What is the Definition of A Toss in American Football?

A toss play is an integral part of American football’s offensive strategy. It occurs when the quarterback pitches the ball to the running back, who then tries to gain yardage by running around the edge of the defense. As a running play, the toss offers teams the opportunity to generate significant gains when executed well, pressuring the opposing team’s defense, and advancing their offense down the field.

The popularity of the toss play can be attributed to its simplicity and the potential it holds for breakthrough gains. As the running back receives the pitch and moves towards the sideline, they look for openings created by their offensive linemen. This movement not only tests the defense’s ability to contain the play but also challenges them to quickly adapt to the shifting dynamics on the field. As such, toss plays are commonly utilized by football teams at all levels to create strategic advantages during competitive games.

Key Takeaways

  • A toss is a running play in which the quarterback pitches the ball to the running back
  • Its execution relies on the offensive line creating openings and the running back finding gaps to exploit
  • The toss play is popular for its simplicity while challenging the opposing defense to adapt quickly

Understanding American Football

Game Basics

American Football is a popular sport played by two teams of 11 players on a rectangular field, 120 yards long, with goal lines on each end. The primary objective of the game is to score points by advancing the ball into the opponent’s end zone. This can be achieved by running or passing the ball down the field.

The game commences with a coin toss, where the visiting team calls the toss and the winner chooses to either possess the ball first or defend. The match is divided into four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes, with a halftime break after the second quarter.

Roles of Players

Offense: This unit is responsible for scoring points by moving the ball down the field. The 11 offensive players usually consist of:

  • Five offensive linemen (one center, two guards, and two offensive tackles)
  • One quarterback
  • One running back
  • One tight end
  • Two wide receivers

Defense: The defense’s goal is to prevent the opposing team from scoring by stopping their advances or causing turnovers. The 11 defensive players are commonly divided into three groups:

  • Defensive line: Comprises of defensive tackles and defensive ends
  • Linebackers: Includes middle, outside and inside linebackers
  • Secondary: Consists of cornerbacks and safeties

Special Teams: These are specialized units that handle various kicking duties. They come into play during kickoffs, field goal attempts, punts, and extra-point conversions. Key roles in special teams include the kicker, punter, long snapper, and return specialists.

Each player has a specific role to play in a well-coordinated effort to gain points and prevent the opposing team from scoring. Understanding these basics can help you appreciate the game better and even inspire you to participate or support your favorite team.

Key Terms in American Football


In American football, a toss, also known as a pitch or lateral, is a type of play where the quarterback throws the ball underhand or overhand to a running back, who then attempts to advance the ball downfield. The toss is typically executed when the offense wants to quickly get the ball to the edge of the field to capitalize on the speed and agility of their running back. The key to a successful toss is timing and precision between the quarterback and the running back.

Other Terms

  • Down: A down is a play or individual unit of action in American football. Each possession consists of four downs, and the offense must cover a required distance within those four downs to maintain possession and have a new set of downs.
  • Snap: The snap is the action that starts a play in American football. The center passes the ball between their legs to the quarterback, who is lined up behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Line of Scrimmage: The line of scrimmage is the imaginary line that separates the offense and defense at the beginning of each play. It is drawn from sideline to sideline at the spot where the ball is placed after a previous play.
  • Touchdown: A touchdown is the primary way to score points in American football. It occurs when a player carries the ball across the opponent’s goal line or catches a pass in the end zone.
  • Field Goal: A field goal is a kick that passes between the two goalposts and above the crossbar. Teams generally attempt a field goal if they are too far from the end zone to score a touchdown but close enough to attempt a kick. A successful field goal is worth three points.

By understanding key terms like toss, down, snap, line of scrimmage, touchdown, and field goal, you can better appreciate the intricacies and strategy involved in American football.

Toss in American Football

Rules and Regulations

In American football, a toss play is a type of running play that begins with the quarterback pitching the ball to a running back. This often occurs as the running back curves towards the sideline on either side for a toss sweep. During a toss play, the running back has more space and time to read the defense and select the best path to advance. It is essential to note that only one forward pass may be attempted during a play, while backward passes, or laterals, can be thrown at any time.


A successful toss play can lead to significant gains in yardage or even a touchdown if executed correctly. The toss play is particularly effective when the defense is anticipating a run up the middle or a pass play. In these situations, the toss can catch the defense off-guard, create mismatches, and exploit weaknesses along the sideline. Moreover, this play adds diversity to the offensive playbook, forcing the defense to account for additional possibilities and potentially opening up other opportunities for the offense.

Team Strategies

A toss play in American football is a running play that starts with a pitch to the running back. The back often “curves out” towards the sideline on either side for a toss sweep. This type of play is a strategic move designed to advance the ball down the field and can be employed by both offensive and defensive teams.

On offense, a toss play can be utilized as part of a more comprehensive strategy to score points through touchdowns and field goals. The running back’s ability to curve out towards the sideline can help evade defenders and create opportunities for large gains. Also, incorporating toss plays into the offensive playbook can help keep the defense guessing by adding variety to the team’s running game.

Defensive teams may also implement strategic maneuvers to counter toss plays. For example, they can choose to focus on sealing off the edge of the field to prevent the running back from gaining yards. This may involve defensive linemen maintaining outside leverage or linebackers positioning themselves to stop any attempted toss sweeps.

Additionally, both teams can use the element of surprise to their advantage. For instance, an offensive team might call a toss play when the defense is least expecting it, making it difficult for the defense to react quickly. Similarly, a defensive team could anticipate a toss play based on the opposition’s tendencies or by studying their playbook, allowing them to position themselves correctly for a potential stop.

In conclusion, a toss play can offer strategic value for both offensive and defensive teams in American football. Whether it’s used to gain yardage, diversify the offensive game plan, or to counteract an opponent’s strategy, the toss play can be an effective tool for American football teams on the field.

Impact on the Game

A toss play in American football is a running play that starts with a pitch to the running back1. This play can impact the game in several ways, with the most significant being its ability to generate big yardage gains. When executed effectively, a toss sweep can result in a large gain or even a touchdown. The toss play also forces the defense to cover more ground horizontally, which can create gaps and opportunities for offensive players to exploit.

The coin toss, which starts every American football game, is another element in American football that has an effect on the game2. The toss determines which team gets initial possession of the ball and has a strategic impact on both teams’ plan execution. Teams that win the coin toss might choose to receive the ball for an early scoring attempt or defer the possession to the second half, giving them the ability to control the game’s pace.

In the NFL, a separate coin toss takes place if a game goes into overtime3. The overtime coin toss can have an even more significant impact on the game as the team that wins the coin toss has the opportunity to score, potentially winning the game. If the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown on their first possession, the game ends. However, if they only manage to score a field goal or neither team scores on their first possession, the game continues until a winner is determined. This allows the coin toss’s outcome to influence the game’s outcome and increase the importance of late-game decisions and strategies.