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Strategy forms a major part of American football. Both teams plan many aspects of their plays (offense) and response to plays (defense), such as what formations they take, who they put on the field, and the roles and instructions each player are given. Throughout a game, each team adapts to the other's apparent strengths and weaknesses, trying various approaches to outmaneuver or overpower their opponent in order to win the game.
The goal of the offense is, most generally, to score points.In order to accomplish this goal, coaches and players plan and execute plays – based on a variety of factors: The players involved, the opponent's defensive strategy, the amount of time remaining before halftime or the end of the game, and the number of points needed to win the game. Strategically, the offense can prolong their possession of the ball to prevent the opponent from scoring. Offensive scoring chances, or drives, end when they cannot move the ball 10 yards or the ball is turned over via fumble or interception.
On offense, there are three types of players: linemen, backs, and receivers. These players' positions and duties on the field vary from one offensive scheme to another.
The position names (as well as the abbreviations recognized by coaches, players, and fans) vary from one team's playbook to another, but what follow are among the most commonly used:
(This is understood to be players on the line other than at the ends; also referred to as "interior linemen". The ends—i.e., the players at the ends of the line—are discussed below under "Receivers".)
Backs are so named because they line up behind (in back of) the line of scrimmage at the start of the play.
(Eligible receivers are the ends and the backs, other than an NFL quarterback lined up "under center". Not all backs fall into the wide receiver category below.)
Before the ball is snapped the offensive team lines up in a formation. The type of formation used is determined by the game situation. Teams often have "special formations" that they only use in obvious passing situations, short yardage, goal line situations, or formations they have developed for that particular game just to confuse the defense. There are a nearly unlimited number of possible formations – a few of the more common ones are:
When the team is in formation and the quarterback gives a signal, either by calling out instructions or giving a non-verbal cue (a so-called "silent count"), the center snaps the ball to the quarterback and a play begins.
A running play occurs when the quarterback hands the ball to another player, who then attempts to carry the ball past the line of scrimmage and gain yards, or the quarterback keeps the ball himself and runs beyond the line of scrimmage. In both cases, the offensive line's main job is to run block, preventing the defensive players from tackling the ball carrier.
The choice of running play depends on the strengths of an offensive team, the weaknesses of the defense they are opposing, and the distance needed to score a touchdown or gain a first down. There are many kinds of running plays, including:
When a passing play occurs, the backs and receivers run specific patterns, or routes, and the quarterback throws the ball to one of the players. On these plays, the offensive line's main job is to prevent defensive players from tackling the quarterback before he throws the ball (a "sack") or disrupting the quarterback in any other way during the play.
When successful, passing plays tend to cover more ground than running plays, so they are often used when the offensive team needs to gain a large number of yards. Even if they do not need to gain a large number of yards, it would be foolish to keep doing run plays because the defense could predict it. However, run plays are used to tire the defensive linemen in between passing plays in order to protect the QB from sacks.
Different kinds of pass plays include:
One general rule teams must take into account when creating their passing strategy is that only certain players are allowed to catch forward passes. If a player who is not an eligible receiver receives a thrown pass, the team could be penalized. However, if prior to a play the team reports to the referee that a normally ineligible receiver will act as an eligible receiver for one play, that player is allowed to catch passes. Teams will use this strategy from time to time to confuse the defense or force them to devote more attention to possible pass catchers.
Using a combination of passing plays and running plays, the offense tries to gain the yards needed for a first down, touchdown, or field goal. Over the years several football coaches and offensive coordinators have developed some well-known and widely used offensive strategies:
Distinct from the offensive strategies or philosophies, which govern how a team moves the ball down the field, whether a team relies on downfield passes, short passes, inside runs, etc. are the ways in which plays are called. These play calling systems often developed alongside certain offensive strategies, though the systems themselves can work with any strategy. The differences between the systems focus on the specific language used to communicate plays to players. In the NFL, three basic systems predominate:
The goal of defensive strategy is to prevent the opposing offense from gaining yards and scoring points, either by preventing the offense from advancing the ball beyond the line of scrimmage or by the defense taking the ball away from the offense (referred to as a turnover) and scoring points themselves.
