What is the Definition of The Backfield in American Football?

The backfield in American Football is a fundamental aspect of the game, playing a critical role in various offensive strategies and formations. Positioned behind the line of scrimmage, the backfield is comprised of several key players, including the quarterback, running back, and fullback. Understanding the intricacies of the backfield is essential for anyone looking to gain a comprehensive knowledge of American football.

Different formations and plays utilize the backfield in a variety of ways. For example, the quarterback may line up directly behind the center in a traditional formation or take a few steps back in a shotgun formation, while running backs and fullbacks may align themselves in various positions depending on the play called. These modifications can directly impact the success of an offensive play, as well as dictate the roles and responsibilities of the players involved.

Key Takeaways

  • The backfield is a crucial area of the football field, located behind the line of scrimmage
  • Key players in the backfield include the quarterback, running back, and fullback
  • Offensive plays and strategies often differ based on variations in backfield formations

The Backfield in American Football

The backfield is an essential component of American football, consisting of the area on the field directly behind the line of scrimmage and the players positioned there. It is typically occupied by the quarterback, running backs, and fullback.


The quarterback (QB) is the leader of the offensive team on the field, responsible for calling plays, making decisions, and executing the offense. They receive the ball from the center player during the snap and can either throw it to a receiver, hand it off to a running back, or run with it themselves. The quarterback’s accurate passing and decision-making are vital to a team’s success.

Running Backs

Running backs (RBs) are versatile players who play a crucial role in both running and passing plays. They line up directly behind or beside the quarterback and receive handoffs or short passes to carry the ball down the field. Running backs can also act as blockers, who protect the quarterback from the opposing team’s defensive players. There are typically two types of running backs: halfbacks, who primarily carry the ball, and tailbacks, who are typically more versatile, running, blocking, and receiving passes.


The fullback (FB) is another type of backfield player, whose primary responsibility is to block and create running lanes for the running back. They usually operate as a lead blocker in running plays, aligning themselves in front of the running back and providing support in the formation. In some offenses, the fullback can also run with the ball and participate in short-yardage situations, as well as catch passes in the flat.

In conclusion, the backfield is an essential part of American football, incorporating the quarterback, running backs, and fullback. These players work together to execute plays and advance the ball down the field, with each player contributing their unique skills and roles to the team’s overall success.

Formation Variations

In American Football, the backfield refers to the area behind the offensive line where the quarterback, running back, and sometimes the fullback line up. Different formations in the backfield serve specific purposes and can impact the success of different types of plays.

Single Back

A Single Back formation involves just one running back lined up about five yards behind the quarterback. With no fullback present to help with blocking, this position is usually replaced by an additional wide receiver or tight end. Although running plays can be executed from this formation, it is primarily used for passing plays.

Pro Set

The Pro Set is a versatile formation with two running backs lined up behind the quarterback, one on each side, and two wide receivers split out wide. This balanced formation allows for a mix of running and passing plays, making it difficult for the defense to predict the offensive strategy.


In the I-Formation, the quarterback is under center with a fullback and a running back lined up directly behind him in a straight line. This formation is heavily focused on the running game and is often used in short-yardage situations or when the offense intends to establish a running attack.


The Shotgun formation features the quarterback lined up several yards behind the center, allowing for better vision down the field. With the additional space, the quarterback has more time to read the defense and make quick decisions. In this formation, running backs can be positioned on either side of the quarterback, providing versatility in both running and passing plays.


The Pistol formation is a hybrid of the Shotgun and I-Formation. The quarterback lines up about four yards behind the center, with the running back lined up another two to three yards behind him. This alignment allows for a quick transition between running and passing plays and can help disguise the offense’s intentions, keeping the defense on their toes.

Roles and Responsibilities

Quarterback’s Role

The quarterback is the key player in the offensive backfield, responsible for leading the team’s offense. They are tasked with calling plays, reading defenses, and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. They handle the football on every play, either by passing it to a receiver downfield, handing it off to a running back, or occasionally running with it themselves.

