Live ball

What is the Definition of Live Ball in American Football?

A live ball in American football refers to a ball that is in play. This occurs when the football is legally snapped or kicked, and the play is considered active. Live ball situations are crucial in the game, as they dictate the ongoing opportunities for teams to score points and strategically position themselves on the field during plays. It is essential for both players and fans to understand the concept of a live ball to appreciate the nuances of American football fully.

During a game of football, various types of live ball plays can occur, including kickoffs, onside kicks, and offensive plays that start with a scrimmage down. In addition to these instances, particular rules govern a live ball, such as instances that may cause the ball to become dead temporarily. Understanding these events helps fans and players discern between live and dead ball situations and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Key Takeaways

  • A live ball occurs in American football when the ball is legally snapped or kicked, and the play is active.
  • Various types of live ball plays include kickoffs, onside kicks, and offensive plays that begin with a scrimmage down.
  • Understanding the difference between live and dead ball situations is crucial for optimal gameplay and strategy development.

Live Ball Definition

In American Football, a live ball refers to the situation when the football is legally snapped or kicked, and the play is in progress. The ball remains in this state until an official declares the play dead. During a live ball situation, players are allowed to carry out actions like running, passing, catching, and tackling.

At the start of every scrimmage down, the ball becomes live when the center snaps or hikes it to the quarterback. Once the quarterback receives the snap, they can initiate various offensive strategies, such as passing, handing off or running with the ball. While the ball is live, defensive players attempt to stop the offensive team’s progress and try to obtain possession of the ball through interceptions, fumbles, or forced turnovers.

On special teams plays, like kickoffs and punts, the ball becomes live once it is kicked and remains so until an official stops the play. In this scenario, the receiving team attempts to gain yardage on the return while the kicking team tries to tackle the ball carrier or cause a turnover.

In summary, a live ball in American Football represents the state of play where actions on the field are recognized as part of the game. This continues until the play is blown dead by an official, signaling the end of the action for that particular instance.

Types of Live Ball Plays

In American Football, a live ball occurs when the football is legally snapped or kicked, and the play is in action. Different types of live ball plays are utilized to move the ball down the field strategically. This section will discuss three main live ball play categories: Scrimmage Plays, Free Kicks, and Change of Possession Plays.

Scrimmage Plays

Scrimmage plays are the most common type of live ball plays in American football. They occur at the snap during a down. These plays can range from basic to very intricate and involve various formations and strategies. Some examples of scrimmage plays include:

  • Running plays: The quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, who tries to advance the ball downfield.
  • Passing plays: The quarterback throws the ball to a receiver, aiming to complete the pass and gain yards.
  • Option plays: The quarterback can choose to hand off, pass, or run based on the defensive formation and player movement.

Free Kicks

Free kicks are a unique type of live ball play used to begin a half, after a touchdown, field goal, or safety. The two types of free kicks are:

  • Kickoffs: Occur at the beginning of a half or following a scoring play (touchdown or field goal). The kicking team attempts to kick the ball as far downfield as possible, while the receiving team aims to gain field position by returning the kick.
  • Safety kicks: Occur after a safety is scored. The team that conceded the safety must kick the ball from their 20-yard line to the opposing team.

Change of Possession Plays

Change of possession plays are crucial in American football as they often result in a shift in momentum. The following are some examples:

  • Interceptions: Occur when a defensive player catches a pass intended for an offensive player, gaining possession of the ball for their team.
  • Fumbles: Occur when a player in possession of the ball loses control, allowing the opposing team to recover the ball.
  • Turnovers on downs: Occur when the offensive team fails to achieve a first down after four attempts, resulting in the opposing team taking possession of the ball at the spot of the last play.

These live ball plays showcase the strategic elements of American Football and help teams progress down the field, aiming to score points. Each type of play serves a specific purpose and contributes to the overall game strategy.

Causes of Dead Ball

In-Play Stops

A dead ball in American football occurs when the play is stopped by the officials. There are several scenarios that can lead to the ball being declared dead during in-play situations:

  • Score: Whether it’s a touchdown, field goal, or safety, the ball is considered dead as soon as points have been scored.
  • Incomplete pass: When a forward pass hits the ground or is caught by a player, who then touches the ground out of bounds, the play is considered over, and the ball is dead.
  • Tackled player: The play ends when a ball carrier is tackled and touches the ground with any body part other than their hands or feet. In this instance, the ball is considered dead.


When the ball or the ball carrier goes out of bounds, the play comes to an end, and the ball becomes dead. Here are some scenarios in which the ball becomes dead due to out-of-bounds situations:

  • Ball carrier steps out of bounds: When a player carrying the ball steps on or crosses over the sideline or end line, the play is considered over.
  • Loose ball goes out of bounds: If a loose ball, be it from a fumble, punt, or kickoff, crosses the sideline or end line, the play stops, and the ball is declared dead.


