American football

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Professional football from the NFL

American Football ( English for "American football "), or even just football , is one of the United States originated ball game and the most popular variant of a number of the Gridiron Football designated sports.

In the course of a game played in four quarters of 15 (or 12) minutes, two teams of eleven players each try to bring the match ball into the opposing end zone or to score a field goal to gain points. The team in possession of the ball ( offense , English for "attack") can gain space by throwing ( passing ) and running ( rushing or running ), which ultimately leads to points being gained through a touchdown or a field goal . The defending team ( Defense , English for "defense") tries to prevent the offense from getting into possession of the ball. When a team's offense hits the field, they have four attempts to gain ten yards or more of space . If she succeeds, she receives four new attempts, if she does not succeed or if she 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 achieve a safety . The winner is the team that has scored the most points at the end of the game.

Basic rules

The main idea of ​​the game is to gain space. Since a playing 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 from one another depending on the organization. In the amateur sector, as in the 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 achieved if the football is carried over the opponent's goal line or caught in the end zone by means of a run or a pass play ( run or pass ) . During a passing play, the player must land with both legs (NFL rules) or one leg (NCAA rules) in the end zone and control the ball; that is, have caught him safely. In a running game, it is sufficient if the ball pierces the imaginary goal line or touches a pylon while the player controlling it is within the playing field or in the air without touching anything out of bounds. The same applies if a pass is complete and the receiver (catcher) runs into the end zone after the catch . This is a touchdown (TD) that counts for six points. Touchdowns can even after a interception or fumble be achieved (Defensive touchdown) . Likewise after a kickoff or a punt return and also after a missed field goal.

After a touchdown, the offensive team has the option, the score by one after Point touchdown (PAT, Eng. Point after touchdown , kicking the ball through the opposing goalposts) by one or by a two-point conversion (Engl. Two -Point conversion , carrying or throwing the ball again into the opponent's end zone) by two points. However, the two-point conversion has less chance of success. The PAT is usually carried out from the opposing 2-yard line, in the NFL since the 2015 season from the 15-yard line, the conversion from the 3-yard line, but it can also be subject to a penalty start from a greater distance.

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

In addition, the defending team can achieve a safety (bringing the player in possession of the ball to the ground in his own end zone ), which earns the team in question two points. If the defending team succeeds in a PAT attempt or in the two-point conversion to capture the ball and carry it into the opposing end zone, it also receives two points.


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

American football is as a sequence of moves (Plays) played. All successive plays of a team without changing the right to attack are called a drive .

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

The offense has four attempts ( downs ) at its disposal in order to gain at least ten yards of space and thus obtain the right to attack for another four attempts (new first down ). If she does not succeed, she has to give up the ball and the other team receives the right to attack at the point where the ball has been carried the furthest (turnover on downs) . For this reason, the fourth attempt is rarely played and instead a punt or field goal attempt is carried out in order not to give the opponent more space than necessary.

Passing play

The quarterback (or another offensive player) tries to throw the ball to an offensive player who is entitled to catch and who is walking a predetermined pass route . A player is entitled to catch if he is not on the line of scrimmage or occupies one of the two extreme positions on the line of scrimmage. The thrower must be behind the line of scrimmage. The pass can be incomplete (incomplete) , caught (catch) or intercepted by the defense ( interception ).

A pass is incomplete if it hits 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 NFL both feet must be in bounds be). The next attempt starts at the height of the old ball position. After a catch , the player may run as far as he can. If he is brought to the ground or if he leaves the field, the turn is over. The next down starts at the point where the previous play was stopped. In a passing play, the offensive linemen are not allowed to cross the line of scrimmage (downfield) before the pass. Only one forward pass is allowed per move . 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 plays 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. Any other player of the offense who is authorized to catch the ball can also be a ball carrier. After receiving the ball, the ball carrier tries to get as far as possible towards the opposing end zone while his teammates try to block the defenders , i.e. i.e., discourage tackling. The play ends with a tackle, leaving the field of play or, if the ball carrier makes it into the opposing end zone, with a touchdown.

Kick play move

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

Non-scrimmage kicks

A non-scrimmage kick is a kick play that is made without a previous 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 has been won is always done by the previously successful team. A kickoff is free after 10 yards or after a player on the receiving team touches the ball . If the kicking team wants the ball back as quickly as possible, the kickoff is as short as possible in order to have a better chance of conquering it ( onside kick ). At the same time, there is a risk that the opponent will take over the ball in a good position. To minimize this risk, the ball can also be shot far back, where the receiving team can carry it back.

