american football

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Professional football from the NFL

American football , or football for short , is a ball sport originating in the United States and the most popular variant of a series of sports known as gridiron football .

Over the course of a game, played over four quarters of 15 (or 12) minutes, two teams of 11 players attempt to get the ball into the opponent's end zone or score a field goal to win points. The team in possession of the ball ( Offense ) can gain space by throwing ( Passing ) and running ( Rushing or Running ), which ultimately leads to a point win through a touchdown or a field goal . The defending team tries toto prevent the offense from gaining possession of the ball. When a team's offense comes on the field, they have four attempts to gain ground of ten yards or more. If she manages to do this, she gets four new attempts, if she doesn't succeed or loses the ball through an interception or a fumble , the right to attack goes to the opponent. If the defense pushes the offense back into their own end zone and tackles the opposing ball carrier there, they can score a safety . The winner is the team that has scored the most points at the end of the game.

ground rules

The basic idea of ​​the game is to gain space. Since a field (100 yards) is spatially limited, reaching the end zone is rewarded with points. Different numbers of points can be obtained in different ways.

The rules sometimes differ depending on the organization. In the amateur field, as well as in the world association International Federation of American Football (IFAF), the NCAA rules apply almost unchanged . The US professional league National Football League has partly different rules.


Points can be scored if the football is carried over the opponent's goal line by means of a run or a pass play (run or pass) or is caught in the end zone . The player must, on a two-part pass play (NFL Rules), e.g. B. Landing with both feet or one foot and one knee, or part of the body (NCAA rules) in the end zone. He must control the ball, i. i.e. to have caught him safely. For a run play, it is sufficient for the ball to pierce the imaginary goal line or touch a pylon while the controlling player is inside the field of play or in the air without touching anything out of bounds. The same applies if a pass is complete and the receiver (catcher) runs to the end zone after the catch (catch). This is a touchdown (TD) that counts six points. Touchdowns can also be scored after an interception or a fumble (defensive touchdown) . Likewise after a kickoff - or a punt -return and also after a missed field goal.

After a touchdown, the attacking team also has the option of improving the score by one point after touchdown (PAT, kicking the ball through the opposing goalposts) or by a two -point conversion -point conversion , re-carrying or throwing the ball into the opponent's end zone) by two points. However , the two-point conversion has a lower chance of success. The PAT is usually performed from the opponent's 2-yard line, in the NFL from the 15-yard line since the 2015 season , the conversion from the 3-yard line, but they can also be carried out due to a penalty start from a distance.

If a touchdown no longer seems achievable, a kick can be attempted through the opposing goalposts ( field goal ), which earns three points if successful.

In addition, the defending team can score a safety (knocking the ball-carrying player down in his own end zone ), earning that team two points. If the defending team manages to capture the ball and carry it into the opponent's end zone on a PAT attempt or two-point conversion , they also get two points.


Typical move from a playbook. Pass play from the I formation.

American football is played as a series of plays . All consecutive plays by a team without changing the right to attack are called drives .

At the beginning of a move, a team is in possession of the ball and is therefore on the attack (offense) . She must try to gain space through passing or running plays to eventually reach the end zone and score points. A play starts when the ball is snapped (moved).

The offense has four attempts ( downs ) to gain at least ten yards of space and thus get the right to attack for another four attempts (new first down ). If they fail to do so, they must give up the ball and the other team gets the right to attack where the ball was carried the furthest (turnover on downs) . For this reason, the fourth try is rarely played out and instead a punt or field goal attempt is made so as not to give the opponent more space than necessary.

pass play

The quarterback (or other offensive player) attempts to throw the ball to an eligible offensive player running a predetermined pass route . A player is eligible to catch if he is not standing on the line of scrimmage or is occupying one of the two outermost positions on the line of scrimmage. The thrower must be behind the line of scrimmage. The pass can be incomplete , caught (catch) or intercepted by the defense ( interception ).

A pass is incomplete if it touches the ground (from a bad throw or a defender) or is out of bounds (caught without the receiver having a foot in bounds (in the field), in the NFL both feet must be in bounds ). being). The next attempt starts at the level of the old ball position. After a catch , the player is allowed to run as far as he can. If he is knocked down or leaves the field, the turn is over. The next down starts where the previous play stopped. On a pass play, offensive linemen may not cross the line of scrimmage (downfield) prior to the pass. Only one forward pass is allowed per play . If the quarterback is tackled before crossing the line of scrimmage or before throwing a pass, it counts as a sack .

A special variant of the passing game is the lateral pass . The ball is thrown parallel to the line of scrimmage or backwards. Like so-called handoffs , this can be repeated as often as you like per turn. Furthermore, the quarterback is allowed to act as a ball carrier himself and to gain space (scrambling) . The move then counts as a running move.

running play

Running back Matt Hall on his way to the end zone

Running moves are initiated by handing over the ball or by simply throwing it ( pitch / lateral – no forward pass) to a ball carrier. Ball carriers are usually running backs, i.e. halfback and fullback. But any other player on offense who is authorized to catch can also be a ball carrier. After receiving the ball, the ball carrier tries to get as far as possible in the direction of the opponent's end zone, while his teammates try to block the defenders , i. i.e. to deter from tackling. The play ends with a tackle, leaving the field of play or, if the ball carrier makes it into the opponent's end zone, a touchdown.

kick play

Kick plays are divided into so-called non-scrimmage kicks and scrimmage kicks .

