American Football

What is the Definition of American Football?

American football, often referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. Evolving from English rugby and soccer, the sport distinguishes itself by allowing players to touch, throw, and carry the ball with their hands and by letting each side control the ball in alternating possessions. As a popular sport in North America, American football has garnered a strong following, and various leagues and competitions have been established over the years.

The objective of American football is to score points by advancing the ball across the opposing team’s end zone, either by carrying it or by completing a pass to a teammate. Players must be familiar with a variety of offensive and defensive strategies, as well as their specific positions and responsibilities on the field, in order to be successful. Major professional leagues like the National Football League (NFL) and collegiate leagues like the NCAA are popular in the United States, drawing millions of fans to the sport.

Key Takeaways

  • American football has roots in English rugby and soccer, allowing for more physicality and ball handling
  • The sport requires players to understand their roles, offensive and defensive tactics, and objectives
  • Major leagues, such as the NFL and NCAA, have contributed to American football’s popularity in the U.S.

Basic Rules and Objectives

American Football is a popular team sport with the main objective of scoring more points than the opposing team during the allotted time. Each team consists of 11 players on the field, and the game is played with alternating possessions between offense and defense.


There are several ways to score points in American Football:

  • Touchdown (6 points): A touchdown is scored when a player carries the ball across the opposing team’s goal line or catches the ball in the opponent’s end zone.
  • Extra Point (1 or 2 points): After scoring a touchdown, a team has the option to kick the ball through the goalposts for an extra point or attempt a 2-point conversion by advancing the ball into the end zone again.
  • Field Goal (3 points): When a team cannot advance the ball far enough for a touchdown, they can attempt to kick the ball through the goalposts for a field goal.
  • Safety (2 points): A safety occurs when the defense tackles an offensive player with the ball in their own end zone.

Playing Field

The playing field in American Football is a rectangular field with dimensions of 120 yards by 53.3 yards, including the end zones. The field is marked with yard lines every 5 yards and hash marks, which indicate the position of the ball for each play. It also consists of two goalposts, equidistant from the sidelines, at each end of the field.

Game Duration

An American Football game consists of four 15-minute quarters with a 12-minute halftime break between the second and third quarter. The game clock stops for various reasons, such as an incomplete pass, a player going out of bounds, or a timeout called by either team. Each team is allocated three timeouts per half. In the case of a tie, a 10-minute sudden-death overtime period is played.

Player Positions

Offense Positions

Quarterback (QB): The leader of the team, responsible for calling plays, receiving the ball from the center, and deciding to pass, hand off, or run with the ball.

Running Back (RB): These players carry the ball on run plays, aim for gaps created by the offensive line, and can also act as short-yardage receivers.

Wide Receiver (WR): Positioned on the edges of the field, their main objective is to catch passes from the quarterback, and they play a significant role in executing successful passing plays.

Tight End (TE): This versatile position combines elements of both the offensive line and the receiver roles, contributing to both protection and passing plays.

Offensive Line: Comprised of the following positions:

  • Left Tackle (LT): The most important player on the offensive line, protecting the quarterback’s blindside.
  • Left Guard (LG): Assists the left tackle in protecting the quarterback.
  • Center (C): Snaps the ball to the quarterback and leads the offensive line.
  • Right Guard (RG): Assists the right tackle in protecting the quarterback.
  • Right Tackle (RT): Secures the quarterback’s front side.

Defense Positions

Defensive Line: Consisting of the following positions:

  • Defensive Tackle (DT): Responsible for stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback.
  • Defensive End (DE): Generally positioned on the edges, they rush the passer and aim to tackle running backs.

Linebacker (LB): Linebackers play close to the defensive line, responsible for stopping both the run and pass, and can be divided into:

  • Inside Linebackers (ILB): Focused on stopping the run and covering short passing plays.
  • Outside Linebackers (OLB): Primarily tasked with rushing the passer, they also contribute to run defense and pass coverage.

Defensive Backs: This group includes:

  • Cornerback (CB): Primarily responsible for covering wide receivers and preventing completion of passes.
  • Safety (S): Acts as the last line of defense, divided into Free Safety (FS) and Strong Safety (SS), both providing support against pass and run plays.

Special Teams Positions

Kicker (K): A specialist responsible for kicking field goals, extra points, and performing kickoffs to start offensive possessions for the opposing team.

Punter (P): Responsible for kicking the ball to the opposing team when the offense fails to score or gain enough yardage, helping to dictate field position.

Long Snapper (LS): A specialized center who snaps the ball over a longer distance during kicking plays, ensuring accurate snaps for the kicker or punter.

Return Specialist (RS): Skilled in receiving punts and kickoffs, their objective is to advance the ball downfield to provide better field position for the offense.

Coverage Team: Players responsible for preventing the opposing team’s return specialist from gaining significant yardage or scoring on a return.

Gameplay and Strategies

Offensive Strategies

American football is a fast-paced game where the main aim is to score points by carrying the ball into the opponent’s end zone. The offensive strategies are designed to advance the ball down the field and score touchdowns. Some common offensive strategies include:

  • Running plays: These involve handing off the ball to a running back, who tries to advance the ball by running through gaps created by the offensive line. Common running plays include dives, sweeps, and counters.
  • Passing plays: In passing plays, the quarterback throws the ball to a receiver down the field. The quarterback can choose to target various receivers, depending on their intended routes and the defense’s coverage.
  • Play-action passes: These plays deceive the defense by pretending to execute a running play, only for the quarterback to throw the ball downfield.
  • Screen passes: A short pass is thrown to a receiver who is protected by blockers, allowing the receiver to gain more yards after the catch.

Defensive Strategies

On the defensive side, the aim is to stop the opposing team from scoring. Defensive strategies are focused on anticipating and responding to the offensive team’s plays. Some common defensive strategies include:

  • Man-to-man coverage: Each defensive player is assigned an offensive player to cover, aiming to prevent them from catching passes or creating space for running plays.
  • Zone coverage: Defensive players are assigned to specific areas of the field where they cover any offensive player who enters their zone.
  • Blitzes: Defenders are sent on a direct path to rush the quarterback, hoping to pressure, sack, or force an incomplete pass.
  • Run-stopping: Defensive linemen and linebackers focus on stopping the run by filling gaps and tackling the ball carrier.

By implementing these offensive and defensive strategies, teams create game plans to exploit their opponents’ weaknesses and strengthen their chances of winning.

Major Leagues and Competitions

National Football League

The National Football League (NFL) is the premier professional league in American football. Founded in 1920 in Canton, Ohio, as the American Professional Football Association, the NFL has since become the most competitive and popular league in the sport. The NFL currently comprises 32 teams, divided into two conferences (the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference) and further split into four divisions each. The league’s championship game, known as the Super Bowl, attracts millions of viewers annually and is one of the most-watched television events in the world.

College Football

College football serves as a significant feeder system for the NFL and is immensely popular in its own right. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) governs the sport at the college level and is divided into three divisions: Division I, Division II, and Division III. Division I, in particular, is well-known for its competitive nature, intense rivalries, and massive fan bases. The Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) are two prominent subdivisions within the NCAA. Every year, college football concludes with various bowl games, highlighting outstanding team performances throughout the season.

International Competitions

Although American football has its roots in the United States, it has seen growth in popularity across the globe. Several international competitions showcase the sport outside of the US and Canada. These include the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship, a competition held every four years featuring teams from multiple countries. The IFAF also oversees continental championships, such as the European Championships of American Football and the Pan American Championships, which help promote the sport and foster international cooperation and appreciation for the game.