After a safety , the previously unsuccessful team gives a free kick (also safety kick ) from their own 20-yard line. This kick can also be conquered by both teams.

If a player on the receiving team catches the ball after a kickoff, punt or free kick by means of a fair catch , the team can exercise a fair catch kick in the next move from the location of the fair catch . An attempt is made to achieve 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 if after three attempts it is foreseeable 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 by a so-called punt , so that the opponent has to take over the right of 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 move is over if the kicking team immediately regains possession of the ball after the punt.

If you are already close to the opposing 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 (quarter) . High school teams as well as the amateur teams of Europe only play four times twelve minutes. This is real (net) playing time. The breaks between quarters are two minutes and the half-time break is a maximum of 20 minutes. The clock is switched on after a time-out , after a kickoff , an incomplete pass, if the ball carrier goes out of bounds , after points scored, with some penalties and after a two-minute warning (time-out by the referees, two minutes before the end of each half ) stopped. If the ball carrier is stopped in bounds , the clock continues. A running play is not interrupted by fouls, time outs or change of possession. Accordingly, in such cases, the clock will only stop after the turn has ended. A move that has been started is always played completely, even if the playing time in the respective quarter has expired. The clock is restarted either when the next move is released or only after the snap . In the NFL, in college ( NCAA ) and in Germany, a play must begin 40 seconds after the end of the last play or 25 seconds after the ball has been released by the referee, after a timeout of 60 seconds (displayed on the play clock ). Depending on the game situation, this results in many strategic options towards the end of the game. If the leading team has the ball, they can buy time by running plays and running the clock down. The defense can then prevent the elapse of 40 seconds with timeouts. In return, the team that was shortly before the end will play passes near the sideline in order to stop the clock as often as possible. The frequent stopping of the clock means that a football game usually lasts between two and a half (amateurs) and three and a half hours (NFL).


If there is a tie after regular time, overtime follows . The rules of the NFL and NCAA differ fundamentally from each other. In the NFL, a 10-minute extension is played according to the sudden death principle . First the coin toss takes place ( toss ) . The winner decides whether he will attack (offense) or defend (defense) or in which direction he wants to play. Usually the right to attack is chosen. The kickoff then follows as usual . The first team to score wins, regardless of the way, unless it is a field goal of the first attacking team on the first drive , in which case the other team gains possession of the ball. However, if a team scores a touchdown or a safety, it wins immediately and the game is over. If no points have been scored at the end of the 10 minutes (or there is still a tie, for example because both teams scored a field goal in their first possession), the game ends in a draw. In playoffs, e.g. B. the play-offs , is played according to the sudden death principle , but here the extra time lasts 15 minutes. If no decision has been made by then, overtimes are added until a decision has been reached.

According to the NCAA rules, each team has one drive in overtime , which starts at the opposing 25-yard line. In contrast to sudden death, both teams have the same chances. If there is a tie after an overtime , overtimes are added until there is a decision. A PAT is no longer permitted after the third overtime . A two-point conversion must therefore be played after a touchdown .

Rule violations and penalties

The yellow flag ( penalty flag ) on the field indicates a rule violation.

A rule violation is punished with a penalty (English 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 injuries to players. The rules of conduct for players and coaches are not rules, but voluntary agreements .

In American football, penalties are indicated by the referees using yellow flags that are thrown at the spot of the foul . The reason is that many penalties do not immediately lead to an interruption of the game, but are only imposed afterwards. In the case of penalties against both teams, these usually cancel each other out. An exception in the NFL is a 15-yard penalty from one team, with 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- If the second penalty is connected, it is automatically discarded and only the 15 yard penalty is enforced.

In principle, rule violations are punished with yard 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 normally). If the line to gain (the line that the offense has to reach in order to get four new attempts) is reached by a penalty against the defense , the offense receives a new first down . Some penalties also include an automatic first down .

The end zone cannot be reached by penalties in the normal course of the game. The exception is a so-called palpably unfair act (obviously unfair procedure), in which the referee, after consulting his colleagues, is allowed to impose a touchdown or another 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 the game continues at the point of the foul.

In the case of particularly serious offenses, a player can also be excluded from the game (ejected) . This applies in particular to fouls with intent to injure, grossly unsportsmanlike conduct and insulting referees and other game participants (opposing players, coaches, spectators). The priority is always to protect the players from injuries and to control the game.