Non-scrimmage kicks

A non-scrimmage kick is a kick play made without a snap. After a touchdown, a field goal, and at the beginning of each half, a kick play must be made with the kickoff . The kickoff after a point win is always carried out by the previously successful team. A kickoff is clear after 10 yards or after a player on the receiving team touches the ball . If the kicking team wants to get the ball back as quickly as possible, the kickoff is as short as possible in order to have a better chance of winning it ( onside kick ). At the same time, there is a risk that the opponent will take the ball in a good position. To minimize this risk, the ball can also be kicked far back where the receiving team can carry it back.

After a safety , the previously unsuccessful team performs a free kick (also known as a safety kick ) from their own 20-yard line. This kick can also be captured by either team.

If a player on the receiving team catches the ball with a fair catch after a kickoff, punt, or free kick , the team may perform a fair catch kick from the location of the fair catch on the following play . This is an attempt to score a field goal . The attempt is made like a kickoff, i.e. without a previous snap, only without a kicking tee . However, this rule does not exist in the NCAA.

scrimmage kick

A scrimmage kick is a kick play that begins with a snap . This is usually carried out when it is foreseeable after three attempts that the necessary space gain for a new first down cannot be achieved. Then, in the fourth attempt, the ball is usually kicked as far as possible in the direction of the opponent's end zone with a so-called punt , so that the opponent has to take over the right to attack in the worst possible position. A punt can be caught by the opposing team ( receiving team ) in the field and carried as far forward as possible ( punt return ). In contrast to non-scrimmage kicks , the play is over if the kicking team regains possession of the ball immediately after the punt.

If you are already close to the opponent's goal, you try to score a field goal instead of a punt .

clock management

The playing time in the USA is four times 15  minutes (quarters) . High school teams and amateur teams in Europe only play four times twelve minutes. This is real (net) playing time. The breaks between the quarters are two minutes and the half-time break is a maximum of 20 minutes. The clock is counted for a time- out , after a kickoff , an incomplete pass, when the ball carrier goes out of bounds , for points scored, for some penalties and after a two-minute warning (a time-out given by the referees two minutes before the end of each half). ) stopped. If the ball carrier is stopped in bounds , the clock continues. A play in progress is not interrupted by fouls, time-outs or changes in possession. Accordingly, in such cases, the clock is only stopped after the end of the game turn. A turn that has been started is always played to completion, even if the playing time in the respective quarter has expired. The clock is restarted either when the next move is released or only when the player snaps . A play in the NFL, College ( NCAA ) and Germany must begin 40 seconds after the end of the last play or 25 seconds after the referee releases the ball, depending on the situation, after a 60-second timeout (displayed on the play clock ). Depending on the game situation, this results in many strategic possibilities towards the end of the game. When the leading team has the ball, they can buy time by making running plays and counting down the clock. The defense can then use timeouts to prevent the 40 seconds from passing. In return, the team that is close to the end will play passes close to the touchline in order to stop the clock as often as possible. Due to the very frequent stopping of the clock, a football game usually lasts between two and a half (amateur) and three and a half hours (NFL).


If there is a tie after regulation time, overtime will follow . The rules of the NFL and NCAA differ fundamentally from each other. In the NFL, 10-minute overtime is played on a sudden-death basis. First comes the coin toss . The winner decides whether to attack (Offense) or defend (Defense) or in which direction they want to play. Usually the right of attack is chosen. The kickoff then follows as usual . The team that scores first wins, no matter how, unless it's a field goal by the first attacking team on the first drive , in which case the other team gets possession. However, if a team scores a touchdown or safety, they win immediately and the game is over. If no points have been scored after 10 minutes (or the score is still tied, for example both teams have scored a field goal in their first possession), the game ends in a draw. In playoffs, e.g. B. the play-offs , is also played according to the sudden-death principle , but here the overtime lasts 15 minutes. If no decision has been made by then, overtimes will be added until a decision has been made.

Under NCAA rules, each team has one drive in overtime , starting at the opponent's 25-yard line. In contrast to sudden death, both teams have equal chances. If there is a tie after an overtime , overtimes will be added until there is a decision. From the third overtime, a PAT is no longer allowed. After a touchdown , a two-point conversion must therefore be played.

Violations and Penalties

The yellow flag ( penalty flag ) on the playing field indicates a violation of the rules.

A violation of the rules will result in a penalty . American football has one of the most extensive sets of rules of any sport. Because of its physical hardness, there is a high risk of injury. Most of the rules are therefore designed to prevent injury to players. The Rules of Conduct for players and coaches are not rules, but voluntary agreements .

In American football, penalties are indicated by referees throwing yellow flags at the spot of the foul . The reason is that many penalties do not result in an immediate interruption of the play, but are only imposed afterwards. Penalties against both teams usually cancel each other out. An exception in the NFL is a 15-yard penalty from one team for a 5-yard penalty from the other team. If the 5-yard penalty is not accompanied by a loss of a down, an automatic first down , or a 10- second penalty, it is automatically discarded and only the 15-yard penalty is enforced.