Running Backs’ Role

Running backs are versatile players who line up in the offensive backfield and play a crucial role in both the running and passing game. Their primary responsibility is to carry the ball, attempting to gain yardage by eluding defenders and finding open lanes. In the passing game, running backs may act as receivers, running routes and catching passes from the quarterback. They also contribute in pass protection, blocking incoming defenders to keep the quarterback safe.

Fullback’s Role

The fullback is a unique player in the offensive backfield whose responsibilities vary depending on the team’s offensive strategy. Traditionally, fullbacks were primarily used as lead blockers for the running backs, creating space for them to run. Modern fullbacks, however, may have more diverse roles. In addition to blocking, they may carry the ball in short-yardage situations or act as receivers in the passing game.

Strategies and Plays

Run Plays

In American Football, run plays involve handing the ball off to a running back, who then attempts to move the ball down the field. The offensive line’s role is to block and create lanes for the running back to run through. Common run plays include:

  • Power: A play where the offensive line blocks down while a pulling guard leads the running back through the hole in the defense.
  • Zone: The entire offensive line moves in unison to one side, and the running back aims for the gaps created in the defensive line.

Pass Plays

Pass plays typically involve the quarterback throwing the ball to a receiver downfield. The offensive line must protect the quarterback, giving him enough time to make an accurate throw. Some common pass plays include:

  • Slant: The receiver runs a short route diagonally across the field, looking for a quick pass from the quarterback.
  • Out: The receiver sprints straight downfield before quickly cutting toward the sideline. The quarterback aims to throw the ball just as the receiver makes the cut.


Misdirection plays take advantage of the defense’s natural aggression, using their momentum against them. Typically, these plays involve multiple fakes and deceptive moves to create confusion for the defense. Examples of misdirection plays are:

  • Counter: A running play where the running back takes a step in one direction, then cuts back in the opposite direction, following a pulling guard to the other side of the field.
  • Play-action pass: A fake running play followed by a pass, designed to draw defenders in and create an opportunity for a downfield throw.

Trick Plays

Trick plays are unconventional and often unexpected. They can catch the defense off guard and lead to big gains or even touchdowns. Some examples of trick plays include:

  • Reverse: A play where the quarterback hands off to a running back or receiver, who then hands the ball to another player running in the opposite direction.
  • Flea flicker: The quarterback hands off to the running back, who runs towards the line of scrimmage before tossing the ball back to the quarterback. The quarterback then looks to pass downfield.

Backfield Terminologies

In American football, the backfield refers to the area of the field behind the line of scrimmage and is usually occupied by the quarterback, fullback, and running back. In this section, we’ll explore various aspects of the backfield, including backfield depth and backfield motion.

Backfield Depth

Backfield depth refers to the distance between the offensive players and the line of scrimmage. When players line up deeper in the backfield, it allows for more time to read the defense, set up blocks, and potentially generate more acceleration in the running game. Different offensive formations dictate varied backfield depth for players:

  • Quarterback: Typically lines up 5-7 yards behind the center in shotgun formation or directly below the center in a “traditional” snap.
  • Running Back: Positioned behind or beside the quarterback, anywhere from 3-9 yards from the line of scrimmage, depending on the play design.
  • Fullback: Lining up closer to the line of scrimmage, usually 2-4 yards, to serve as a lead blocker for the running back.

Backfield Motion

Backfield motion involves offensive players moving before the snap to realign their formation, create mismatches, or gain an advantage over the defense. There are specific rules about motion; players must come to a complete stop before another player goes in motion, and only one player may be in motion at the time of snap. Backfield motion can include two main types:

  • Horizontal Motion: Commonly used by running backs and wide receivers, this motion involves moving laterally across the field, parallel to the line of scrimmage. This movement can help identify defensive coverages and create/eliminate space for potential pass targets or ball carriers.
  • Orbit Motion: This type of motion involves a player, typically a running back or wide receiver, moving in an arc behind the quarterback and other backfield players. Orbit motion can be used to deceive the defense, as it may look like a reverse or an end-around play is coming, but, in reality, the motion can be just a distraction.

By understanding the various aspects of the backfield, such as depth and motion, you can have a deeper appreciation for the strategic planning and the player positioning involved in American football.