Football Basics – The Defense

Football Basics Defense

The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. The 1985 Chicago Bears. The 1971 Minnesota Vikings.

What do these teams have in common?

Besides probably rocking some questionable fashion choices off the field, they were all known for their defense. Hard-hitting, offense-frustrating, big boy, go-cry-to-yo-momma defense. Yeah, baby.

Surprise! Today we’re talking defense. This post is to help you recognize who is who on the field.

The defense is responsible for stopping the offense from scoring. What makes them so interesting is that their job is completely reactionary. What they do (formation and personnel-wise) is determined by how the opposing team’s offense lines up.

These are the dudes that make up the defense:

Defensive Lineman – The big boys lined up directly across from the offensive line. They weigh an average of about 300 lbs. These guys usually start a play with one hand on the ground (3-point stance).

  • Defensive tackle (DT) – Defensive tackles are on the inside of the defensive line. They stop running plays at the line of scrimmage and if they can break through the offensive line, have a direct shot at tackling the quarterback. Famous defensive tackles you might recognize include Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe.
    • Nose tackle (NT) – If you only have three guys on your defensive line, the one tackle in the middle is called a nose tackle. Generally speaking, the largest man on the defense. Vince Wilfork is a nose tackle.
  • Defensive end (DE) – These guys stand at the end of the defensive line. Their job is to rush the passer (a.k.a. quarterback) or to stop running plays from going out to the side. Famous defensive ends that you might recognize include J.J. Watt, Julius Peppers, Chandler Jones, Mario Williams, and Robert Quinn.

Defensive linemen can have jersey numbers 60-79 and 90-99.

Here’s a crazy video showing how strong these guys are:

Linebacker (LB) – Linebackers stand behind the defensive line. Yes, they stand in back of the line, hence the name. They can rush the passer, defend against runners, and also cover receivers. They’re quite busy.

  • Middle linebacker (MLB) – Also known as the inside linebacker, the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. He is often the defensive player with a mic in his helmet, receiving play calls from the sideline and communicating them to the rest of the defense, making adjustments as needed.
  • Outside linebacker (OLB) – The job of the outside linebacker varies depending on the formation. If he is lined up across from the tight end, he’s a strong outside linebacker. If he’s on other side, he’s considered a weak outside linebacker.

Linebackers can have jersey numbers 50-59 and 90-99. Famous linebackers you might recognize include Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Jerod Mayo, and Kiko Alonso.

Training camp defense NFL

Defensive back (DB) – Also known as the secondary, these guys stand behind the linebackers or on the sides of the field. Their primary job is to defend against the passing game (wide receivers and sometimes tight ends).

  • Cornerback (CB) – What they do depends on whether they are playing zone or man-to-man coverage (post coming soon on the differences!), but at the end of the day, they try to prevent wide receivers from making catches. Famous cornerbacks you might recognize include Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib, Joe Haden, Richard Sherman, and Patrick Peterson.
  • Safety (S) – They line up in the backfield, farthest away from the ball. They are considered the last line of defense and it’s up to them to prevent “go long” big plays. Famous safeties you might recognize include Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Troy Polamalu, Devin McCourty, and Eric Berry.
    • Strong safety (SS) – He is usually the bigger safety and will line up on the strong side (the side where the offense has a tight end), and closer to the line of scrimmage.
    • Free safety (FS) – He is usually the smaller and faster of the two safeties, and will line up a little bit farther away from the line of scrimmage.

Defensive backs can have jersey numbers 20-49.

Defensive Back NFL

The primary purpose of this post is to help you identify the individual positions within the defense, but I think it’s a great time to also introduce the concept of the 3-4 and 4-3 defense. These are two of the most popular defensive formations. The first number refers to the number of defensive linemen and the second number refers to the number of linebackers. Simple, right? We’re planning on doing a more detailed post on this concept in the future, but for now, this info will get you started.

If you’re a visual person and think it would be easier to understand some of these concepts via video clip, check out this one from the Football Wife:

A few reminders – these posts will be linked in our Football for Beginners section on the site, so you can easily find them if you need them during the season. Also, at any given time, there can only be 11 players from each team on the field. That goes for offense, defense, and special teams. 

OK, there you have it. That’s the defense.