Generally, rule violations are penalized with yards penalties, i. H. with loss of space, punished. The fouled team can usually decide whether to accept the penalty (the attempt is repeated with the corresponding loss of space) or reject it (the next attempt is played as normal). If a penalty on defense hits the line to gain (the line the offense must reach to get four new tries), the offense gets a new first down . Some penalties also include an automatic first down .

The end zone cannot be reached by penalties in normal play. The exception is a so-called Palpably Unfair Act (obviously unfair action), in which the referee, after consultation with his colleagues, is allowed to impose a touchdown or other score as a penalty. If a penalty would more than halve the distance to the end zone, this procedure is used (half the distance to the goal) , but not in the case of pass interference , since play continues at the point of the foul.

A player may also be ejected from the game for particularly serious offenses . This applies in particular to fouls with the intent to injure, grossly unsportsmanlike behavior and insults to referees and other participants in the game (opposing players, coaches, spectators). Protecting the players from injuries and controlling the game is always a priority.

Some of the major rule violations and penalties under NFL rules:

designation Explanation punishment
illegal formation At least seven players from the attacking team must be stationed at the line of scrimmage at the snap . 5 yards and try again.
Illegal Shift The offense must remain in their formation for at least a second before the snap. Exception: The offense 's man in motion . 5 yards and try again.
Illegal motion On offense, only one player in the backfield is allowed to move during a snap , the so-called man in motion. He may only do so parallel to or away from the line of scrimmage. 5 yards and try again.
False start Immediately prior to the snap, one of the offense players other than the man-in-motion moves. The down (in contrast to other penalties like the offside) is canceled immediately. 5 yards and try again.
off side A player is in or beyond the neutral zone at the snap. 5 yards and try again.
encroachment A snap involves a player being in or beyond the neutral zone and/or touching or provoking an opposing player into a defensive stance. 5 yards and try again.
Holding Detaining a player who is not the ball carrier. 10 yards and retry if holding by offense, 5 yards and automatic first down (repeat first try) if holding by defense .
pass interference When the ball is within catchable range in the air, a player must not be prevented from catching it. This does not affect collisions when attempting to catch. Penalty for Offense Pass Interference: 10 yards from the previous spot and the attempt is retaken. Defensive Pass Interference Penalty: Automatic first down , played from location of foul.
Assisting the Runner The ball carrier may not be pushed or pulled forward by his teammates. 10 yards (Foul only in college, not in the NFL).
Roughing the passer/kicker Quarterbacks (or other obvious passers), holders, and kickers are particularly prone to injury because they focus on specific tasks and often don't see oncoming defenders. You are therefore protected from avoidable contact - especially after the pass or kick. Forbidden actions are, for example, deep blocks or tackles against the head and neck area. 15 yards and automatic first down .
Running into the kickers Since the kicker has no balance after the kick and therefore cannot take a defensive position, it is also protected from accidental contact. 5 yards.
face mask Due to the risk of injury, reaching into the face grille and any other helmet opening is prohibited. 15 yards (since 2009 there is no longer a 5 yards facemask penalty in Germany, simply touching the face mask and/or briefly reaching into it are no longer penalized).
clipping blocking from behind and below the belt; only permitted in a narrowly defined area (so-called clipping zone). Blocking below the knees from behind is generally forbidden. 15 yards.
chop block A combined high/low block by two players. 15 yards.
spearing Illegal use of the helmet, in which a player throws himself at an opponent at full speed with a straight body and bowed head, i.e. like a spear ("spear"). 15 yards for both sides, automatic first down if caused by defense.
late hit If the turn is visibly over or a player is obviously no longer participating in the game, a hit is no longer allowed. 15 yards for both sides, automatic first down if hit by defense, possible expulsion and suspension.
Unnecessary roughness Any excessive harshness, specifically targeted post-play hits , and in recent years increased hits against vulnerable receivers as well. 15 yards, automatic first down , for penalties against defense, possibly connected with dismissal and suspension.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct Unsportsmanlike conduct such as insulting or taunting an opponent or referee. Also often used in certain ways of celebrating a touchdown in the US today. In the NCAA in particular, any type of partying that draws attention to a player is severely penalized. In Germany, celebrations are limited to one minute, and it must not be offensive. In the NFL, such actions are part of everyday gameplay. 15 yards, possibly subject to a dismissal and suspension. For a touchdown, the penalty is administered on the kickoff.

Coach's Challenge

The NFL is one of the sports leagues with the most extensive use of video evidence to verify contentious scenes. Controversial decisions are e.g. B. whether it was a fumble, exactly where the play ended or whether a pass was caught in the field. Twice per game , as long as his team has at least one timeout left, a head coach may request such a review by throwing a red flag onto the field of play, so that the decision in question, if found to be correct, will be reversed. If the coach gets right on both challenges, the team gets a third. A lost challenge results in a timeout being revoked. After the two-minute warning (the last two minutes before the end of each half) and in overtime (if there is a tie after the 4th quarter ), only the head referee and the official player observer can request a challenge. If there is a turnover or if points are scored, the play is also automatically checked by the game observer.


American football pitch
Chain crew on the sidelines with the two orange down markers connected by a chain . White attacking team must come from about the 21-yard line to about the 11-yard line to make a first down . On the far side of the field, or far end of the line of scrimmage , is another down marker next to the 21-yard line.