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

designation Explanation punishment
Illegal formation At the snap , at least seven players on the attacking team must be positioned on the line of scrimmage . 5 yards and retry.
Illegal shift The offense must remain in its formation for at least one second before the snap. Exception: the man in motion of the offense . 5 yards and retry.
Illegal motion In the offense, only one player may move in the backfield during the snap , the so-called man in motion. He may only do this parallel to or away from the Line of Scrimmage. 5 yards and retry.
False start Immediately before the snap, one of the offense players other than the man moves in motion. The down (in contrast to other penalties such as the offside) is canceled immediately. 5 yards and retry.
Offside A player is in or beyond the neutral zone at the snap. 5 yards and retry.
Encroachment During the snap, a player is in or beyond the neutral zone and / or touches or provokes an opposing player to adopt a defensive stance. 5 yards and retry.
Holding Holding a player who is not the ball carrier. 10 yards and the attempt is repeated if the holding is done by the offense, 5 yards and Automatic First Down (new first attempt) if the holding is done by the defense .
Pass Interference When the ball is in the air within catchable area, a player must not be prevented from catching it. This does not apply to collisions while trying to catch. Penalty for Offense Pass Interference: 10 yards from the previous spot and retry . Penalty for Defensive Pass Interference: Automatic First Down , played from the location of the foul.
Assisting the runner The ball carrier may not be pushed or pulled forward by his teammates. 10 yards (College foul only, not NFL).
Roughing the passer / kicker Quarterback (or another obvious passer), holder and kicker are particularly at risk of injury because they focus on certain tasks and often fail to notice oncoming defenders. You are therefore protected from avoidable contact - especially after the pass or kick. Prohibited actions are, for example, deep blocks or tackles against the head and neck area. 15 yards and automatic first down .
Running into the kicker Since the kicker has no balance after the kick and therefore cannot take up a defensive position, it is also protected from unintentional contact. 5 yards.
Facemask Due to the risk of injury, reaching into the face grille and any other helmet opening is prohibited. 15 yards (there has been no 5 yard face mask penalty in Germany since 2009, mere touching the face grille and / or briefly reaching into it are no longer punished).
Clipping Blocking from behind and below the belt; only allowed in a narrowly defined area (so-called clipping zone). Blocking below the knees from behind is generally prohibited. 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, like a spear. 15 yards for both sides, automatic first down if caused by defense.
Late hit If the turn of the game is visibly over or a player obviously no longer takes part in the game, a hit is no longer allowed. 15 yards for both sides, automatic first down if the hit is caused by the defense, possibly with expulsion and suspension.
Unnecessary roughness Any excessive hardship, specially targeted hits after the move and, in recent years, hits against defenseless receivers. 15 yards, automatic first down , in the event of penalties against the defense, possibly combined with expulsion and suspension.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct Unsportsmanlike conduct such as insulting or mocking opponents or the referee. Today in the USA it is also often used for certain ways of celebrating a touchdown. Especially in the NCAA, any kind of partying that attracts a player's attention is severely punished. In Germany, partying is limited to one minute, and it must not be offensive. In the NFL, such actions are part of everyday game play. 15 yards, possibly with expulsion and suspension. In the case of a touchdown, the penalty is carried out at the kickoff.

Coach's Challenge

The NFL is one of the sports leagues with the most extensive use of video evidence for reviewing contentious scenes. Disputed decisions are e.g. B. Whether it was a fumble, exactly where the play ended or whether a pass was caught in the field. As long as his team still has at least one timeout, a head coach can request such a review twice per game by throwing a red flag on the field of play, so that the decision in question will be revised if he is right. If the coach is right in both challenges, the team gets a third. A lost challenge results in the withdrawal of a timeout. After the two-minute warning (the last two minutes before the end of each half) and in extra time (if there is a tie after the 4th quarter ), only the referee and the official player observer can apply for a challenge. In the event of a turnover or points scored, the game move is also automatically checked by the game observer.


American football pitch
Chain crew at the edge of the field with the two orange down markers connected by a chain . The white attacking team must come from approximately the 21-yard line to approximately the 11-yard line for a first down . At the opposite edge of the field or at the far end of the line of scrimmage there is another down marker next to the 21-yard line.