– Michelle


Football Basics – The Offense

The Offense NFL

This week we’re channeling our inner Christina Aguilera circa 2006 and getting back to the basics. Yes, we’re finally getting around to our long overdue detailed posts on the different position groups in football – the offense, the defense, and special teams.

These posts will be linked in our Football for Beginners section on the site, so you can easily find them if you need them during the season.

Before we get in too deep here, let’s just remind ourselves that at any given time, there can only be 11 players from each team on the field. That goes for offense, defense, and special teams.

OK, here it goes.

The offense is responsible for putting points up on the board. They get control of the ball and it is their job to move down the field and get the ball into the other team’s end zone so they can put some points up on the board. When one team’s offense is on the field, the other team’s defense is also on the field, trying to keep them from scoring points.

These are the dudes that make up the offense:

Quarterback (QB) – The quarterback gets paid the most because as the leader of the offense, he’s responsible for a lot of things.

  • He receives the play call from the coaches and is responsible for communicating the play to the rest of the offense so they all know what to do once the ball is snapped.
  • The quarterback receives the ball when it is snapped (oh snap!) from the center, who is an offensive lineman that stands in front of him. Yes, the quarterback touches the center’s butt sometimes during ball hand-off. We can only assume this makes for a really close friendship.
  • When not getting up close and personal with the center, the quarterback is responsible for making adjustments to the play at the line of scrimmage if he notices something funky about the way the defense is lined up.
  • Once the quarterback has the ball, he will either throw it, hand it off for someone to run, hold onto the ball and run with it himself, or unfortunately, sometimes he will not have time to do any of those things and will get hit by a very large man from the opposite team.

Quarterbacks can have jersey numbers 1 – 19. Famous quarterbacks you may recognize include: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tony Romo.

Offensive Line (OL a.k.a. O-Line, includes Center, Guard, Tackle) – These are the guys that stand in a line in front of the quarterback. Their primary job is to protect the quarterback. This involves a lot of blocking of defensive players. Offensive linemen also create open spaces for running backs to run through. Except for the center, who snaps the ball, these guys usually don’t touch the ball during the play.

Offensive Line NFL

Generally speaking, the order of the offensive line is tackle, guard, center, guard, tackle, but that can change with different formations. It’s easy to remember that the center stands in the center of the line, but how do you remember that guards stand next to the center? Well, it sounds obvious, but since they are standing closer to the quarterback than the tackles, I always think about how they are guarding the quarterback. Here are some more details about each type of offensive lineman:

  • Center (C) – Centers snap the ball from the line of scrimmage back to the quarterback to start the play. They block defensive players. Centers can have jersey numbers 50-59, or when those are unavailable 60-79. Famous guards you may know include Alex Mack, Jason Kelce, and Mike Pouncey.
  • Guard (G) – If a quarterback is throwing a ball, it is the guard’s job to make a wall to protect him so that he can take his darn sweet time. If the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, the guards move wherever they need to in order to create running lanes for the running backs. Guards can have jersey numbers 60-79. Famous guards you may know include Josh Sitton, Marshall Yanda, and Kyle Long.
  • Tackle (T) – Tackles are big boys and they usually have very long arms because sometimes they need to grab a defensive player who is sneaking around the outside to hit the quarterback. Tackles can have jersey numbers 60-79. Famous tackles that you may know include Joe Thomas, Tyron Smith, and Ryan Clady.
    • Left Tackle – The left tackle protects the blind side of the quarterback. If a quarterback is right-handed, he will turn to the right when throwing the ball. This means the quarterback has his back turned to the left side and can’t see when a very large man from the defense is coming to crush him. Left tackles have to be very good at their jobs because no one likes to see their quarterback on the ground. This position is generally paid pretty well.

Running Backs (RB) – On running plays (also known as rushing plays), the quarterback hands off the ball to a running back, and shocker, the running back runs with it. They are usually shorter in stature, but speedy because they need to be able slip past defenders. They are also pretty muscle-y because sometime they need to push their way through a crowd while everyone is trying to pull them down or rip the ball out of their hands. Some running backs specialize in 3rd down situations, where they are really good at powering through and getting the one or two yards needed for the first down. A lot of times you will see running backs line up near the quarterbacks before the ball is snapped because they need to be in close proximity for the hand-off. There are a few subcategories of running backs:

  • Tailback – Usually the primary running back on a play, they can also catch short passes.
  • Fullback (FB) – They can run the ball, but are usually bigger in size and will do some blocking. These are dying breed in the NFL.

