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A down is a period in which a play transpires in gridiron football. The down is a distinguishing characteristic of the game compared to other codes of football, but is synonymous with a "tackle" in rugby league. The team in possession of the football has a limited number of downs (four in American football, three in Canadian football) to advance ten yards or more towards their opponent's goal line. If they fail to advance that far, possession of the ball is turned over to the other team. In most situations, if a team reaches their final down they will punt to their opponent, which forces their opponent to begin their drive from further down the field; if they are in range, they might instead attempt to score a field goal.
A down begins with a snap or free kick (such as a kickoff or safety kick), and ends when the ball or the player in possession of it is declared down by an official, a team scores, or the ball or player in possession of it leaves the field of play.
The player with possession of the ball after he has been tackled or is otherwise unable to advance the ball further on account of the play having ended is down (e.g., "He is down at the 34 yard line").
Down may also refer to the ball after it is made dead in one manner or another. The line of scrimmage for the next play will be determined by the position of the ball when it is down.
Each possession begins with first down. The line to gain is marked 10 yards downfield from the start of this possession, and the situation is described as "1st and 10" (if the goal line is less than 10 yards downfield, then the goal line is the line to gain and the situation is "1st and goal"). If the offensive team moves the ball past the line to gain, they make a new first down. If they fail to do this after a specified number of downs (four in American play and three in Canadian play), the team turns the ball over on downs, and possession of the ball reverts to the opposing team at the spot where the ball was downed at the end of the last down.
If a penalty against the defensive team moves the ball past the line to gain, the offensive team gets a new first down. Some defensive penalties give the offense an automatic first down regardless of the distance.
When the offensive team reaches the final down, the team faces a last down situation (third down situation in Canadian play and fourth down situation in American play), where the team must decide whether to use a running or passing play in an attempt to gain a first down (this is called going for it), or alternatively to kick the ball (either by punting or making a field goal attempt). Though statistical analysis of games suggests playing more aggressively is the better option,[ citation needed ] kicking the ball is typically seen as the safer solution; scrimmaging may lead to a turnover on downs, potentially giving the ball over to the other team with good field position.
Downing the player with possession of the ball is one way to end a play (other ways include the player with the ball going out of bounds, an incomplete pass, or a score). Usually a player is made down when he is tackled by the defense. In the NFL, if the offensive player is touching the ground with some part of his body other than his hands or feet, then he is down if any defensive player touches him. In the NCAA, an offensive player touching the ground in the same manner is down, regardless of whether a defensive player touches him.
If recovering the ball in one's opponent's end zone (following a kick-off in American football, and following any kick into the end zone, except for successful field goals, in Canadian football), a player may down the ball by dropping to one knee (note that in Canadian play, doing so scores a single for the opposing team). A player in possession of the ball will down the ball if he fumbles it out of bounds. If a quarterback is running with the ball during his initial possession following the snap, he may down the ball by doing a foot-first slide – this is to protect the quarterback from injury. In the NFL, the quarterback is the only player for whom falling down in this way automatically stops play.
The situation at a down can be described succinctly in a short phrase of the form 1st/2nd/3rd/4th & X. The first part describes which down of the set of four the offense is on, and the X is a number of yards between the current line of scrimmage and the line at which the offense would gain another set of downs. Thus, offenses will normally begin on 1st & 10. If they were to gain 5 yards on the play, the subsequent situation would be described as 2nd & 5.
If the distance to the target line is very small, the number of yards may be replaced by & inches (i.e. 3rd & inches). Colloquially, when the target line is far from the line of scrimmage, the term "& long" may be used (i.e. 3rd & long).
When an offence has a first down within 10 yards of the goal line, the goal line becomes the line to gain as they cannot make another first down (barring a defensive penalty) without actually scoring. In these situations the number of yards is replaced with & goal, i.e. 1st & goal.