On defense, there are three types of players: linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs (also called secondary players). These players' specific positions on the field and duties during the game vary depending on the type of defense being used as well as the kind of offense the defense is facing.
The defensive line lines up in front of the offensive line. The defensive lineman's responsibility is to prevent the offensive line from opening up running lanes for the running back or to sack the quarterback, depending on whether the play is a passing or running play. Most of the time, defensive linemen attack the offensive line but in some plays they drop back in pass coverage to confuse the opposite team.
Linebackers stand behind the defensive linemen or set themselves up on the line of scrimmage. Depending on the type of defensive strategy being used, a linebacker's responsibilities can include helping to stop the run, rushing the quarterback, or dropping back in pass protection.
Defensive backs stand behind the linebackers. Their primary responsibility is pass coverage, although they can also be involved in stopping the run or rushing the quarterback.
The most common way to describe a basic defensive formation is by stating the number of linemen involved followed by the number of linebackers. The number of defensive backs is usually not mentioned, though if it is, (such as in the "3–3–5"), the number typically appears after the number of linebackers, thus the formula would go (# of linemen)–(# of linebackers)–(# of defensive backs [if stated]) in these situations. This naming rule does not always apply when the personnel for a certain formation are lined up in a way that changes the function of the players in the defense. A good example to help explain this would be the "3–5–3," which actually uses the 3–3–5 personnel, but has the five defensive backs arranged with "3 deep", thus grouping the other two defensive backs with the linebacker group.
By far the most common alignments are four down linemen and three linebackers (a "4–3" defense), or three down linemen and four linebackers ("3–4"), but other formations such as five linemen and two linebackers ("5–2"), or three linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs ("3–3–5") are also used by a number of teams.
On plays where the defense expects the offense to pass, naming emphasis is often placed on the number of defensive backs. In a basic 4–3 or 3–4 defense, there are four defensive backs on the field (2 cornerbacks [CB], 1 strong safety [SS], and 1 free safety [FS]). When one of the linemen or linebackers is removed and an additional defensive back is added, common alignments of these five defensive back packages are the "nickel" package, which includes 3 CB, 1 SS, and 1 FS, and the "3–3–5," which is a nickel package variant that includes either 2 CB, 2 SS, and 1 FS, or 3 CB, 1 SS, and 1 FS like the standard nickel package.When a sixth defensive back is inserted, it is known as a "dime" package (4CB, 1SS, 1FS). In rare instances when a seventh defensive back is inserted, it is known as a "quarter" package (5CB, 1SS, 1FS or 4CB, 2SS, 1FS).
As with offensive formations, there are many combinations that can be used to set up a defense. Unusual defensive alignments are constantly used in an effort to neutralize a given offense's strengths. In winning Super Bowl XXV, the New York Giants played with two down linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs, a strategy that prevented their opponents, the Buffalo Bills, a team with a strong passing game, from completing long passes. In a 2004 game, the New England Patriots used no down linemen and seven linebackers for two plays against the Miami Dolphins.
Some of the more familiar defensive formations include:
The defense must wait until the ball is snapped by the opposing center before they can move across the line of scrimmage or otherwise engage any of the offensive players. Once an opposing offense has broken their huddle and lined up in their formation, defensive players often call out instructions to each other to make last-second adjustments to the defense.
To prevent the opposing offense from gaining yards on the ground, a defense might put more emphasis on their run defense. This generally involves placing more players close to the line of scrimmage to get to the ball carrier more quickly. This strategy is often used when the opposing offense only needs to gain a few yards to make a first down or score a touchdown.
When the defense believes the opposing offense will pass the ball, they go into pass defense. There are two general schemes for defending against the pass:
There are times when a defense believes that the best way to stop the offense is to rush the quarterback, which involves sending several players charging at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to tackle the quarterback before he can throw the ball or hand it to another player. Any player on the defense is allowed to rush the quarterback, and many schemes have been developed over 50 years that involve complicated or unusual blitz "packages".