NFL Running back training camp

Running backs can have the jersey numbers 20-49. Famous running backs you may know include LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Le’Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch (a.k.a. Skittles), and Arian Foster.

Wide Receiver (WR) – The quarterback throws the ball and the wide receivers are supposed to catch it and run down the field with it. They are usually standing the furthest away from the quarterback when lined up at the start of the play. They are responsible for running different routes across the field. Some receivers are more of a deep threat – they are used in situations where the quarterback wants to throw the ball really far down the field and they need someone speedy to run down there to get it. Slot receivers line up between the big boys on the offensive line and the tall, lanky outermost wide receiver. They generally catch shorter passes.

NFL Wide Receiver

Wide receivers can have the jersey numbers 10-19 and 80-89. Famous wide receivers you may know include Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demariyus Thomas, Jordy Nelson, and Calvin Johnson (Megatron).

Tight End (TE) – This is my favorite position, and not only because of how the position’s name lends itself to so many inappropriate jokes. Tight ends can do a lot of things, which is what makes them so interesting. Some tight ends are primarily blockers and will stand closer to the offensive linemen. Others can primarily act as pass catchers. And then there’s Gronk, who is really just in a world of his own, both as a football player and a human being.

Gronk Tight End NFL

Tight ends can have the jersey numbers 10-19, 80-89, or 40-49 if others are taken. Famous tight ends you may know include Rob Gronkowski (Gronk spike!), Jimmy Graham, and Greg Olsen.

If you are still struggling with some of these concepts, check out this video from the Football Wife:

OK, there you have it. That’s the offense.

(Yes, we know that most of our pictures comes from a certain team. If you would like to see other teams appear in our images, please feel free to send us game tickets.)

– Michelle

Football Basics – The Ball

NFL Football Basics - The Ball

If you follow sports news at all, I’m sure by now, you’ve heard about the NFL looking into the Patriots possible use of deflated balls in the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

Since we’ve had to update this post so frequently in the past few days, this is the spot where we’ll put a Tweet or a link with the latest development.

UPDATE 1/24/15: Bill Belichick held a surprise press conference, where he talked science and made My Cousin Vinny references. Basically, he’s saying to the NFL, “Prove it.”

Whomp, whomp. What a downer for all of those Pats fans.

(In case you didn’t read our About section, Val and I clearly state that we are both Patriots fans. We can say nice things about any team except the Jets, but at the end of the day, our Patriots fandom switch is permanently stuck in an upright position. Feel free to keep this in mind when reading this post.)

We think this is a great opportunity to learn more about NFL footballs and why people care about their inflation levels.

Here are some things to keep in mind about NFL balls during game play:

– There are two different types of balls used during the game. “K balls” and “game balls.”

K balls are used for the kickoff game and are brand-spankin’ new out of the package. Game balls do not need to be brand spankin’ new, but they do need to be filled with proper air pressure (12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure). Per this Associated Press story with lots of interesting details, this is what happens with K balls:

So the night before a game, 12 balls marked with a “K” are delivered straight from the manufacturer, Wilson Sporting Goods, to the officials. Two hours before the game, a representative from each team can prepare the balls by rubbing them down and brushing them off. An official then checks the air pressure, puts the balls in a bag and subs them in on kicks.

– Prior to the game, each team provides the officiating crew with 12 game balls, sometimes more if requested in the case of bad weather.

Each team uses their own balls during the course of the game. (I’m sorry, but is anyone else having difficulty being mature with all of the ball references? I’d like to think I’m a lady, but I am struggling right now.)

– The officials check the air pressure within the game balls prior to the game.

– Once the air pressure is checked and any balls are adjusted, from our understanding, they are handed off to the ball boys from each team.

Peter King had an excellent post on the day in the life an officiating crew last December. Here’s an excerpt where he talks about the ball handling process on game day:

The Kicking Ball Coordinator (every game has one) walks in and sees Mackie. “Got the ‘K’ balls?” he says, and Mackie hands him the six balls that one team rep from both Baltimore and Chicago will be able to condition for the next 45 minutes; the proviso is they’re only allowed to use brushes, towels and water to get the sheen and wax and new-football feel off for the game.