Other downs-related terminology is as follows:
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In the 19th century in rugby union football, the ball became dead in the field of play only by mutual consent of opponents. A player carrying the ball and held by opponents would say, "Held!", and his opponent would say, "Have it down." That is, the ball carrier would declare himself fairly held, unable to advance, and an opponent would call on him to put the ball down, initiating the scrimmage.
In modern rugby league football, each team has six tackles to score. If they fail then possession changes over to the other team. The rule was established at four tackles in 1966 and was changed to six tackles at different times in different countries.
In American football, the concept of the act of having the ball down gave rise to "down" as the condition of the player so obligated, and the ball carrier could call for a "down" voluntarily. Although NCAA rules have effectively abolished this (as the ball carrier dropping to the ground immediately ends the play), other codes for North American football, such as the NFL, still allow (as one way for the ball to become dead) for the runner to cry "down".
Eventually the rules officially applied the word to include all of the action from the time the ball was put into play (whether by snap or free kick) until it became dead. However, in some contexts the down begins when the ball is made ready for play by the officials.
The system of downs, in terms of a set number of plays to advance the ball a certain number of yards, was introduced by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1882. (Then-player Walter Camp, as secretary of the rules committee, chronicled this change, but had not promoted it.) It allowed a team three downs to advance the ball five yards, or retreat with it ten yards, or else lose possession of the ball, a proposal meant to reduce sandbagging. Early in the 20th century, after the forward pass was added to the game, the required advance was doubled to ten yards, and later a fourth down was added to the series; the alternative of retreating a distance with the ball had meanwhile doubled its requirement to twenty yards and later been abolished. A system of three downs was introduced to Canadian football around 1900 in certain provincial rules, as the game had not yet been standardized nationwide.
Three and out is a situation in American football in which a team, after starting an offensive possession, executes three plays, fails to get a first down, and then punts.
The term comes from the standard practice that an offensive unit only has three "real" plays before they are expected to punt. While, in theory, a team is allowed a fourth running or passing play, using the fourth down to run or pass is a risky move under most circumstances. If they fail to gain a new first down on a fourth-down play, the opposing team takes possession at the spot where they left off, giving them better field position than if the ball had been punted farther toward the opposing team's end zone. Typically, a team will run or pass on fourth down only if they are trailing late in a close game, are close enough to the first down marker (usually a yard or less) and in the opposing team's territory, or in a certain part of the field where a punt will likely result in a touchback (which will result in a relatively limited net gain of yardage), but just beyond the distance where a field goal is likely to be successful (in the NFL, a missed field goal results in the opposition taking possession at the spot of the unsuccessful kick) – the range at which American football coaches will typically attempt to convert fourth downs where they otherwise would not varies between the opponent's 30- and 45-yard lines, depending on such factors as the kicker's or punter's perceived abilities and the required distance to gain.
Punting following a three-and-out is unlike a turnover on downs. Punting after a three-and-out allows a team the opportunity to set their opposition farther back in field position. On a turnover on downs, there is no punt and the opposing team takes over possession of the ball at the spot of field where the final (third in the Canadian game, fourth in the American game) down ended.
In Canadian football, since there are three downs, the term "two and out" is used in this situation. In the Canadian game, single points can be scored on punts and missed field goals. As a result, Canadian football coaches will never "go for it" simply on account of the ball being on the edge of field goal range – barring extraordinary circumstances (such as trailing by between four and eight points late in the game), teams facing third and relatively long at the edge of field goal range will typically either punt (typically with the intent of putting the ball out of bounds near the opposing goal line as opposed to actually scoring a single point) or attempt a field goal.
Canadian football is a sport played in Canada in which two teams of 12 players each compete for territorial control of a field of play 110 yards (101 m) long and 65 yards (59 m) wide attempting to advance a pointed oval-shaped ball into the opposing team's scoring area.
A play from scrimmage is the sequence in the game of gridiron football during which one team tries to advance the ball, get a first down, or score, and the other team tries to stop them or take the ball away. Once a play is over, and before the next play starts, the football is considered dead. A game of American football consists of many such plays.