Defensive strategies differ somewhat from offensive strategies in that, unlike offenses that have very specific, detailed plans and assignments for each player, defenses are more reactive, with each player's general goal being to "stop the offense" by tackling the ball carrier, breaking up passing plays, taking the ball away from the offense, or sacking the quarterback. Whereas precision and timing are among the most important parts of offensive strategy, defensive strategies often emphasize aggressiveness and the ability to react to plays as they develop.
Nevertheless, there are many defensive strategies that have been developed over the years that coaches use as a framework for their general defense, making specific adjustments depending on the capabilities of their players and the opponent they are facing.
Some of the most commonly known and used defensive strategies include:
A special team is the group of players who take the field during kickoffs, free kicks, punts, and field goal attempts. Most football teams' special teams include one or more kickers, a long snapper (who specializes in accurate snaps over long distances), kick returners who catch and carry the ball after it is kicked by the opposing team, and blockers who defend during kicks and returns.
Most special teams are made up of players who act as backups or substitutes on the team's offensive and defensive units. Because of the risk of injury, it is uncommon for a starting offensive or defensive player to also play on a special teams unit.
A variety of strategic plays can be attempted during kickoffs, punts, and field goals—to surprise the opposition and score points, gain yardage or first downs, or recover possession of the kicked ball.
A kickoff occurs at the beginning of each half, overtime period (not in college), and following each touchdown, successful field goal, or safety. Strategically, the coach of the other team may choose to have his players kick the ball in one of several ways:
The "no punting" strategy is one that forsakes the practice of punting and instead attempts to make fourth down conversions on as many plays as possible. It has been implemented at Pulaski Academy, a top-ranked prep school,and has been advocated by Gregg Easterbrook in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column and by author Jon Wertheim. Fourth down decisions to punt have been analyzed mathematically by David Romer.
Field goals are worth one point after a scored touchdown, or three points in the event that a team does not score a touchdown but feels it is positioned close enough for the kicker to make the attempt.
If, the receiving team does not catch the ball, the kicking team may move into position and try to down it as close as possible to the opposing team's end zone. This is achieved by either catching the ball (generally when close to the end zone so as to prevent a touchback), or surrounding the ball and allowing it to roll or bounce, without touching it, as close as possible to the end zone. If the ball appears to be rolling or bouncing into the end zone, a player may run in front of the goal line and attempt to bat it down or catch it. If a member of the kicking team catches the ball before a member of the receiving team does so, the play is blown dead by the official, and the receiving team takes possession at the spot the ball was spotted by the official.
Thus it is strategically important for kicking teams to get as close to the ball as possible after a punt, so that they may quickly tackle a returner, down the ball as close to the opposing team's end zone as possible, and (if possible) recover the ball after a fumble and regain possession of the ball.
A running back (RB) is a member of the offensive backfield in gridiron football. The primary roles of a running back are to receive handoffs from the quarterback to rush the ball, to line up as a receiver to catch the ball, and block. There are usually one or two running backs on the field for a given play, depending on the offensive formation. A running back may be a halfback, a wingback or a fullback. A running back will sometimes be called a "feature back" if he is the team's starting running back.
In gridiron football, a lineman is a player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage. The linemen of the team currently in possession of the ball are the offensive line, while linemen on the opposing team are the defensive line. A number of NFL rules specifically address restrictions and requirements for the offensive line, whose job is to help protect the quarterback from getting sacked for a loss, or worse, fumbling. The defensive line is covered by the same rules that apply to all defensive players. Linemen are usually the largest players on the field in both height and weight, since their positions usually require less running and more strength than skill positions.