The game is played on a field 120 yards (109.73 meters) long and approximately 53 yards (48.46 meters) wide, which is divided into twelve equal sections of ten yards each (so-called "gridiron" or "iron fence"). The 100 yards in the center are used as the active play area, the remaining 10 yards at each end of the play area have special meaning in game play; they were not introduced until 1912 and are called end zones . At the four corners of the end zones are blocks of orange foam called pylons.

The boundaries of the playing field (the sidelines and end lines) no longer belong to the playing field in their entire width. Anyone who steps on them or touches them in any other way is therefore already out of bounds. The goal lines, on the other hand, belong to the end zones in their entirety.

At the end of each end zone is a goal that looks like an oversized tuning fork . A backward-curved and padded post for player safety supports a crossbar 10 feet (3.05 meters) above the ground; the vertical bars at the end of the crossbar reach 30 feet (35 feet in the NFL as of 2014) in height. At the top of each vertical pole is a red wind flag for kicker orientation. The vertical bars are spaced 18 feet 6 inches (18.5  feet (5.64 meters)) apart in the major leagues and 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 meters) apart in the minor leagues.

Playing field with goal posts

Cross lines are drawn every five yards from the end zones and a corresponding label is located every ten yards. The yard line count begins at zero (called the "goal line") in both end zones and then meets in the middle at the 50 yard line. The area from the 20-yard line to the end zone is known as the "red zone" because possession of the ball in this area has a relatively high probability of scoring successfully.

In addition, the playing field is divided lengthwise by two parallel rows of hash marks. If the last turn ends outside of these marks, the next turn starts at the nearest hash mark. The hash marks also have a one-yard division to help umpires place the ball correctly. Hash marks are 18.5 feet (5.64 meters) apart in pro football and 40 feet (12.20 meters) apart in amateur and collegiate football.

Most amateur football games in Europe are played on a football pitch . Since these are significantly wider than a football field and the distance between the goals does not correspond to the 120 yards (109.728 meters) that a football field requires, the field can either be divided into twelve equal sections and the length of the measuring chain adjusted accordingly (if e.g e.g. used in Germany), or the active playing field is shortened to less than 100 yards and the chain left at 10 yards (used e.g. in Austria). If the soccer goals themselves cannot be replaced by a football goal, the risk of injury for the players is reduced by means of padding on the posts. A football goal is then improvised with additional marker rods on the posts.

History and Development

American football was first played in 1869 at universities in the eastern United States , such as Rutgers University and Princeton University , which played their first game on November 6, 1869. In the next few years, the universities of Harvard , Yale , Columbia and Princeton in particular held a number of tournaments. It has roots in soccer , rugby and Canadian football . Until about the formation of the National Football League (NFL) in 1920, American football was synonymous with college football organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

An important football official was Walter Camp , who, among other things, introduced the line of scrimmage in 1880 and in 1882, initially only three attempts (downs) and in 1883 limited the number of players per team to eleven.

In its early years, American football was far more dangerous than it is today. Players did not have protective gear, and many of the player protection rules in place today did not exist. In particular, the ball carrier was often pushed forward by his teammates. After eighteen people died in gambling accidents in 1905, US President Theodore Roosevelt called for new rules to make gambling safer. This led to the introduction of the neutral zone between the lines in 1906, the rule that a minimum of six (currently seven) players must stand at the line of scrimmage, and various other protective rules. The most far-reaching change was the introduction of the forward pass, whereas up to that point only running plays and backward passes were allowed.

Finally, in 1910, the entangled formations were banned, which led to a decrease in injuries, some of which were fatal. In 1912, the size of the playing field and the way points were counted were redefined and the fourth attempt (Down) was introduced. This finally gave the game its modern form. To this day, however, the rules are modified every year, both with the aim of improving player safety and in an attempt to further increase the attractiveness for spectators.

In 1932, American football was played at the Los Angeles Olympics as a demonstration sport , but never became an Olympic game. The International Olympic Committee only recognized American football as a sport in December 2013 .


Variants of American football include Canadian football and arena football , although these differ significantly in some rules. However, the game principle, the basics, the game device, the division of the field and many other components are largely identical. The different pitch sizes and team strengths are obvious at first glance. Australian football does not belong to this group but closely resembles rugby . Recreationally, flag football is played in small teams without any protective gear, simulating a tackle by removing a "flag" attached to a belt. The version of wheelchair football was developed for the physically handicapped.



American football players typically specialize in one or two positions. Since substitutions are allowed on every move, the most suitable players for the planned move can always be used. During the regular season and the play-offs , the head coaches can choose from a squad of a maximum of 53 active players, with one player assigned to offense, defense and/or the special team. The offense in particular can sometimes fall back on several hundred moves and combinations. As a reminder and to avoid mistakes, many players wear a band on their arm with numbers, names, positions, moves and other things related to the game in bullet points written on the inside. The players who form the starting lineup of a team at the beginning of the game are called starters.


A quarterback about to throw a pass

The quarterback (QB) is the central player on offense. He is the playmaker and usually gets the ball from his center (C), who is standing in front of him, through his legs at the beginning of a move ( snapped ). This means that the center is on the ball with every move. The quarterback has the task of implementing the move planned by the coaches and, if necessary, adapting it in response to the game situation (audible) . He then usually passes the ball to a ball carrier (running back) or throws it to a pass recipient (receiver) .