Touch football is an amateur variant of American football and Canadian football in which the basic rules are similar to those of the mainstream game, but instead of tackling players to the ground, the person carrying the ball need only be touched by a member of the opposite team to end a down. It is similar to street football, another amateur variant, however in street football full contact is allowed.
Gridiron football, also known as North American football or, in North America, simply football, is a family of football team sports primarily played in the United States and Canada. American football, which uses 11-player teams, is the form played in the United States and the best known form of gridiron football worldwide, while Canadian football, featuring 12-player teams, predominates in Canada. Other derivative varieties include arena football, football for smaller teams, flag football and amateur games such as touch and street football. Football is played at professional, collegiate, high school, semi-professional, and amateur levels.
In American football, a touchback is a ruling which is made and signaled by an official when the ball becomes dead on or behind a team's own goal line and the opposing team gave the ball the momentum, or impetus, to travel over or across the goal line but did not have possession of the ball when it became dead. Since the 2018 season, touchbacks have also been awarded in college football on kickoffs that end in a fair catch by the receiving team between its own 25-yard line and goal line. Such impetus may be imparted by a kick, pass, fumble, or in certain instances by batting the ball. A touchback is not a play, but a result of events that may occur during a play. A touchback is the opposite of a safety with regard to impetus since a safety is scored when the ball becomes dead in a team's end zone after that team — the team whose end zone it is — caused the ball to cross the goal line.
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.
American and Canadian football are gridiron codes of football that are very similar; both have their origins in rugby football, but some key differences exist.
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.
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.
In gridiron football, clock management is the manipulation of a game clock and play clock to achieve a desired result, typically near the end of a match. It is analogous to "running out the clock" seen in many sports, and the act of trying to hasten the game's end is often referred to by this term. Clock management strategies are a significant part of American football, where an elaborate set of rules dictates when the game clock stops between downs, and when it continues to run.
In American football and Canadian football, a quarterback kneel, also called taking a knee, genuflect offense, kneel-down offense, or victory formation, occurs when the quarterback immediately kneels to the ground, ending the play on contact, after receiving the snap. It is primarily used to run the clock down, either at the end of the first half or the game itself, to preserve a lead. Although it generally results in a loss of a yard and uses up a down, it minimizes the risk of a fumble, which would give the other team a chance at recovering the ball.
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 jobs that the players are doing.
A comparison of American football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.
A comparison between American football and rugby league is possible because of their shared origins and similar game concepts. Rugby league is arguably the most similar sport to American football after Canadian football: both sports involve the concept of a limited number of downs/tackles and scoring touchdowns/tries takes clear precedence over goal-kicking.
A field goal (FG) is a means of scoring in gridiron football. To score a field goal, the team in possession of the ball must place kick, or drop kick, the ball through the goal, i.e., between the uprights and over the crossbar. American football requires that a field goal must only come during a play from scrimmage while Canadian football retains open field kicks and thus field goals may be scored at any time from anywhere on the field and by any player. The vast majority of field goals, in both codes, are place kicked. Drop kicked field goals were common in the early days of gridiron football but are almost never done in modern times. In most leagues, a successful field goal awards three points.
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.
In gridiron football, a turnover on downs occurs when a team's offense has used all their downs but has not progressed downfield enough to earn another set of downs. The resulting turnover gives possession of the ball to the team currently on defense.
A comparison of Canadian football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.
In gridiron football, a punt is a kick performed by dropping the ball from the hands and then kicking the ball before it hits the ground. The most common use of this tactic is to punt the ball downfield to the opposing team, usually on the final down, with the hope of giving the receiving team a field position that is more advantageous to the kicking team when possession changes. The result of a typical punt, barring any penalties or extraordinary circumstances, is a first down for the receiving team. A punt is not to be confused with a drop kick, a kick after the ball hits the ground, now rare in both American and Canadian football.
After 3 incompletions and facing 4th-and-game