Understand The Basic Rules Of American Football

Hey all you Football Fans. Here I want to go over the basic rules of American Football with you.

While there are thousands of rules to the game which can often be confusing for people new to watching, the game can really be enjoyed even if you only have only a grasp on the basic rules of the game.

Here, I want to lay out the basics in an easy to understand format so you can understand and enjoy the game to the maximum.

On saying that, once you understand the foundations, there is no reason why you cannot dig a little deeper and tackle some of the more complex rules!

So, let’s get started.

The Game Objectives

It is safe to say, as with most other sports, the idea of the game is to outscore your opponent. The team which has accumulated the most points at the end of game time is declared the winner.

Basic Rules Of American Football - The Football Field

The football field is 100 yards long by 53 yards wide (+ 2×10 yard Endzones at each end) and the object of the game is to push the ball forward (by running it or passing it) until you reach the end of your opponents side the field called the Endzone.

Crossing the score line and entering into the Endzone with the ball will score 6 points for the opposing team. This is followed by an opportunity to score an extra point by means of a field goal.

There is also the choice to try an additional 2 points by having an extra play to score into the Endzone once more. As this is more difficult, most of the time the field goal is the first choice unless the situation demands more points.

The Game Clock

A game of football lasts for 1 hour. This hour is divided into 4 x 15 minute quarters.

If no winner is found during this time an additional 10 minutes is added to the game (15 minutes if at the Playoffs Stages).

A 2-minute break is allocated between quarters 1 and 2 and again between quarters 3 and 4 while there is a 15-minute break (half time) between quarters 2 and 3.

The game clock stops and starts as and when the ball moves in and out of play and it has been known for games to last quite some time.

The longest game recorded in the sport was between the Miami Dolphins & the Kansas City Chiefs which went into overtime and lasted 82 minutes and 40 seconds of game time. This was played on Christmas Day in 1971.

In total, the game day event itself was over 7 hours long.

The Teams

There are 32 Teams in the NFL separated into 8 divisions Between the AFC and the NFC.

During play, there are only 11 players on the field from each team at any one time. This being said, there are actually 45 players per team and these are assigned different roles.

We have the attacking team known as the Offense. We have the defensive outfit known as the Defense and we have Special Teams which take to the field for special plays such as kicking plays.

The Offense is responsible for taking the ball forward to attempt to score points against the opposition. When the other team has control of the ball, the Defensive unit will come on to try and stop their Opposition moving the ball forward against them.

The Special Teams will come onto the field to carry out a kicking play. An example of this is after a Touchdown to secure the extra point by means of a field goal.

For the Offense, very often you will see smaller faster players as part of this unit as they are able to carry out faster executions of plays as they attempt to move the ball down field.

The Defense is usually made up of heavier built players as they are more difficult to pass and have the strength to stop plays.

You will know these guys when you see them as they are the ones that look like they have cut down trees before they came to work.

Yeah, Big guys!!

Basic Rules Of American Football - Downs

The Start Of The Game

At the start of each game there is a toss of a coin to decide who will play Offense or Defensive. The Offense will be then referred to as the receiving team as the ball will be kicked (punted) to them by the opposition (Defense) where they will then undertake their first play.

Initially, the ball is received from the kick and the catcher will attempt to run with the ball and gain as much yardage as possible until tackled. From here the Offense will line up for their first down and 10 (see below).

Moving The Ball

As discussed, the object is to take the ball all the way to the end of the opponents side of the field and cross into their Endzone thus scoring a Touchdown for 6 points.

In order to do this they must either carry out running plays or passing plays each time moving the ball a little closer to the goal line (hopefully).

The field is marked up both sides of its full length into yards. 100 yards to be exact.

The opposition has 4 attempts to move the ball 10 yards and these attempts are known as DOWNS! Each time they pass the 10 yard marker, the attempts (DOWNS) start again!

Let’s have an example.

The first Down starts at First Down and 10. I.e It is the first chance to make the 10 yards. 1st and 10

Basic Rules Of American Football - Moving The Ball

If this play only achieves a 3 yard gain, then the offense has another opportunity to make the remainder of the 10 yards. They have already made 3 yards, so it is the 2nd attempt with 7 yards remaining. So, this becomes 2nd and 7.

If they make another 2 on the next play, then it becomes the Third Down as there are still 5 yards to make. So, 3rd and 5.