In front of the quarterback are the five offensive linemen (OL). They are divided into centers , guards and tackles (from inside to outside). These usually very large and heavy players have the task of protecting the quarterback from the defenders ( pocket formation when passing) and to block the way for the ball carrier during running plays. Tackles are the heaviest and strongest attacking players. Guards have similar duties as tackles. A guard is occasionally used for so-called pull maneuvers. He doesn't block from his original position, but pulls outwards behind the O-Line, then runs down the field and clears the way for the ball carrier. Linemen are not allowed to receive passes.

The ball carriers themselves are called running backs (RB) or tailbacks , as they are positioned at the back end of the attacking formation. A distinction is made between fullback (FB) and halfback (HB). The fullback is heavier and stronger than the halfback and is used in situations where only a few yards need to be gained. Otherwise, he mainly acts as a pre-blocker for the halfback and as an additional blocker for passes. There are also different formations when setting up (e.g. wishbone, I , pro formation ).

When making a pass, the quarterback usually throws the ball to one of the wide receivers (WR), who, due to their high speed, can penetrate very quickly and far into opposing territory or run shorter routes. Other options include the running backs or tight ends (TE). All players except the O-Line are legal pass recipients. At least seven players must be on the line of scrimmage at the snap.

The tight end is positioned at one end of the offensive line, like an extra lineman. But he is entitled to receive a passport. The tight end is an all-round player who, depending on the situation, blocks like an offensive lineman or catches the ball like a wide receiver . In addition, he often changes his position as a "man in motion" before the snap, e.g. B. to act as a pre-blocker for running moves or even as a "running back".


Defensive line (left) faces offensive line

What all defensive players have in common is that they should prevent space gain by stopping the ball carrier, preventing passes or intervening in any other way. But there are also position-specific tasks.

The defensive linemen (DL) face the offensive line directly, with these players also being of comparable heavy stature. The defensive line should prevent the opposing running back from blocking gaps. When it comes to passing plays, they should force the quarterback to make mistakes by applying pressure, or they should sack immediately . In the defensive linemen, a distinction is made between defensive ends (DE) and defensive tackles (DT). The defensive ends stand at the ends of the defensive line. They are more agile than their O-Line colleagues because they are supposed to prevent the opposing ball carrier from running across the outside or put pressure on the opposing quarterback from the outside and thus have to go longer distances. The defensive tackles should hold the position in the middle and prevent space gains from being achieved there. Some teams use two tackles, some three, and others just one. The middle man is then also called nose tackle or nose guard because he faces the opponent's center "nose to nose".

The linebackers (LB) stand close behind the defensive line. You need to be strong enough to stop a running back through a run or power through a blitz to the quarterback. At the same time, they are also important in pass defense because they need to be able to cover the front area against short, fast passes. In plays with four or five receivers, however, the linebackers are not so quick that they can cover the receivers with long passes. To prevent the offense from gaining too much advantage from this superiority situation (many fast wide receivers against a few heavy linebackers), the linebackers are exchanged for cornerbacks (nickel and dime formation).

The most common linemen and linebacker formations are the 4-3 and 3-4 defense , collectively referred to as the 7-man front . The first digit stands for the number of defensive linemen, the second for the number of linebackers. This front is supplemented by two cornerbacks and two safeties in the backfield. A 3-4 (3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers) is more agile than a 4-3 (4 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers). The four linebackers make it easier to blitz (attack the opposing quarterback) and/or cover the pass recipients. However, you need three strong men on the defensive line who have to hold their own against five direct opponents.

8-man fronts are also more common in the amateur and collegiate field. These include, for example, the 5-3 , 4-4 and 6-2 . These fronts are better against the running game, but have greater weaknesses when it comes to passing. This is also the reason why these fronts are only seen in short yardage and goal line situations in the professional field, since a running game is expected here.

The back line of defense is formed by the safeties (S), which together with the cornerbacks (CB) represent the defensive backs (DB) (also called secondary). The cornerbacks mainly defend against an opposing pass game, while the safeties are more of a kind of last resort when the front rows have not managed to stop a ball carrier. When it comes to safeties, a distinction is made between Strong Safety (SS) and Free Safety (FS). The strong safety is heavier and sits a little closer to the line of scrimmage (often in the linebacker row, about five yards behind the line) because it's also used against the running play. In addition, he often covers the tight end, which has rather short running routes and is significantly heavier than an ordinary receiver. The Free Safety has more cornerback-like qualities. He acts deep in the back and helps the cornerbacks cover receivers.

The typical secondary consists of two cornerbacks and two safeties. When a pass is expected, however, one or more linemen or linebackers are often replaced by defensive backs. These formations are called Nickel (5 DBs), Dime (6 DBs) and Quarter (7 DBs, see also Prevent Defense ). The names refer to American coins (the nickel is a 5 cent coin).

So that the defenders do not act independently without control, there are (as in the offense) very precisely planned moves that are announced by the defensive coordinator and the head coach during the game in order to react to the offense (formation).

special teams

A kick is performed

Special teams only appear in special game situations, usually when the ball is to be kicked, i.e. when a team performs the kickoff through the kicker (K) , attempts a field goal or the punter (P) wants to punt . Since these are further away than a quarterback, a longer snap by the center is required for this, which is why a special center, the so-called long snapper (LS), comes into play.