Penalties can also cause a dead ball in American football. In some cases, a foul occurs during a live play situation, but the officials will blow the whistle to stop the play before it continues further. Examples of penalties that can lead to a dead ball are:

  • False start: An offensive player moves before the snap, causing the play to stop immediately, and the ball becomes dead.
  • Delay of game: If the offensive team fails to snap the ball within the allotted time, the officials stop the play, and the ball is dead.
  • Intentional grounding: If the quarterback intentionally throws the ball to the ground to avoid a sack, the officials will penalize the offense, and the play is blown dead.

These are just a few examples of dead ball situations in American football that can occur due to in-play stops, going out of bounds or penalties. Understanding these scenarios is critical for players and fans to better appreciate the rules and intricacies of the game.

Recovering a Live Ball

Fumble Recovery

A fumble occurs when a player holding the ball loses possession before being ruled down by contact or out of bounds. When a fumble happens, the ball becomes live and can be recovered by either team. The team that secures the ball after the recovery gains possession. Briefly:

  • Fumble: Loss of possession by a player holding the ball.
  • Live Ball: Ball can be recovered by either team.
  • Securing Possession: Team that recovers the live ball gains possession.

In American football, recovering a live ball plays a crucial role in a game’s outcome. A successfully executed fumble recovery can lead to a significant change in field position or even serve as a major scoring opportunity.


An interception occurs when a defensive player catches a pass intended for an offensive player. Like a fumble, an interception creates a live ball situation, allowing the defensive player to return the ball until tackled. Some key points to remember about interceptions include:

  • Interception: Catch by a defensive player of a pass intended for an offensive player.
  • Live Ball: The intercepted ball can be returned by the defense.
  • Ball Return: Defensive player has the opportunity to advance the ball until tackled.

Interceptions can dramatically shift the momentum of a game, providing the intercepting team an opportunity to capitalize on the opponent’s mistake. Players proficient in intercepting passes, also known as ball hawks, significantly impact their team’s defensive performance.

Key Rules Governing Live Ball

Forward Progress

In American football, forward progress refers to the furthest point a ball carrier advances before being tackled or going out of bounds. Once the ball carrier stops moving forward, an official will blow the whistle, marking the end of the play. The forward progress rule is designed to protect players from unnecessary contact and maintains consistency in the game.

Simultaneous Possession

Simultaneous possession occurs when two players from opposing teams gain control of the ball at the same time. According to the rules of American football, if a live ball is caught simultaneously by both an offensive and defensive player, the catch is awarded to the offensive player. The play continues as if the offensive player had sole possession of the ball, and it is considered a completed forward pass.

Continuation of Play

A live ball in American football remains in play until either an official blows the whistle or the ball goes out of bounds. This continuation of play allows athletes to execute various offensive strategies, such as passing or running the ball, to advance down the field and score points. It is crucial for players to stay alert and focused during a live-ball situation, as the game can quickly shift momentum based on a single play or an unexpected turn of events.

Common Strategies and Tactics

In American football, a live ball is a ball that is in play and remains in bounds. There are various strategies and tactics used by teams to move the ball down the field and score points. This section will focus on two key offensive approaches: the passing attack and the running game.

Passing Attack

The passing attack relies on the quarterback’s ability to throw the ball downfield to the wide receivers and tight ends. Proper execution involves a combination of accurate passes, sharp route running, and offensive line protection:

  • Quarterbacks utilize their throwing skills and field vision to identify open receivers and avoid interceptions by defensive players.
  • Receivers must run precise routes to create separation from defenders and catch the ball in order to gain yardage.
  • The offensive line must block defensive players to give the quarterback enough time to find an open target and make an accurate throw.

Various passing plays are designed to exploit weaknesses in the opposing defense, such as utilizing play-action passes to deceive defenders or targeting mismatches between receivers and defensive backs.

Running Game

The running game focuses on advancing the ball downfield by handing it off to a running back, who then attempts to carry the ball through gaps in the defensive line. Like the passing attack, the running game requires a combination of skillful execution by the running back and the support of the offensive line:

  • Running backs must have good vision, agility, and speed to exploit holes created by the offensive line and avoid being tackled by defenders.
  • The offensive line must create running lanes by blocking opposing defensive players and maintaining control of the line of scrimmage.

Teams may utilize various types of running plays, such as inside or outside zone runs, power runs, or misdirection plays, to exploit weaknesses in the defensive alignment and keep the defense guessing about the offense’s intentions.

Both passing and running tactics are essential in American football, and a well-balanced offense can mix these strategies to keep defenses off-balance and maintain a dynamic and effective attack, ultimately leading to more points scored and victories achieved.


The concept of a live ball in American football is essential for understanding how the game progresses. A live ball is any ball that is being played and remains in bounds, occurring when the football is legally snapped or kicked. Once the play has begun, the ball is considered live until an official stops the play, either by blowing the whistle or when the ball goes out of bounds.

Blocked field goals represent another situation where the live ball concept comes into play. A blocked field goal is a live ball, allowing both the offense and the defense the opportunity to score if they move the ball to the opposition’s end zone. This aspect of a live ball brings an additional level of strategy to the game.

American football is not only a physical sport but also a highly strategic one. The distinction between live and dead ball situations contributes to the complexity and strategic depth of the game. Familiarity with this concept is crucial for players, coaches, and spectators to fully appreciate and enjoy the sport.