Forward pass

What is the Definition of A Forward Pass in American Football?

The forward pass is a fundamental aspect of American football that has transformed the game since its introduction over a century ago. In essence, a forward pass occurs when the offensive team throws the ball in the direction they are trying to move, towards the defensive team’s goal line. This play often adds an element of excitement and strategy, as the quarterback aims to connect with a receiver downfield and advance the ball closer to the end zone.

To be considered a legal forward pass, the ball must be released from behind the line of scrimmage and advance to a spot further down the field from where it was thrown. This play is subject to numerous rules and regulations, which have evolved over time to ensure the safety and integrity of the game. As an integral part of offensive football strategy, mastering the forward pass is critical for quarterbacks and their teams to find success on the field.

Key Takeaways

  • The forward pass is an essential offensive play in American football, enabling teams to advance the ball towards the opposing team’s goal line
  • A legal forward pass must be made from behind the line of scrimmage and advance to a spot further down the field
  • The rules governing forward passes have evolved over time to ensure player safety and maintain the integrity of the game.

Basics of a Forward Pass


A forward pass in American Football is a play where the offensive team throws the ball from behind the line of scrimmage. The goal is for the ball to move towards the defensive team’s goal line, advancing it to a spot further down the field from where it was originally thrown. In order for the play to count as a forward pass, the ball must initially move forward after leaving the passer’s hand. If a forward pass touches the ground before reaching a receiver, the pass is called incomplete and the play is over.

Roles of Players

In a typical forward pass play, the key players involved are the quarterback and the wide receiver. The quarterback, positioned behind the offensive formation, is responsible for throwing the forward pass to an eligible receiver. The wide receiver’s role is to get open and catch the ball in order to advance it downfield.

Other offensive players, such as offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs, help protect the quarterback and provide additional receiving options. Offensive linemen, positioned along the line of scrimmage, block the defensive players from reaching the quarterback. Tight ends line up adjacent to the offensive linemen and can act as both blockers and pass receivers. Running backs, meanwhile, line up behind or beside the quarterback, and may be used as additional pass-catching options or serve as decoys in the passing game.

Defensive players, such as defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs, work to stop the forward pass. Defensive linemen try to break through the offensive line to pressure or sack the quarterback, disrupting the pass. Linebackers cover the middle of the field and attempt to tackle the ball carrier or intercept the pass. Defensive backs, including cornerbacks and safeties, cover the wide receivers, aiming to prevent them from catching the pass or limiting their advancement on the field.

Rules and Regulations

Eligible Receivers

In American football, certain players are designated as eligible receivers for a forward pass. These players include:

  • Wide receivers
  • Running backs
  • Tight ends
  • Quarterback (only if he receives a lateral/backward pass first)

In general, eligible receivers must be positioned at the end of the line of scrimmage or behind it. The eligible receiver must not be in contact with the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.

Ineligible Receivers

In contrast, some players on the field are considered ineligible to receive a forward pass. Ineligible receivers are mainly the offensive linemen, who play a crucial role in blocking and protecting the quarterback. The following players are considered ineligible receivers:

  • Center
  • Offensive guards
  • Offensive tackles

It’s important to note that an ineligible receiver downfield penalty can be called if an ineligible receiver advances beyond the line of scrimmage before the pass is thrown.

Pass Interference

Pass interference is a critical aspect of the forward pass rules in American football. It refers to any action taken by a player that hinders an eligible receiver’s opportunity to catch the ball. Both offensive and defensive players can be penalized for pass interference. Here are a few examples of pass interference:

  1. Defensive pass interference: Occurs when a defensive player significantly contacts or restricts the movement of an eligible receiver before the ball arrives, impeding the receiver’s ability to catch the pass. Defensive pass interference results in the offense gaining a first down at the spot of the foul.
  2. Offensive pass interference: Occurs when an offensive player significantly contacts a defender in an attempt to create separation or prevent the defender from intercepting the pass. Offensive pass interference results in a 10-yard penalty and a loss of down for the offense.

The enforcement of pass interference penalties aims to maintain fair competition in the forward pass game and ensure that all eligible receivers have equal opportunities to catch the ball.

Types of Forward Passes

American football often relies on the forward pass, a moment where the offensive team throws the ball down the field to advance in play. In this section, we will focus on three main types of forward passes: the screen pass, slant route, and Hail Mary. Each of these strategies has its unique strengths and applications, depending on the game situation and players involved.

Screen Pass

The screen pass is a short forward pass designed to create open space for the receiver to run after catching the ball. It is usually a high percentage pass because the quarterback throws the ball to a player standing closer to the line of scrimmage. The offense typically relies on screen passes to combat aggressive defenses, providing an outlet for quick passes while allowing for potential gains through effective blocking.