At kickoff, the ball is kicked from the middle of one's own 30-yard line (often from the 35 in amateur leagues) and an opposing ball receiver (kickoff returner) tries to carry the ball back as far as possible. A field goal attempt ends possession of the ball regardless of which of the four downs it is attempted. When the ball is in possession between the 35-yard line and the end zone, one speaks of the field goal range ( field goal range ), since with the end zone width and another approx. seven yards, a total of 50 yards distance is reached, from which the kicker can still get a successful field trusts Goal. In favorable situations (e.g. Windy City Chicago) field goals from more than 60 yards are also possible.

The returner (called kick returner, punt returner or return specialist depending on the situation) should catch the ball and carry it towards the opposing end zone. All eleven opponents should stop him, especially the gunners are specialized in quickly tackling the returner or forcing a fair catch. The returner can also signal a so-called fair catch by waving his arms above his head before catching the ball . Then he may not be attacked by the opponent after the catch, but he cannot gain any further space.

Since a kickoff , in contrast to a punt , is always a "free ball" and can therefore be picked up by either team, the returner must decide whether he is in a position to catch the ball safely and still gain space, or whether he is already under so much pressure from the charging opponents that he signals the fair catch . If the ball is kicked into the opposing end zone by the kicker or punter and not carried out, this is referred to as a touchback . After a touchback, the receiving team starts the attack attempt from their own 20-yard line (in the NFL from the 2016 season from the 25-yard line). If a receiver catches the ball far in his own end zone and wants the ball, e.g. B. because of attacking opponents, he can kneel down in the end zone, which also results in a touchback.

There are also specialists on the side of the non-kicking team. For example, the kick blockers or punt blockers attack the kicker or punter aggressively during the kicking movement and try to block the approaching football.


Due to the complexity of American football, a football team is coached by several coaches. The Head Coach is the highest in the coaching hierarchy. He is responsible for looking after the team and oversees both training and all decisions in a game. In addition, he is responsible for the development of the moves. The offensive coordinator , the defensive coordinator and the special teams coordinator act under him in the coaching staff . In addition, there can be other trainers, for example for certain positions, physical performance or coordinative skills . Amateur teams usually have three to five coaches, (semi-)professional teams more than ten coaches.


Due to the complexity (the rules and regulations of the NCAA has almost 700 applications including rules and exceptions) and the often confusing game events, there is an entire crew of referees in American football . This can consist of 3-7 referees, with each referee observing a specific area of ​​the field and being responsible for specific tasks. The head referee is the referee , colloquially sometimes also called whitecap , recognizable by his white cap (the other referees have black caps). He positions himself in the backfield of the offense and judges downs and penalties. Other referees are the umpire , who positions himself between or behind the linebackers and usually secures the ball and positions it for the next play. The linesman and line judge stand at the line of scrimmage . The former is responsible for the mandatory chain ( Line to Gain Indicator ) , the latter for the observation of the forward movement ( Forward Progress ) as well as an optional chain. The back judge , field judge and side judge are responsible for the long passes . Depending on the size of the crew, different referees are responsible for the official playing time: in a crew of 3 the umpire, in a crew of 4 the line judge, in a crew of 5 and 7 the back judge and in a crew of 6 the side judge. In the professional leagues, this distribution of tasks is sometimes different.

The referees' equipment includes yellow flags ( penalty flags ) to mark a foul and white (blue in professional leagues) beanbags (bean bags) to mark important points.


Offense Plays

running plays

A handoff to the running back

The running game includes the moves that do not include a forward pass, i.e. in which the ball gets to the new ball carrier through the snap , the hand-off or a lateral pass .

The running game is tactically divided into three concepts: Power Running Game , Quickness Running Game , and Finesse Running Game . The different concepts can be combined with each other. The power running game was the dominant concept, especially in the early years of American football. Here the offense tries to bring about a personal superiority at the point of attack. The Quickness Running Game is based on trying to reach the point of attack so quickly that the defense does not have time for an optimal reaction. Greater gain in space is not sought here. Three yards space gain are already considered a complete success. In the finesse running game, the offense tries to weaken the defense through deceptive maneuvers and to use the resulting gaps.

In addition, the running game is differentiated according to the type of block setting. A distinction is made between man-blocking, in which each player except the runner is assigned one or more players to block, and zone-blocking, in which each player is assigned a zone in which he can place any player who is in the zone blocks.