The game is played on a 120 yard (109.73 meter) long and about 53 yard (48.46 meter) wide playing field, which is divided into twelve equal sections of ten yards each (so-called “gridiron” or “iron grating”). The one hundred yards in the middle are used as the active playing field, the remaining ten yards at each end of the playing field have a special meaning in the course of the game; they were only introduced in 1912 and are called end zones . At the four corners of the end zones there are orange foam blocks called pylons.

The boundaries of the playing field (the touchline 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. The goal lines, on the other hand, belong to the end zones in their entire width.

At the end of each end zone there is a goal that looks like an oversized tuning fork . A post that is bent back and padded for safety for the players supports a crossbar 10 feet (3.05 meters) above the ground; the vertical bars at the end of the crossbar rise 30 feet (35 feet in the NFL since 2014). At the top of each vertical pole there is a red wind vane for orientation for the kickers. The vertical bars are 18 feet and 6 inches (18.5 feet (5.64 meters)) apart in high play classes and  23 feet and 4 inches (7.11 meters) apart in low play classes.

Playing field with "Goal Posts"

Starting from the end zones, transverse lines are drawn in at a distance of five yards, and there is a corresponding lettering every ten yards. The yard line count starts at zero on both end zones (called the “goal line” ) 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” , as having the ball in this area, the probability of successfully scoring is relatively high.

In addition, the playing field is divided lengthways by two parallel rows of hash marks . If the last turn ends outside of these markings, the next turn starts on the nearest hash mark . The hash marks also have a one-yard division to aid the referees in correctly placing the ball. The hash marks are 18.5 feet (5.64 meters) apart in professional football and 40 feet (12.20 meters) apart in amateur and college football.

Amateur football matches in Europe are mostly played on a soccer field . 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) required by a football field, the field can either be divided into twelve equal sections and the length of the measuring chain can be adjusted accordingly (e.g. B. used in Germany), or the active playing field is shortened to less than 100 yards and the chain is left at ten yards (used e.g. in Austria). If the football goals themselves cannot be replaced by a football goal, the risk of injury to the players is reduced by using pads on the posts. A football goal is then improvised with additional dipstick on the post.

History and Development

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

An important football official was Walter Camp , who introduced the line of scrimmage in 1880 and the downs in 1882, but initially only three, 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. The players did not have protective gear and many of the current rules for protecting players did not exist. In particular, the ball carrier was often pushed forward by his teammates. After eighteen deaths from gambling accidents in 1905, US President Theodore Roosevelt called for new rules to make the game safer. This led to the introduction of the neutral zone between the lines in 1906, the rule that at least six (currently seven) players must stand on the line of scrimmage, and various other protective rules. The most far-reaching change was the introduction of the forward pass, while up to this point only running plays and backward passes were allowed.

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

In 1932 American football was played as a demonstration sport at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles , but never became Olympic. It wasn't until December 2013 that the International Olympic Committee recognized American football as a sport.


Variants of American football include Canadian football and arena football , even if they differ significantly in some rules. The game principle, the basics, the game device, the division of the field and many other components are largely identical. The differing sizes of the pitch and the team strengths can be seen at first glance. The Australian Football does not belong to this group, but very similar to rugby . In recreational sports, flag football is played in small teams without any protective equipment. A tackle is simulated by removing a "flag" attached to the belt. The wheelchair football variant was developed for the physically handicapped .



American football players typically specialize in one or two positions. Since every move can be changed, the most suitable actors 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 the offense, defense and / or special team. The offense in particular can sometimes fall back on several hundred moves and combinations. As a memory aid and to avoid mistakes, many players wear a ribbon on their arm, on the inside of which numbers, names, positions, moves and other things about the course of the game are noted in bullet points. The players who make up the team at the beginning of the game are called starters.


A quarterback about to throw a pass

The quarterback (QB) is the central player in the offense. He is the playmaker and usually receives the ball at the beginning of a play from his center (C), who is standing in front of him, through his legs backwards ( 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 coach and, if necessary, adapting it in response to the game situation (Audible) . Typically, it then passes the ball to a ball carrier (Running Back) or throws it to a pass receiver (receiver) .

The five offensive linemen (OL) stand in front of the quarterback . They are divided into centers , guards and tackles (from the inside out). These usually very large and heavy players have the task of protecting the quarterback from the defenders ( pocket formation on the pass) and of blocking the way for the ball carrier during running plays. Tackles are the heaviest and strongest players in attack. Guards have similar tasks to tackles. A guard is occasionally used for so-called pull maneuvers. He does not block from his original position, but pulls outwards behind the O-Line, only then runs down the field and clears the way for the ball carrier. The linemen are not allowed to receive passports.