“Got the game balls yet?” Mackie says to the locker-room attendant, and as if on cue an orange bag of 24 game balls arrives from a Bears equipment man. Minutes later the Ravens’ bag of 24 shows up. Usually it’s 12 per team, but with the threat of bad weather each team conditioned 24 balls during the week—the Chicago balls will be used when the Bears are on offense, Baltimore’s when the Ravens have the ball—and now Mackie, Waggoner and Paganelli go to work to get the balls prepared. One by one, as if on an assembly line, Mackie checks with a pressure gauge to see if the balls are filled to 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure. Those that aren’t get taken to the bathroom. There Paganelli uses an electric pump to fill up the balls, Mackie checks the pressure, and Waggoner puts the good ones in the sink, until all are perfect. Then Waggoner marks each by silver Sharpie with an “L” below the NFL shield, Steratore’s branding of each ball so they’re not confused with other balls found on the sidelines. The “L” is in honor of Steratore’s fiancée.

In another side of the room, Schuster chews on a red Twizzler while filling out a form for each team: Before the first half, he’ll be checking a randomly picked group of players for slippery substances, and he’ll do the same with a different group at halftime. He puts the numbers of the players he’ll be patting down on his “Player Uniform Foreign Substance” card. He says it’s been about 10 years since a player has been caught with silicone on the jersey.

Outside the locker room at 10:18, Waggoner meets the three ballboys for the game. “We’ll have weather today, so be prepared to change balls every play, okay?” One replies: “Yes sir.”

The six ‘K’ balls return at 10:28. “I’ve never had to use six,” says Mackie. “Even on a wet day like this, we’ll probably only get to four.”

– The officials handle the balls a lot during the game. Have you ever noticed how players constantly hand the balls back to the officials after every play? One would think that at least one member of the officiating crew would notice if a ball felt deflated. Additionally, the balls are tested throughout play.

– If a team were to mess with air pressure within the balls, it would have to happen some time between the officials handing the balls off to the balls boys and the time the ball boys walk out to the sideline. So yes, there’s probably a moment in time that someone could tamper with the balls. Admittedly, I don’t know all the details of this timeline, but one would assume that you wouldn’t change the pressure of the ball once you’re out on the field in everyone’s view.

– What’s the effect of using a deflated ball during a game? According to Peter King, “[…] if true, theoretically it could—could, not would—make a football easier to throw and catch.” Considering the weather conditions (very rainy), a deflated ball could help in that situation.

If you watched the Pats game, you would have noticed that after the 3rd quarter kickoff (Colts kicking, Pats receiving), there was a delay before the Pats were allowed to run their first play. There appeared to be some confusion regarding the balls, and as NFL rules expert Mike Carey and commentator Phil Simms pointed out, the K ball was still on the field. The ball boys did not provide them with a new game ball, as they should have. You can find video of this here.

There are still a lot of emerging details on this story. In our personal opinion, if the Patriots, did in fact, deflate balls on purpose, 1) that’s stupid/disappointing because they don’t need to do so to win and 2) it’s hard to believe that all 45 points they put up were because of the deflated balls. We are in no way condoning cheating (if we had a dollar for every time we had to say this as Pats fans, we would quit our day jobs and buy an island next to Richard Branson’s), but the Colts only put up 7 points.

We’ll try to post any significant updates within this post as the story unfolds with our DeflateGate timeline below:

UPDATE 1/20/15: We’ve got another update from an unnamed source about the specific play that caught the attention of the officials. The following excerpt is from here:

According to a person familiar with the background of the matter, the Colts first noticed something unusual after an interception by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson in the second quarter. Jackson gave the ball to a member of the Colts’ equipment staff, who noticed the ball seemed underinflated and then notified coach Chuck Pagano.

General manager Ryan Grigson was notified in the press box, and he contacted Mike Kensil, NFL director of football operations. Kensil then told the on-field officials at halftime, when the Patriots led 17-7. The Patriots erupted for 21 points in the third quarter, although it is not known if any of the balls were improperly inflated after halftime.