In the course of the 1980s, the running game gained a new dimension with the "Zone Runs" and the "Stretch Plays". The reason for this development was the increasing popularity of the 8-man fronts , i.e. positioning eight defenders close to the line of scrimmage. As a result, the defense was numerically superior, as only seven blockers were available due to the failure of the quarterback, the ball carrier and the two outside receivers. The primary goal of these variants is to deprive the defense of the usual options for reacting to quickly understandable running games. In zone runs and similar moves, individual opponents are not attacked directly. Rather, a specific zone is secured in a concentrated manner against the first line of defense (defensive line) and the second line (linebacker). For example, after the snap, the offensive line first takes a step to the side instead of forward to free up a zone. With regard to the success of such a move, the ball-carrying running back bears more responsibility than in a standard running game. Because instead of the efforts of the offensive line opening up a lane planned by the play, depending on the reaction and strength of the defense, there are usually several ways to go through the defensive line. The running back has to make a spontaneous decision about their prospects of success. A distinction is made between inside and outside zone plays , which differ in the running back's approach angle to the line of scrimmage. On the inside zone play, the running back stays between the two tackles, allowing him to switch sides as well if a gap opens there. On outside zone play, he is aiming for a spot outside of the tackles. This angle makes it more difficult to switch attacking sides, but allows the running back to attack outside of the formation.

passing plays

Passing play is broken down into three categories: Drop Back Pass , Roll or Sprint Out Pass , and Play Action Pass . The distinguishing criterion is the movement of the quarterback.

With the drop back pass, the quarterback moves straight back after the snap while the offensive line forms a semicircle around it ( pocket ). From this position he can usually see the entire field. A disadvantage is the high athletic demands placed on the linemen, since the passer can be reached more quickly by the defensive players. The drop back pass is again divided according to the length of the drop back, which is matched to the length of the pass routes. The 3 step drop back is mostly used for fast moves, the 5 step drop back for medium moves and the 7 step drop back for long moves. The shotgun , in which the quarterback is already in its final position, has a special position. Since this takes the element of surprise away from the offense, it is usually only used when it is clear that a pass will follow.

With the roll out pass and sprint out pass, the quarterback runs toward the edge of the field after the snap. If this happens without any delay, one speaks of a sprint out, if he performs other movement sequences beforehand, one speaks of a roll out. With this type of passing game, the opposite side of the offensive line is relieved, since the defenders have to cover a considerably greater distance even after overcoming the linemen. However, the quarterback should be a good sprinter. Due to the sideways movement, the quarterback only has to keep an eye on half the field. Although this simplifies the observation of the defence, it reduces the number of pass recipients who can be played, since there would be a very high risk of throwing a pass on the other side of the field against the running direction.

In a play action pass, the quarterback fakes a handoff to a runner before the pass. This is intended to encourage the defenders to have a delayed reaction to the pass.


Many plays are designed to confuse the defense. Fakes involve faking one type of play (e.g. a kick play) and then performing another type of play (e.g. a pass play). Fakes make up a not insignificant part of the tactical focus of the game.

Defense Plays

Since the defense has to react flexibly to the moves of the offense, apart from the basic formations and the zones or opponents to be defended, there are hardly any fixed moves. Some exceptions:


The defense tries to put pressure on the quarterback by having one or more players break through or bypass the offense line. The flashing player can be a linebacker or a cornerback, sometimes even a safety. As with offensive plays, the success of a blitz depends not only on the athleticism and speed of the players, but above all on the element of surprise. If the quarterback sees where the lightning is coming from, he has a weak spot on the defense in front of him. Some blitzes are only faked to confuse the quarterback or trick him into making a bad decision.

Defensive stunts

The defensive stunt is another way to put pressure on the offense. The D-line players and linebackers position themselves in the usual positions for their formation, but exchange their assignments (tasks) after the snap with the man next to them or with a previously agreed partner. For example, For example, put a defense end in the middle and the defense tackle takes over the outside. This should cause coordination difficulties within the opposing offensive line .

D line shifts

The D-Line Shifts have a similar goal . Here, too, the defensive linemen line up in a gap, for example, but change position shortly before the snap (e.g. head-on to the o-line player). This can have several effects. First, it can mess up the offensive line because the planned block schemes may no longer fit and it's too late to reconcile. Second, it forces the quarterback into potential play-changing audibles if he sees e.g. B. the D-Line shifts strongly to the side of the planned play and makes it impossible for the offense. This in turn tells the defense something about the planned move.

shirt numbers

Example of back numbers

The shirt numbers usually have a fixed assignment to the positions, not least for the orientation of the referees. Although this assignment is not mandatory according to the rules of the NCAA , it is strongly recommended that the numbers be assigned according to the system binding in the NFL (see NFL Rulebook Rule 5 Section 1 Article) For the offensive line , the numbering is included for at least five players However, numbers between 50 and 79 are specified during normal moves, since they, for example, do not catch balls and otherwise only touch the ball as a free ball (e.g. fumble ) or are not allowed to run forward during passing moves before throwing the ball. Mandatory numbering in the NFL since 2021 and usual in the other leagues:

  • Quarterbacks, punters, and placekickers: 1-19;
  • Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and H-backs: 1–49; 80-89
  • Offensive Linemen: 50-79;
  • Defensive Linemen: 50–79 and 90–99;
  • Linebackers: 1-59 and 90-99
  • Defensive Backs: 1-49

Furthermore, there are so-called retired numbers in many teams . The numbers used to belong to particularly great players, are associated with them and are no longer awarded in memory of these players or as an honor.



The world association International Federation of American Football (IFAF) organizes, among other things, the American football world championships and ensures that American football is represented at events such as the World Games 2005 . World Championships have been held every four years since 1999. Japan won twice (Italy 1999 and Germany 2003) and the United States, who competed with a team of college players, won three times (Japan 2007, Austria 2011 and USA 2015).