The ball carriers themselves are called running back (RB) or tailback because they are positioned at the rear of the attack 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 in which only a few yards of space need to be gained. Otherwise, it mainly acts as a pre-blocker for the halfback and as an additional blocker for passing moves. There are also various formations when setting up (e.g. Wishbone, I , Pro formation ).

In the case of a pass, the quarterback usually throws the ball to one of the wide receivers (WR), which, due to its high speed, can penetrate very quickly and far into the opponent's territory or run shorter routes. Other options are the running backs or tight ends (TE). Legal pass recipients are all players except the O-Line. 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 additional 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 in order to then e.g. B. to act as a pre-blocker for running plays or even as a "running back".


Defensive line (left) faces the offensive line

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

The defensive linemen (DL) face the offensive line directly, although these players also have a comparable heavy stature. The defensive line is intended to prevent the opposing running back from blocking gaps. In passing moves, they are supposed to force the quarterback to make mistakes by applying pressure or to sink straight away . The defensive linemen distinguish between defensive ends (DE) and defensive tackles (DT). The defensive ends are at the ends of the defensive line. They are more agile than their O-Line colleagues, as they are supposed to prevent the opposing ball carrier from running over the outside or exert pressure on the opposing quarterback from outside and thus have to walk longer distances. The defensive tackles are supposed to hold the position in the middle and prevent gaining space there. Some teams use two tackles, some three, and some just one. The middle man is then also called nose tackle or nose guard because he faces the center of the opponent "nose to nose".

The linebackers (LB) are close behind the defensive line. You have to be strong enough to stop a running back breakthrough or to make a powerful push to the quarterback in the event of lightning . At the same time, they are also important in pass defense, as they have to be able to cover the front area against short, fast passes. On moves with four or five receivers, the linebackers are not so nimble that they can cover the receivers for long passes. So that the offense cannot draw too many advantages from this oversupply situation (many fast wide receivers versus a few heavy linebackers), the linebackers are exchanged for cornerbacks (nickel and dime formation).

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 passing game, while the safeties are more of a kind of last bastion when the front rows have failed 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 stronger and stands a little closer to the line of scrimmage (often also in the linebacker row, about five yards behind the line) because it works against the running play and covers the tight end, which has rather short running routes and clearly heavier than an ordinary receiver. The "Free Safety" has more cornerback-like properties. He acts as an additional cornerback in the deep back area and either covers the deep zone or helps cornerbacks cover the receivers.

So that the defensive players do not act independently in an uncontrolled manner, there are very precisely planned plays here (as in the offense), which are announced by the defensive coordinator and the head coach during the game in order to react to the offense (formation).

The most common lineups in defense are the 4-3 and 3-4 defense , which are summarized under the collective term 7-man front . In the 4-3 defense there are four players in the defensive line , three linebackers behind and two cornerbacks and two safeties on the field. A 3–4 is more agile, the four linebackers make it easier to carry out a lightning bolt (attack on the opposing quarterback) and / or cover the receiver. However, you need three strong men on the defensive line who have to stand up to five direct opponents.

8-man fronts are also played more often in the amateur and college sectors . These include, for example, 5–3 , 4–4 and 6–2 . These fronts are more suitable against the running game, but have greater weaknesses in the passing game. This is also the reason why these fronts are rarely seen in the professional sector.

Typical pass defenses are the Nickel , Dime and Quarter . In these, one or more defensive backs are exchanged for lineman and / or linebacker. In short yardage and goal line situations, a so-called goal line defense is played. This usually consists of at least 6 defense linemen, which should close the gaps of the offense.

Special teams

A kick is performed

Special Teams occur only in specific game situations, usually when the ball is to be kicked so if a team by, Kicker (K) the kickoff performs a field goal attempt or Punter (P) to punt wants. Since these are further away than a quarterback, a longer snap through the center is required for this, which is why a special center, the so-called long snapper (LS), comes into play.

During a kickoff, the ball is kicked from the middle of one's own 30-yard line (often from 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 regardless of which of the four downs it is attempted on. In possession of 35-yard line and the end zone one speaks of field goal range ( field goal range ), since a total of 50 yards to achieve distance with Endzonenbreite and another about seven yards from the one the kicker nor a successful Field Trusts goal. In favorable situations (e.g. Windy City Chicago), field goals from over 60 yards are also possible.