A linebacker is a playing position in gridiron football. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up approximately three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen, and therefore "back up the line". The different responsibilities of outside linebackers in the 3–4 and 4–3 defenses usually lead to very different skill sets and body types being sought out by teams as to best fit their particular defenses. 3–4 OLBs are generally, or primarily required to play North to South, are lankier/taller, bulkier and stronger/more powerful as to effectively aid the ends in setting the edge on running plays and provide pressure to the quarterback on passing plays, and will usually have an arsenal of pass rush moves used primarily against the blockers the offense has on the edge of their line. 4–3 OLBs generally are expected to more proficiently move East to West more often and therefore are usually rangier players more adept in covering potential receiving targets off the line or from the backfield, as well as having outside contain beyond the tackle box on run plays. Linebackers generally align themselves before the ball is snapped by standing upright in a "two-point stance".
A wide receiver (WR), also referred to as a wideout, formerly a split end, is an eligible receiver in gridiron football. A key skill position of the offense, it gets its name from the player being split out "wide", farthest away from the rest of the offensive formation.
In gridiron football, blitzing is a tactic used by the defense to disrupt pass attempts by the offense. During a blitz, a higher than usual number of defensive players will rush the opposing quarterback, in an attempt either to tackle him or force him to hurry his pass attempt.
This is a glossary of terms used in Canadian football. The Glossary of American football article also covers many terms that are also used in the Canadian version of the game.
Gameplay in American football consists of a series of downs, individual plays of short duration, outside of which the ball is dead or not in play. These can be plays from scrimmage – passes, runs, punts, or field goal attempts – or free kicks such as kickoffs and fair catch kicks. Substitutions can be made between downs, which allows for a great deal of specialization as coaches choose the players best suited for each particular situation. During a play, each team should have no more than 11 players on the field, and each of them has specific tasks assigned for that specific play.
The 46 defense is an American football defensive formation, an eight men in the box defense, with six players along the line of scrimmage. There are two players at linebacker depth playing linebacker technique, and then three defensive backs. The 46 defense was originally developed and popularized with the Chicago Bears by their defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who later became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
A formation in football refers to the position players line up in before the start of a down. There are both offensive and defensive formations and there are many formations in both categories. Sometimes, formations are referred to as packages.
In sports, a starting lineup is an official list of the set of players who will participate in the event when the game begins. The players in the starting lineup are commonly referred to as starters, whereas the others are substitutes or bench players.
Center (C) is a position in gridiron football. The center is the innermost lineman of the offensive line on a football team's offense. The center is also the player who passes the ball between his legs to the quarterback at the start of each play.
A trick play, also known as a gadget play, gimmick play or trickeration, is a play in gridiron football that uses deception and unorthodox tactics to fool the opposing team. A trick play is often risky, offering the potential for a large gain or a touchdown if it is successful, but with the chance of a significant loss of yards or a turnover if not. Trick plays are rarely used not only because of the riskiness, but also to maintain the element of surprise for when they are used.
A halfback (HB) is an offensive position in American football, whose duties involve lining up in the backfield and carrying the ball on most rushing plays, i.e. a running back. When the principal ball carrier lines up deep in the backfield, and especially when that player is placed behind another player, as in the I formation, that player is instead referred to as a tailback.
In American football, the specific role that a player takes on the field is referred to as their "position." Under the modern rules of American football, both teams are allowed 11 players on the field at one time and have "unlimited free substitutions," meaning that they may change any number of players during any "dead ball" situation. This has resulted in the development of three task-specific "platoons" of players within any single team: the offense, the defense, and the so-called 'special teams'. Within these three separate "platoons", various positions exist depending on the job that player is doing.
In American football a play is a close to the ground "plan of action" or "strategy" used to move the ball down the field. A play begins at either the snap from the center or at kickoff. Most commonly plays occur at the snap during a down. These plays range from basic to very intricate. Football players keep a record of these plays in their playbook.
The New England Patriots generally run a modified Erhardt-Perkins offensive system and a Fairbanks-Bullough 3–4 defensive system, though they have also used a 4–3 defense and increased their use of the nickel defense.
The A-11 offense is an offensive scheme that has been used in some levels of amateur American football. In this offense, a loophole in the rules governing kicking formations is used to disguise which offensive players would be eligible to receive a pass for any given play. It was designed by Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries of Piedmont High School in California.
The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End, Edge rusher||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat, Change of pace), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|