Slant Route

A slant route is a forward pass strategy in which the receiver runs diagonally across the field at a 45-degree angle towards the center of the field. This pass typically aims to exploit open spaces in the defense, as the receiver runs into a gap between defenders, allowing the quarterback to complete the pass over a short distance. The slant route is useful against man-to-man coverage and can result in significant gains when executed correctly.

Hail Mary

Lastly, the Hail Mary is a last-ditch effort to score points or gain substantial yardage by throwing the ball as far down the field as possible, hoping that a receiver can make a miraculous catch. This play is typically used when time is running out in a half or at the end of the game, and the offensive team hopes to secure a victory or tie the score. Although it’s a low percentage pass due to its high risk and unpredictability, the Hail Mary has served as the backdrop for some of the most memorable moments in American football history.

Analyzing and Measuring a Forward Pass

In American Football, a forward pass is a crucial aspect of the game where the quarterback throws the ball from behind the line of scrimmage to a teammate ahead of them, usually a wide receiver. Analyzing and measuring a forward pass in American Football can be done through two main metrics: completion percentage and quarterback rating.

Completion Percentage

The completion percentage is calculated by dividing the total number of completed passes by the total number of pass attempts. It is expressed as a percentage and is used to evaluate the quarterback’s efficiency in completing passes. A higher completion percentage indicates that the quarterback is more accurate in their throws. Here’s the formula for completion percentage:

Completion Percentage = (Completed Passes / Pass Attempts) × 100

To get a clearer understanding, consider this example:

  • Quarterback has 20 completed passes in a game
  • Quarterback has attempted 40 passes in the same game
Completion Percentage = (20 / 40) × 100 = 50%

Quarterback Rating

The quarterback rating, also known as the passer rating, is another important metric that combines various passing statistics to give a more comprehensive evaluation of a quarterback’s overall performance. The rating takes into consideration the following factors:

  • Completion Percentage
  • Passing Yards per Attempt
  • Touchdowns per Attempt
  • Interceptions per Attempt

The quarterback rating is calculated using a specific formula that weighs each of these factors. The maximum possible quarterback rating is 158.3, while the lowest possible rating is 0.

Here is the formula for calculating quarterback rating:

Quarterback Rating = ((a + b + c + d) / 6) x 100


  • a = (Completed Passes / Pass Attempts – 0.3) x 5
  • b = (Passing Yards / Pass Attempts – 3) x 0.25
  • c = (Touchdown Passes / Pass Attempts) x 20
  • d = 2.375 – (Interceptions / Pass Attempts x 25)

Factors a, b, c, and d are each capped at a maximum value of 2.375 and a minimum value of 0. To illustrate with an example:

  • Quarterback has a 60% completion percentage
  • Quarterback has an average of 7 yards per pass attempt
  • Quarterback has a touchdown rate of 5%
  • Quarterback has an interception rate of 2%
a = (0.6 - 0.3) x 5 = 1.5
b = (7 - 3) x 0.25 = 1
c = (0.05) x 20 = 1
d = 2.375 - (0.02 x 25) = 2.125

Quarterback Rating = ((1.5 + 1 + 1 + 2.125) / 6) x 100 = 95.83

In conclusion, analyzing and measuring a forward pass in American Football involves looking at completion percentage and quarterback rating. These metrics give a comprehensive evaluation of a quarterback’s passing efficiency and overall performance, which are essential for understanding the effectiveness of a team’s passing game.

Historical Context and Evolution

Origins of the Forward Pass

The forward pass in American football is a fundamental offensive strategy that involves a player throwing the football towards the opponent’s goal line. The early implementation of the forward pass can be traced back to September 5, 1906, when St. Louis quarterback Bradbury Robinson completed the first legal pass by throwing 20 yards to Jack Schneider in a game against Carroll College.

During the early 20th century, American football was heavily criticized due to the presence of numerous injuries and fatalities on the field. The sport was in danger of being abolished, but the legalization of the forward pass in 1906 transformed the game and revolutionized the way it was played.

Impact on the Game

The introduction of the forward pass brought about a safer and more dynamic game, as it reduced the incidence of dangerous mass formations and violent scrums for the ball. With the forward pass, football became a more strategic and exciting sport, allowing the development of various offensive and defensive strategies. Teams adapted to the new tactics of spreading out their players on the field and employing specialized positions like quarterbacks, wide receivers, and cornerbacks to capitalize on the benefits of the forward pass.

Moreover, the advent of the forward pass contributed significantly to the growth of football’s popularity in the United States, and it went on to become a cornerstone of the modern game with rocket-armed quarterbacks and fleet-footed receivers dominating the sport.

Overall, the forward pass has played a significant role in shaping American football into the game that it is today, with its impact seen in the way players, coaches, and teams strategize and compete on the field.