The returner (called a kick returner, punt returner or return specialist depending on the situation) is supposed to catch the ball and carry it towards the opposing end zone. All eleven opponents are supposed to stop him, especially the gunner are specialized in tackling the returner quickly or forcing him to a fair catch. Before catching the ball, the returner can display a so-called fair catch by waving his arms over his head . Then he may not be attacked by the opponent after the catch, but 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 both teams, the returner must decide whether he is in a position to catch the ball safely and gain space, or whether he is already is so under pressure from the attacking opponents that he indicates the fair catch . If the ball is kicked into the opposing end zone by the kicker or punter and not carried out, this is called a touchback . After a touchback, the receiving team starts the attack attempt from its own 20-yard line (in the NFL from the 2016 season from the 25-yard line). If a receiver catches the ball far in its own end zone and wants the ball, e.g. B. because of attacking opponents, no longer bring into play, he can kneel 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 aggressively attack the kicker or punter 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 trainer 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 developing the moves. Under him, the offensive coordinator , the defensive coordinator and the special teams coordinator act on the coaching staff , who look after the team parts ( offense , defense or special teams) and sometimes announce the moves of their team parts during the game. There may also be other trainers, for example for certain positions, physical performance or coordination skills . Amateur teams usually have three to five coaches, and (semi-) professional teams have ten coaches.


Due to the complexity (the rules of the NCAA, including rules and exceptions, have almost 700 applications) and the often confusing game play, American football has a whole crew of referees . This can consist of 3–7 referees, each referee observing a certain area of ​​the playing field and being responsible for special tasks. The head judge is the referee , sometimes also called a whitecap , who can be identified 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 stands 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 monitoring the forward movement ( Forward Progress ) and an optional chain. The back judge , field judge and side judge are responsible for the wide passes . Depending on the size of the crew, different referees are responsible for the official season: in a 3-person crew of the umpire, in a 4-person crew of the line judge, in a 5-person and 7-person crew of the back judge and in a 6-person crew of the side judge. In the professional leagues, this distribution of tasks is sometimes different.

The equipment of the referees includes the yellow flags ( penalty flags ) to mark a foul and the white beanbags ( blue in profile ) to mark important points.


Offense plays

Running plays

A hand-off to the running back

The running game includes the moves that do not include a forward pass, in which the ball gets to the new ball carrier through the snap , 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 one another. The power running game was the dominant concept, especially in the early years of American football. Here the offense tries to bring about a personnel superiority at the point of attack. The Quickness Running Game is based on the attempt to reach the point of attack so quickly that the defense does not have time for an optimal reaction. The aim here is not to gain more space. Gaining three yards of space is 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 every player except the runner is assigned one or more players to be blocked, and zone-blocking, in which each player is assigned a zone in which he or she can block each player 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. the setting up of eight defenders near 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 outer receivers. The primary goal of these variants is to deprive the defense of the conventional reaction options to quickly transparent running games. In zone runs and similar moves, individual opponents are not attacked directly. Rather, a specific zone is secured against the first line of defense (defensive line) and second line (linebacker) in a concentrated manner. For example, after the snap, the offensive line first takes a step to the side instead of forwards to expose a zone. With regard to the success of such a play, the running back carrying the ball bears more responsibility than in a standard running game. Because instead of the efforts of the offensive line opening up an alley that was planned by the move, there are usually several ways to go through the defensive line, depending on the reaction and strength of the defense. The running back has to decide spontaneously about their prospects of success. A distinction is made between inside and outside zone plays , which differ in the approach angle of the running back to the line of scrimmage. In inside zone play, the running back stays between the two tackles, which allows him to switch sides if a gap opens up. In outside zone play, he targets a point outside the tackles. This angle makes it more difficult to change sides, but allows the running back to attack out of formation.

Passing moves

The passing game is divided 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 a drop back pass, the quarterback moves straight back after the snap, while the offensive line forms a semicircle around him ( pocket ). From this position he can usually see the entire field of play. The disadvantage are the high athletic demands placed on the linemen, as the defensive player can reach the passport more quickly. The drop back pass is divided again according to the length of the drop back, which is tailored 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 has a special position, in which the quarterback is already in his final position. Since this takes the element of surprise away from the offense, it is usually only used when it is clear that a passing play is following.

