions in a row.

There are a lot of different penalties you will see during a game – way too many to list here.  Some of the more common ones:

  • Pass interference (offensive or defensive) – ball is placed at the spot of the foul (and results in an automatic first down)
  • Holding – 10 yard penalty
  • Face mask – grabbing another player’s face mask
  • Block in the back – very popular during kickoff returns
  • False start – committed by the offense
  • Off-sides – committed by the defense
  • Neutral zone infraction

Penalties are called by referees by throwing a yellow flag (flag, flag on the field).  Referees explain the penalty as well as the associated yardage.  If it’s an offensive penalty, the offense will lose yards (move the ball back), and if it’s a defensive penalty, the offense typically gains yards.  Teams have the option to decline penalties if the outcome of the play was favorable to them, as penalties often result in a replay of the last down.

Admittedly, players are not my strong suit.

You have the offense – the quarterback (QB), the offensive line (including the Center), wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends (who also help defend the ball on offense).  There are offensive linemen and offensive backs.  The quarterback throws the ball to the wide receivers or tight ends and typically hands the ball off to the running backs.  The league is largely a passing league now, so you will see a lot of passing plays.

You also have the defense – these are linemen and backs, as well as corners (on the corner of the formation) and safeties.  I have no idea what any of these people do.  They stand in a line against the offense and try to stop the offense from completing plays.

You also have special teams – these include the kicker, punter, and returners.  (And maybe other people?)  The kickers kick field goals and perform kickoffs, the punters punt the ball (usually on fourth down), and returners receive the kickoff and try to run it as far as possible to give their team a favorable starting position.

PHEW – DONE.  I’m sure there are things that I’ve forgotten and other things that are wrong or semi-wrong, but this is (professional) football as I understand and enjoy it.  [If you want to get into college football, you’ll have to ask The Commish.]

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