Asked Monday about the balls, Pagano said: “Did not notice, and that’s something for the league to handle. It’s not my place to comment on it.”

UPDATE 1/20/15: Jim Daopoulis, an ex-ref made was interviewed on a Boston sports talk show and this is what he had to say about it:

I think this is a non issue. Completely a non-issue. I just can’t imagine something like this happening.

Basically what happens is the officials get the footballs before the game. They mark the footballs, they check the pressure of the footballs. There are so many issues going on, so many people out on the field. People that come out of the office in New York that are just walking around the field. And I don’t believe ball boy that is making $10 an hour is going to stand there with a needle in his hand taking air out of the ball. And how do they know which ball they’re gonna send in there? And basically if a referee or an official doesn’t like the feel of the ball, he’s going to throw it out. So I just think it’s a non-issue right now.

If you listen to the audio, Jim also talks about why the NFL is taking the time to look into the issue. In short, it’s because of the team that’s involved.

(As an aside, Jim is a great follow on Twitter if you’re interested in learning more about the calls being made during games. He’s got great insight and gets straight to the point. We also like Mike Pereira for this type of thing – he’s probably more recognizable as an officiating guru for most football fans.)

UPDATE 1/20/15 :

UPDATE 1/21/15 : Mike Reiss’ latest post is full of questions that we’re waiting for the answers to as we wait for the NFL to complete it’s investigation: All thoughts in one place on deflated balls

This article talks about the challenges involved with deflating balls.

We think the concerns about possible deflated K balls at the Pats-Ravens divisional game is a non-issue. K Balls are monitored by a neutral NFL employee during the course of the game.

Here is a helpful FAQ about game balls from ESPN. Most of it we covered here, but it’s worth a read.

UPDATE 1/22/15: Bill Belichick’s statement on Thursday morning was uncharacteristically long and detailed. Watch for #I’veToldYouEverythingIKnow to trend on social media. He could have ended his time at the podium with a mic drop and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

UPDATE 1/22/15: Tom Brady also held a press conference. Pats fans waited for Stacey James (VP of Media Relations) to take Tom out of his misery after answering questions from the media, which was starting to resemble a pack of blood-thirsty wolves. Most important thing we got out of this conference was Tom saying that the NFL investigators had not talked with him yet.

UPDATE 1/22/15: Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson says he didn’t notice anything weird with the football he intercepted. He wanted to keep it as a souvenir and handed it off to a Colts staff member, who allegedly set off a chain of events prompting an investigation.

UPDATE 1/23/15: The NFL finally issued a statement saying that they were conducting an investigation.


Once we get through DeflateGate, I think we’ll all agree that we now know more than we ever needed to know about NFL footballs. 

So, what’s your take on this? Let us know in the comments below.

If there are any players or former players out there that can tell us how much of a difference the air pressure in a ball makes, we would love to hear your thoughts!

Football Basics – Position Abbreviations


We don’t like to assume that everyone knows everything about football, so occasionally we like to bring it back to the basics.

We use a lot of abbreviations on this blog when describing positions, so we’re going to define them here. Yeah, some of this might seem like common sense, but ya never know.

If you see one of these guys (—>) that means that those positions fall within the category above. For example, a center is also an offensive lineman.



QB – Quarterback

RB – Running back

FB – Fullback

WR – Wide receiver

TE – Tight end

OL – Offensive lineman

—> C – Center

—> G – Guard

—> OT – Offensive tackle



DL – Defensive lineman

—> DE – Defensive end

—> DT – Defensive tackle

—> NT – Nose tackle

LB – Linebacker

—> MLB – Middle linebacker

—> OLB – Outside linebacker

DB – Defensive back

—>CB – Cornerback

—> S – Safety

—> SS – Strong safety


Special Teams

K – Kicker (or PK for Placekicker)

P – Punter

LS – Long snapper



HC – Head coach

OC – Offensive coordinator

DC – Defensive coordinator


I promise you, we have descriptions of the positions coming your way soon. I was a Girl Scout for 13 years (yes, that’s a lot of cookies), so I wouldn’t lie to you about these things.

– Michelle

Roster Breakdown: Number of Players in Each Position

Since NFL teams had to cut their rosters to 75 as of today, we figured now was a good time to talk roster numbers.