In the roll out pass and sprint out pass, the quarterback runs towards the edge of the field after the snap. If this happens without any delay, one speaks of a sprint out, if he performs other movements beforehand, one speaks of a roll out. In this form of passing game, the side of the offensive line opposite to the running direction is relieved, as the defenders have to cover a considerably greater distance even after overcoming the linemen. The quarterback should be a good sprinter here, however. Because of the sideways movement, the quarterback only has to see half the field of play. Although this simplifies the observation of the defense, it reduces the number of pass recipients that can be played, as 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 handover of the ball to a runner before the pass. This is intended to induce defenders to delay responding to the pass.


Many moves are designed to confuse the defense. In fakes, one type of play (e.g. a kick play) is faked and then another type of play is performed (e.g. a passing play). Fakes make up a not insignificant part of the tactics of the game.

Defense moves

Since the defense has to react flexibly to the moves of the offense, there are hardly any fixed moves apart from the basic lineups and the zones or opponents to be defended. 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 offense moves, the success of a lightning bolt depends on the athleticism and speed of the players and above all on the element of surprise. If the quarterback recognizes where the lightning is coming from, he has a weak point of defense in front of him. Sometimes Blitzes are only faked to unsettle the quarterback or to induce him to make a bad decision.

Defensive stunts

The defensive stunt is another way of putting pressure on the offense. The D-Line players and linebackers take up the usual positions for their formation, but swap their assignments after the snap with the man next to them or with a previously agreed partner. So z. B. a defense end in the middle and the defense tackle takes over the outside. This should cause coordination problems within the opposing offensive line .

D-line shifts

The D-Line Shifts pursue a similar goal . Here, too, the defensive linemen line up in a gap, for example, but change position shortly before the snap (for example 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 is too late to discuss things again. Second, it forces the quarterback into possible audibles that change the play when he sees that e.g. B. shifts the D-Line strongly to the side of the planned move and makes it impossible for the offense. That in turn tells the defense something about the planned move.

Back numbers

Example of back numbers

The shirt numbers usually have a fixed allocation to the positions, not least for orientation of the referee. Although this assignment is not compulsory according to the rules of the NCAA , it is strongly recommended to assign the numbers according to the scheme binding in the NFL (see NFL Rulebook Rule 5 Section 1 Article) For the offensive line , the numbering is with at least five players Numbers between 50 and 79 are given during normal moves, however, because they do not catch any 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 the ball is thrown. Mandatory numbering in the NFL and common in the other leagues.

  • Quarterbacks, punters and placekickers: 1–19;
  • Running backs and defensive backs: 20–49;
  • Center: 50-79;
  • Offensive Guards and Tackles: 60–79;
  • Wide Receiver: 10-19 and 80-89;
  • Tight ends and H-backs: 40-49 and 80-89;
  • Defensive Linemen: 50-79 and 90-99;
  • Linebackers: 40–59 and 90–99.

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 given in memory of these players or as an honor.



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

United States

American football is particularly common in North America. In the USA it has been considered the most popular sport of all since the 1970s ( baseball was previously dominated ). Virtually every high school and college has teams of varying levels of proficiency organized in different leagues within the NCAA and NAIA . The several hundred teams in the top leagues of college football play about twelve games within their respective group each fall.

The best-known North American professional league is the National Football League (NFL), which has existed since 1920 and therefore only came into being decades after college football. The NFL final, known as the Super Bowl , is the most important television event in the United States and is considered the world's most popular annual individual sports event. In addition, there were and are always competitive leagues, such as the USFL or the XFL .


In contrast to the USA, where football is traditionally played from September until the New Year (college bowl games in early January, Super Bowl on the first Sunday in February), in Europe it is played in the summer half of the year from spring to autumn.

The American football in Germany began in the mid-1970s with the Frankfurt Lions (founded in 1977) and the Dusseldorf Panthers , being stationed mostly in Germany US soldiers as players and coaches participated. 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 north and a south group with 8 teams each (as of 2019). The final of the GFL is the German Bowl . Below the GFL there is also a two-part second division with 16 teams. Here are several more competitions ( regional leagues , Oberligen , Association leagues, national leagues, construction leagues). There are also extensive games in the youth area.

