Down (gridiron football)

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A down marker showing first down along the sideline of a collegiate game ACC official holds "down" marker (game between Virginia Tech and Duke University, 2007).jpg
A down marker showing first down along the sideline of a collegiate game

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 downs in American football, three downs 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 them to begin their drive from further down the field; if they are in range, they might instead attempt to score a field goal.

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Description

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 is said to turn 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 has not yet made a first down before reaching 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 is forced to decide whether to either scrimmage the ball in an attempt to pick up the first down (this is called going for it [on fourth down]), 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, 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 of the same play following the snap, he may down the ball by voluntarily sliding from his feet to a sitting or recumbent position - 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.

Terminology

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:

Derivation

In the early 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 ballcarrier 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, this is called a tackle and 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 in 1972.

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". The rule is rarely used, despite having practical advantages over the preferred method of intentional downing, the kneel. [2]

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.

The system of downs, in terms of a set number of plays to advance the ball a certain number of yards, were originally devised by Walter Camp and introduced to the game at the college football level in 1880, when Camp was still a player of the game. Camp's original system gave teams three downs to advance the ball five yards or else lose possession of the ball, a proposal meant to reduce sandbagging. Early in the 20th century, as the forward pass was added to the game and kicking rules became more restrictive, a fourth down was added, and the requirement was doubled to 10 yards. The system of downs was introduced to Canadian football in 1903, where the Burnside rules imposed a ten yards in three downs requirement (like Walter Camp's early rules); those criteria remain in Canadian football to the present day.

Two/Three-and-out

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.

Related Research Articles

Canadian football Canadian team sport

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.

Touch football (American)

Touch football is a 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. The game is usually played by amateurs on a recreational basis.

Gridiron football Sport primarily played in the United States and Canada

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 indoor football and Arena football, football for smaller teams, and informal games such as touch and flag 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. 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 defending team is responsible for the ball becoming dead on or behind its own 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.

  1. Legally positioned at the kick-off or the snap. On kick-offs, members of the kicking team must be behind the kick-off line; members of the receiving team must be at least 10 yards from the kick-off line. On scrimmages, at the snap the offence must be behind the line of scrimmage; the defence must be at least one yard beyond the line of scrimmage.
  2. A player of the kicking team who can legally recover the kick. The kicker and any teammates behind the ball at the time of the kick are onside. Thus on kick-offs all players of the kicking team are onside, but on other kicks usually only the kicker is. The holder on a place kick is not considered onside.
  1. A defensive position on scrimmages, also called free safety. Typical formations include a single safety, whose main duty is to cover wide receivers. See also defensive back.
  2. A two-point score. The defence scores a safety when the offence carries or passes the ball into its own goal area and then fails to run, pass, or kick the ball back into the field of play; when this term is used in this sense, it is also referred to as a safety touch.
Comparison of American and Canadian football

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.

In gridiron football, a quick kick is any punt made under conditions such that the opposing team "should not" expect a punt. Typically this has been a kick from scrimmage from a formation that is, or resembles, one usually used other than for punting, or at least not resembling the one usually used for punting. Typically it will also be on some down before last down, unless done from a formation usually used for place kicking.

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.

American football rules Rules for American football

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.

Quarterback kneel American football play to run the clock out or protect a pending victory

In American 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.

American football positions Positions in American football

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.

Comparison of American football and rugby union

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.

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.

Holding (American football)

In gridiron football, holding is the illegal restraining of another player who is not in possession of the ball. Holding is prohibited in most football leagues because it does not allow fair play of the game and increases the risk for injury.

A comparison of Canadian football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.

Punt (gridiron football)

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.

References

  1. "Jerusalem Lions win Israel Bowl X in overtime thriller". American Football International. 2017-04-03. Retrieved 2018-08-28. After 3 incompletions and facing 4th-and-game
  2. For instance, it is often advantageous to kneel at or near the goal line in the closing minute of a game when tied or down by less than three points to run out the clock, kick a last-second field goal, and prevent the opponent from scoring. Teams with proficient offenses may allow a runner to intentionally score a touchdown in order to get the ball back and have their own opportunity to score. To combat this, a runner usually attempts to kneel at or near the goal line; however, as seen in Super Bowl XLVI, this is not always successful. Had Ahmad Bradshaw called 'down' when inside the 5-yard line, he would have not had to worry about stumbling into the end zone, as he did. Bradshaw's New York Giants eventually won the game, as they were able to successfully defend against the New England Patriots in their closing drive.

See also