As we noted in our NFL schedule guide, at the start of the new league calendar year, teams may carry up to 90 players on their roster.  There are two roster cut deadlines imposed by the NFL, both of which occur in August.  The first cut reduces the team from 90 players to 75 players.  The second roster cut is to the final 53 man roster.  On game day, only 46 of the 53 players are active, which means they dress and are eligible to play during the game.  Each team may also maintain a practice squad with 8 members, which are counted separately from the 53 men on the active roster.

The roster is divided into three areas: offense, defense, and special teams.  Following is a breakdown of the positions and about how many players of each type are retained on the roster.  These numbers vary team by team depending on the schemes being run by the team or if the team has more talent available at a certain position.



– Quarterback – 2 to 3

– Running back – 4

– Wide receiver – 6

– Tight end – 3

– Offensive linemen (center, offensive guards, offensive tackles) – 9 to 10



– Defensive linemen (defensive tackles, defensive ends) – 7 to 9

– Linebacker (middle linebackers, outside linebackers) – 7

– Defensive backs (cornerbacks, safeties, also known as “the secondary”) – 10


Special Teams:

– Kicker – 1

– Punter – 1

– Long-snapper – 1


Don’t know what any of these positions are? No worries, we’ll have you covered in future posts.

– Val

(Football) Field of Dreams

Spend 5 minutes on Pinterest searching for football party foods and you could surmise that the football field was designed with the sole purpose of being replicated in the form of a chip dip.


Picture from Beaux & Belles blog. Click here for link to these tasty recipes. 

Everyone loves a good guac field, but trust me, the football field is good for more than just inspiring your game time snacks.

The football field we are going to talk about today is the NFL’s regulation field. (The CFL (Canadian Football League) and college football fields are a little bit different.)

OK, here are your fast (boring) facts that I have to give you:

The field is 120 yards (360 feet) long and 53.5 yards (160 feet) wide. Each end zone is 10 feet deep. The mid-point of the field is the 50 yard line. Every 10 yards is marked off by large numbers. Every 5 yards is marked off by a solid line that runs across the field. There are hash marks on the field in 1 yard increments.  (The ball is always brought back to the hash marks at the start of a new play.) Pylons stand at each corner of the end zone. They are strong enough to stand up straight, but flexible enough not to hurt a player that lands on top of them. (A set of 4 pylons will run you about 50 bucks on Amazon…who knew?) BOOYAH.

 football field diagram

Image from How Stuff Works

Goal posts are centered at the back of the end zone. The 18 foot cross-bar is 10 feet high and the upright posts go up 30 feet, scratch that, 35 feet (see note below for explanation) in the air. The little orange flags on top of the goal posts help the kickers by showing wind speed and direction. HI-YAH.

goal post

Jimmy Graham, a very talented tight end for the Saints, is known for celebrating his touchdowns with a slam dunk over the goal post.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New York Jets

Image from Dallas News

Or should I say, used to be known for, as that sort of celebration will incur a penalty starting with the 2014 season. Players have been celebrating this way for a while and it generally wasn’t a problem until this happened last year:

goal post meme

Image from The Macho Sports Report

Way to ruin the fun for the rest of us, Jimmy.

In all seriousness, this rule doesn’t surprise me. The game is already long enough, no need to cause delays when posts are bent and need to be fixed. Besides, not like I could slam dunk over the goal post anyway.

OK, now that all of that is out of the way, let’s talk fun facts about the field. (I bet you didn’t know you could have fun facts about a patch of grass. Well, I am here to prove you wrong!)

– There are very precise measurements for the size of the numbers on the field. However, the font isn’t standardized.

– NFL fields must be green. With the advent of AstroTurf, stadiums technically had the ability to change the turf color, but the NFL put the kibosh on this in 2011, mostly to preempt any marketing strategies that would involve changing the color of the field. (Plus, who could look at an orange Discover card field and not want to rip their eyeballs out? Bad enough that Smurf Turf exists.)

