What is the Definition of Safety in American Football?

A safety in American football is a relatively rare but exciting play that takes place when certain conditions are met during the course of a game. Safeties can have significant impacts on both the scoreboard and the momentum of a match. At its core, a safety occurs when the offense is tackled or forced out of bounds in their own end zone, resulting in the defensive team being awarded two points.

Understanding the concept of a safety requires a basic grasp of the offensive and defensive strategies involved in this dynamic sport. The defensive team is always on the lookout for opportunities to create turnovers and change the course of play, and scoring a safety can be an exhilarating way to accomplish that. Over the years, many memorable safeties have been recorded, adding to the rich history of American football and showcasing the importance of this unique play in game strategy.

Key Takeaways

  • A safety occurs when the offense is tackled or forced out of bounds in their own end zone
  • Safeties can impact both the scoreboard and the momentum of a game
  • This play is crucial to understanding American football’s overall strategy and history

Safety Basics


A safety is a point-scoring play in American football that results in the team that forced the safety receiving 2 points. It is less common than touchdowns and field goals, but it can still have a significant impact on the game’s outcome.

Reasons for Safeties

There are several ways that a safety can occur in a football game:

  1. Tackling a ball carrier in their own end zone: If a player on offense is in possession of the ball and gets tackled inside their own end zone, a safety is awarded.
  2. Offensive penalties in the end zone: If the offensive team commits a penalty within their own end zone, it can result in a safety. Common penalties that can lead to a safety include holding and intentional grounding.
  3. Stepping out of bounds in the end zone: If a player with the ball steps out of bounds in their own end zone, either after the snap or as a result of the defense’s efforts, a safety is awarded.
  4. Fumbled ball out of the end zone: If an offensive player fumbles the ball and then the ball goes out of bounds in their own end zone, it results in a safety.

It is important to note that a safety can only occur if the ball was initially outside the end zone during the play, meaning that the offense has the responsibility of avoiding these scenarios to prevent the opposing team from scoring points.

Safety and Game Strategy

Intentional Safeties

In American football, a safety is a scoring play resulting in two points for the defensive team. Intentional safeties occur when the offensive team decides to give up two points intentionally. This usually happens when the offense is close to their own end zone and punting the ball would give their opponent good field position. By taking a safety, the offensive team can perform a free kick from their 20-yard line, potentially improving field position for their defense.

Defensive Tactics

The defense aims to score a safety by tackling the ball carrier in the offensive team’s end zone or forcing the quarterback to be sacked in his own end zone. Additionally, a safety can result if an offensive penalty occurs in the end zone, such as holding or intentional grounding.

Defensive players must strategize to penetrate the offensive line and apply pressure on the quarterback or running back. Defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs need to recognize the offensive play and react accordingly, maintaining gap control and pursuing the ball carrier aggressively.

Key defensive tactics include:

  • Blitz schemes: Defenses can use blitzes, sending additional players (usually linebackers or safeties) to rush the quarterback, creating pressure and disrupting the offense.
  • Stunts and twists: Defensive linemen will sometimes cross each other’s paths to confuse the offensive line and create gaps in their blocking schemes.
  • Zone coverage: To avoid big plays downfield, defensive teams can employ a zone coverage strategy, assigning players to specific areas of the field instead of man-to-man coverage.

By employing these tactics and focusing on forcing the offense back towards their own end zone, defensive teams can increase their chances of scoring a safety and impacting the game’s overall strategy.

Historical Context

Notable Safeties in NFL History

A few noteworthy safeties that have occurred in NFL history include:

  • In Super Bowl IX, the Pittsburgh Steelers scored the first points of the game with a safety, which led to their eventual victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
  • In 1985, the Los Angeles Rams set an NFL record by scoring two safeties in one game against the New York Giants.
  • In 2011, New York Giants’ punter Steve Weatherford intentionally took a safety during Super Bowl XLVI to give the Giants a better position to punt and ultimately win the game.

Evolution of the Safety Rule

The safety rule in American football has evolved over time to prioritize player safety and improve gameplay. Early forms of football allowed for more aggressive tackles and had fewer regulations, which often led to severe injuries. In response, the safety rule was implemented to discourage dangerous plays and protect players.

In the early stages of the game, American football was more akin to rugby, where players were allowed to kick, throw, and carry the ball. As the game evolved and became more organized, several iterations of the safety rule were introduced.

Initially, a safety was awarded when a player was tackled with the ball in their own end zone, similar to what we see today. However, over time, additional actions such as committing fouls in the end zone, intentionally grounding the ball, or stepping out of bounds while holding the ball in the end zone were also classified as safeties.

Enhancements to the safety rule have been influenced by a growing concern for player safety throughout football’s history, with the NFL and NCAA continually modifying their rules to minimize risk and keep athletes safe on the field.

Safety Records and Statistics

A safety in American football occurs when the ball becomes dead in a team’s own end zone, typically by a defender tackling the ball carrier or due to a committed penalty by the offensive team. Safeties are relatively rare events, having occurred approximately once every 14 games throughout NFL history.

There are various ways a safety can be scored:

  • A ball carrier is tackled in their own end zone after having the ball outside of the end zone during the play.
  • The offense records a penalty in their own end zone.
  • A team sends the ball behind its own goal line, leading it to be declared dead in the end zone.

When a safety occurs, 2 points are added to the scoreboard for the team responsible and the ball is kicked back to them.

In the history of the National Football League (NFL), some notable safety records and statistics are worth mentioning. The highest number of safeties scored in a single season by one team is 4, accomplished by the 1984 Seattle Seahawks and the 1999 San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, the most safeties in a single game were recorded by the Los Angeles Rams (1954), Baltimore (1961), and New England Patriots (1979), with each team achieving 3 safeties.

Regarding individual safety records, Doug English, Jared Allen, and Ted Hendricks share the honor of having the most career safeties at 4 each. On the other hand, August Curley of the Duluth Kelleys is credited with the fastest safety in NFL history, scoring it just 10 seconds into a game in 1925.

While safeties are not the most common scoring method in American football, their contribution to the game’s strategy and overall scores should not be overlooked. Their occurrence may be infrequent, but the celebration and impact of a well-executed safety play are always memorable moments for any football fan.