United States

American football is particularly popular in North America. In the USA it has been the most popular sport since the 1970s ( baseball previously dominated ). Virtually every high school and college has teams of varying skill levels organized into different leagues within the NCAA or NAIA . The several hundred teams in college football 's major leagues play about 12 games each fall within their respective groups.

The most famous North American professional league is the National Football League (NFL), which has existed since the 1920s, decades after college football. The final of the NFL, known as the Super Bowl , is the premier televised event in the United States and is considered the world's most popular annual single-sport event. In addition, there have always been competing leagues, such as the USFL or the XFL .


In contrast to the USA, where football is traditionally played from September to well beyond the turn of the year (College Bowl games in early January, Super Bowl on the first Sunday in February), in Europe the summer half-year is played from spring to autumn.

American football in Germany began in the mid-1970s with the Frankfurter Löwen (founded in 1977) and the Düsseldorf Panthers , with US soldiers mostly stationed in Germany serving as players and coaches. American football has existed in Austria since 1975 , some of the pioneers were Richard Plenk in Vienna and Stefan Herdey in Graz. American football has also been played in Switzerland since the 1980s .

The highest regular league in Germany is the German Football League (GFL), which is divided into a northern and a southern group, each with 8 teams (as of 2019). The final of the GFL is the German Bowl . Below the GFL there is a second division of the Bundesliga with 16 teams. Various other leagues follow ( regional leagues , upper leagues , association leagues, state leagues, development leagues). There is also extensive play in the youth sector.

Football has also been played at college level since the late 1980s. The finale is the annual university bowl. Shortly thereafter, the best university players meet in the university national team, the GERmaniacs .

The highest regular league in Austria is the Austrian Football League (AFL). The final of the AFL is the Austrian Bowl .

Since the 1980s, European championships between national teams and at club level the Eurobowl , the Euro Cup and the Federations Cup, which were superseded by the EFAF Cup , have been held by the European Federation of American Football (EFAF). The European competitions were reorganized for the 2014 season, so that since then the six best teams in Europe have met in the Big6 European Football League . As a further competition, the EFL Bowl was introduced, in which the best non-Big6 club teams meet.

Beginning in 1991, the NFL organized the World League of American Football in the spring. After the withdrawal of all non-European teams, it was renamed NFL Europe in 1998 . This was discontinued in 2007. Since 2007, the NFL has been trying to popularize American football in Europe through the NFL International Series .

Every four years there is a European American Football Championship , which was last held in Finland in 2018. The reigning European champion is France, which was able to secure its first title under German head coach Patrick Esume . The record winner is Finland with five titles, all but the first (1985) and the most recent (2000) won in the 1990s, when the European Championships were still held irregularly at two-year intervals.


American football is not popular in the People's Republic of China . The first amateur league , the American Football League of China , was not founded until 2012 , from which the China Bowl Alliance split off in 2015. The China Arena Football League (CAFL) has been a professional arena football league since 2016 . In 2016, the U-19 American Football World Cup was held in Harbin . It was the first international football tournament in China. According to the CAFL and National Football League (NFL), the number of Chinese people aged 15-54 who identify themselves as American football fans grew from 1.6 million in 2010 to 14.1 million in 2013. Problems are the high levels of air pollution near metropolitan areas, making outdoor play hazardous to health.

Health risks

Scientific studies have found a connection between the repeatedly very hard headbutts in American football and diseases such as Alzheimer's , depression and dementia , which are said to be caused by concussions and numerous brain traumas. These diseases are often late effects and only appear ten to 20 years after the end of a career. A 2007 study of 2,552 former NFL players conducted at the University of North Carolina 's Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found a very strong association between the number of concussions and the rate of diagnosed depression. It found that of 595 former NFL players who had three or more concussions during their playing career, 20.2% suffered from depression. In addition, the 2,552 people examined were found to have a 37% higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than other men of the same age.

Scientists at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University , led by Ann McKee and Robert Cantu, determined chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 68 of 85 former athletes studied, including 34 out of 35 NFL professionals studied. The athletes had repeatedly suffered a craniocerebral trauma in the form of concussions. In 2012 , brain researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles used PET brain mapping to demonstrate CTE in surviving ex-professionals .

See also

Portal: American Football  - Overview of Wikipedia content related to American Football


  • AFVD: Rules & Interpretations 2009 , American Football Association Germany, Frankfurt am Main 2008, (ISBN not available)
  • Bowy, Knitter, Rosenstein: American Football - From Kick-off to Touchdown , Weinmann, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-87892-054-7
  • Peter Kränzle, Margit Brinke: American Football made understandable , Copress Sport, Munich 2014, ISBN 3-7679-1183-3
  • Meier, Gerald: That's American Football , Pietsch Verlag, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-613-50348-4
  • Kirwan, Pat / Seigerman, David: Don't look at the ball - see American football like a pro , riva, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-7423-1003-3
  • Peter Sartorius , Photos: David Burnett: Frontline Report from a Theater of War in Dallas, Texas: Endgame. In: Geo Magazine. Hamburg 1980, H. 8, pp. 8-36. Informative experience report about American football. ISSN  0342-8311

web links

Wiktionary: American Football  - meaning explanations, word origin, synonyms, translations
Commons : American Football  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


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