–  At their 2014 annual meeting, NFL team owners voted to extend the uprights of the goal posts to 35 feet instead of 30 feet. Why? Sometimes when a kick goes really high and passes right over the goal post it can be hard to tell if it’s “in” or “out.” It’s hard to review because of camera angles and pretty impossible for refs to see on the field, so this is a common sense sort of change. Here’s a short fun article from the Washington Post explaining why raising the height of the goal posts isn’t quite as easy-peasy as you would think.

– NFL goal posts used to look like an “H”, but they changed the design because players kept running into the two posts. Ouch. You see the two post goal posts on many high school and college football fields, but not with the NFL.

So why is this stuff important? I can think of a few reasons…

– Knowing how deep the end-zone is helps explain how the distance of a field goal is measured. (More on this coming in another post.)

– A chip dip with an accurate field representation tastes and looks better than one that is inaccurate.

I read this article so you wouldn’t have to. 

– Michelle

What the Hell Is a Down?

Understanding what a down is will go a long way in helping you understand the game of football.

It’s going down…

See what I did there? Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

A down is a chance to do something with the football. Putting it differently, it is the opportunity to make a play.

A down starts when the offense of a team snaps the ball. It ends when the whistle blows.

We care about the number of downs, because at any given time, the team that has possession of the ball, has a limited number of them.


This keeps the game interesting. It forces the teams to move the ball down the field to score (if they’re having a good day) or hand it over to the other team (bad day).

Woah, that just happened again. My bad.

Anyway, teams get 4 downs (i.e. chances/opportunities/plays) to move the ball 10 yards. They are trying to move the ball 10 yards closer to the other end of the field, where their opponent’s end zone is, and where they hopefully score (good day).

How do you know where this 10-yards line is that they need to pass in order to get a new set of 4 downs? If you’re watching on TV, it’s the magical yellow line. (The Falcons [black jerseys] are trying to get the ball across the yellow line to get a new set of downs in this situation.)

yellow line

Photo Source: SportsTech

If you’re watching a game in real life, you can’t see the yellow line. Super annoying. You have to look to the sidelines, where the refs stand with these bad boys:

down marker

Usually there will be two orange things chained together. One marks the line of scrimmage, where the play starts and players line up. The other marks where the offense will receive a new set of downs.

down marker2

Initially, the orange down markers start 10 yards apart.

At this point the offense is going to try to move the ball those 10 yards. If they meet or exceed the 10 yards (by throwing or running the ball), hooray for them – new set of downs!

If they don’t, that’s when you start hearing things like “2nd and 6” or “3rd and 4.” Whenever you hear a “[1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th] and [number usually 1-10, sometimes higher than 10 if the ball went backwards at some point and they lost yards]”, the first part is the number down (opportunity/chance) that they are on and the second part is how many yards to go to reach that new set of downs.

Let that sink in. It’s a key point.

If we revisit our Falcons-49ers game shot from above, we can see on the screen that it’s a 3rd and 5. That means the Falcons already had two chances and they only moved the ball 5 yards forward. They are on their third chance and they need to move the ball 5 yards over that imaginary yellow line.

yellow line

Photo Source: SportsTech

When you get to the 4th down, things can get a little bit weird. It’s the offense’s last chance to do something before they need to hand the ball over to the other team. What they decide to do depends on where they are on the field. They have three options:

1) “Go for it” – The coach has confidence that his team can get the ball over that yellow line. Usually this is only called when it’s a 4th and 1 or maybe a 4th and 2. If they succeed, yay, new downs! If they fail, the ball gets handed over to the other team’s offense at that spot on the field.

2) Field goal – If the team is within reasonable distance to the field goal, they will let their kicker try to kick the ball through the uprights and get 3 points. If they succeed, yay, 3 points on the board! If they fail (kick is “no good”), the ball goes to the other team.

3) Punt – Time for the “other kicker” a.k.a. the punter, to come out on the field and punt the ball away. This is the team admitting that they don’t think either option 1 or 2 above will work out well for them, and they know the ball is going back to the other team. If punted correctly, it will force the other team to start farther away. Usually the offense is still on their side of the field, nowhere near the other team’s end zone. When the ball is punted, the other team needs to catch it and start running back down the field again.

Whew, that was a lot. If you kinda understand what a down is now, good for you. You deserve a dance break!

Hope you’ve got this down pat now! (Get it? Ok…I’ll stop…)

– Michelle