On the other hand, if a play loses yardage this makes the effort more challenging.

So, if on 1st and 10 the opening play results in the Offense being pushed back (let’s say 6 yards) this is added on to the needed distance. It would become 2nd and 16!

If the offensive team is unable to make the 10 yard gain over the 4 DOWNS then the ball is given to the opposing team (A Turnover) for their 1st and 10 and they get to take over the offense.

The Strategy

There is a lot going on during a football game and very often it can be quite confusing,

The game is far from random and when players line up ready to play the ball, there is a plan in place.

On the side of the field you have Offensive/Defensive Coordinators along with the Coach who communicate their plans and this is put onto the field by way of plays. There are routes in place and it is the job of the Quarterback to execute these plays with his team members.

The game is all about calling the best plays to beat the defense and the defense in turn will have a strategy in place to try and counteract the offensive game.

There are literally thousands of these Routes too, so it is not always easy to counteract or be ready for what is coming next.

Check Out The Video To See The Rules In Action

Scoring & Points Allocation

There are different ways to score in the game which will be covered here.

Once the opposing team gets close enough to the oppositions Endzone there are options for scoring.

The Touchdown

A touchdown is achieved when the ball is either caught by a Receiver who is in the Endzone or when a running play results in the ball being carried over the line. 6 points are allocated for a successful Touchdown (TD).

The Extra Point

The Kicking Unit will come onto the field and attempt to secure the extra point after a Touchdown is scored. The aim is for the ball to be kicked through the football uprights by the teams’ kicker. A successful kick will score 1 point.

If this kick in not successful it will be considered No Good and only the 6 points for the Touchdown will remain on the board.

Depending on the situation and the difference in points between the 2 teams’ (and the time left in the game), there is an option to go for an extra 2 points instead of the extra point kick.

This involves another passing/running play to get the ball into the Endzone for a second time.

As the extra point kick is a safer option and has more chance of success, the extra running/passing play is only really considered when absolutely necessary.

Field Goals

As discussed above, the Opposition has 4 attempts (DOWNS) to make 10 yards. If they fail to make the 10 yards and they are faced with a 4th down, very often they will choose to kick a field goal if they are in field goal range. This range varies and can often depend on the abilities of the Kicker.

If a successful field goal is kicked then the scoring team will be awarded 3 points.

It is worth noting that some kickers are able to kick successful field goals in excess of 50 yards. Take a look at Jake Elliot from the Philadelphia Eagles for an example of this.

Safety Points

Points given away to safeties can be very hard to take as an Offense.

These points are awarded to the Defensive Team if they are able to overpower the Offensive Team in their own Endzone.

The pressure is really on when you are deep in your own territory as the Offense, and very often the Defense will look to make what is known as a SACK!

This is when the Quarterback (QB) is cornered and tackled by the Defense before releasing the ball. If this happens when the Offense is in their own Endzone, 2 points are awarded to the team in Defense.

Basic Rules Of American Football - Game Play


Penalties are of course awarded for any infringement made within the game.

These penalties are varied and to be honest they can be very involved.

That being said, if infringements are spotted, the play is halted, the clock is stopped and the referee of the game will rectify the issue.

Once rectified, the referee will then announce what the infringement was, the player or players involved and the result of the penalty.

The outcome of an infringement usually results in a yardage penalty and/or the awarding of an automatic first down against the infringing team.

The Football Season

Basic Rules Of American Football - The Superbowl

The NFL regular season runs for a period of 18 weeks when all of the teams’ compete to try and achieve reaching the play-offs.

From there, the 12 eligible teams’ compete in the Wild Card Games and it then moves to the Divisional Play-Offs where the remaining 8 teams’ battle it out for a place in the Conference Championships.

The last 4 teams’ then go head-to-head in the Conference Championships until the last 2 teams’ remain.

The season concludes in the middle of February with the final 2 remaining teams battling it out in the Grande Finale, The Superbowl.

Thanks For Reading The Basic Rules Of American Football

I hope this information has given you some of the basics you were looking for,

There are of course thousands of rules within the game and the more you watch and observe, the more you will pick up. 

To get you started though, this information gives you the foundations which you need to enjoy and follow the game play.

Should you wish to delve deeper there is a full PDF for the NFL Football Rules for you to download here.

If there is anything you are not sure about please feel free to let me know and I will answer any questions you have.

Thanks for reading. and … yes… COME ON DOLPHINS!!!

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