Football has also been played at the college level since the late 1980s. The final is the annual college bowl. Shortly afterwards, 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 among national teams and at club level, the Eurobowl , the Euro Cup and the Federations Cup, which were replaced by the EFAF Cup , have been held by the European Federation of American Football (EFAF). For the 2014 season, the European competitions were reorganized, so that the six best teams in Europe have met in the Big6 European Football League since then . The EFL Bowl was introduced as a further competition, in which the best club teams not represented in the Big6 meet each other.

From 1991 the NFL organized the World League of American Football in the spring. After the withdrawal of all non-European teams, the name was changed to NFL Europe in 1998 . This was discontinued in 2007. Since 2007, the NFL has been trying to make American football more popular 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. Reigning European champion is France, which was able to secure its first title under German head coach Patrick Esume . Finland is the record winner with five titles, all of which, with the exception of the first (1985) and the last (2000), were won in the 1990s, when the European Championship was held irregularly at two-year intervals.


American football is not popular in the People's Republic of China . It was not until 2012 that the first amateur league was founded with the American Football League of China , 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 the National Football League (NFL), the number of Chinese aged 15–54 who consider themselves fans of American football grew from 1.6 million in 2010 to 14.1 million in 2013. Problems are the most common high air pollution in the vicinity of metropolitan areas, which makes playing outdoors risky to health.

Health risks

Scientific studies have found a connection between the repeatedly very hard headbuttons in American football and diseases such as Alzheimer's , depression and dementia , which are said to be caused by concussions and numerous brain trauma. These diseases are often long-term 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 Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina 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 in their active careers, 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) of Boston University who led by Ann McKee and Robert Cantu by 2012 by autopsies of the brains of chronic traumatic encephalopathy detected (CTE) at 68 of 85 examined former athletes, including at 34 out of 35 NFL professionals studied. The athletes had repeatedly suffered traumatic brain injury in the form of concussions. Brain researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles who in 2012 even with surviving ex-professionals CTE using PET - brain mapping demonstrated.

See also

Portal: American Football  - Overview of Wikipedia content on 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 professional , riva, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-7423-1003-3

Web links

Wiktionary: American Football  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : American football  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Kränzle, Margit Brinke: American Football: game idea and rules, teams and players, the scene in Germany and the USA, with a detailed glossary . 5th edition. Copress Sport, Munich 2014, p. 23 .
  2. Peter Kränzle, Margit Brinke: American Football: game idea and rules, teams and players, the scene in Germany and the USA, with a detailed glossary . 5th edition. Copress Sport, Munich 2014, p. 23 f .
  3. Peter Kränzle, Margit Brinke: American Football: game idea and rules, teams and players, the scene in Germany and the USA, with a detailed glossary . 5th edition. Copress Sport, Munich 2014, p. 25 .
  4. NCAA Football Rules & Interpretations 2008 ( Memento from September 10, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) (3-2-4 b and c)
  5. Rules & Interpretations 2009 (3-2-4 b and c)
  7. ^ NFL Rule Book. (PDF) Rule 12 Player Conduct. In: National Football League (NFL), p. 11 (of 73) , accessed on December 30, 2013 (English, Section 3 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct), Article 3 (Palpably Unfair Act)): “For a palpably unfair act: Offender may be disqualified. The Referee, after consulting his crew, enforces any such distance penalty as they consider equitable and irrespective of any other specified code penalty. The Referee may award a score. "
  8. Goodell, Roger (Ed.): 2009 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League, Triumph Books, Chicago 2009.
  9. Nice to know. Retrieved December 17, 2016 .
  10. American football could be Olympic sport by 2024. February 16, 2014, accessed on December 28, 2015 .
  11. American football recognized as a sport by the IOC. December 11, 2013, accessed December 28, 2015 .
  12. ^ Wheelchair Football. Accessed January 30, 2016 .
  13. Peter Kränzle, Margit Brinke: American Football: game idea and rules, teams and players, the scene in Germany and the USA, with a detailed glossary . 5th edition. Copress Sport, Munich 2014, p. 59 .
  14. ^ Adam Stites: NFL bumps touchbacks to 25-yard line for 1-year trial. March 22, 2016, accessed March 23, 2016 .
  15. Peter Kränzle, Margit Brinke: American Football: game idea and rules, teams and players, the scene in Germany and the USA, with a detailed glossary . 5th edition. Copress Sport, Munich 2014, p. 60-61 .
  16. ^ A b Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 47 .
  17. ^ A b Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 37 .
  18. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 40 .
  19. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 41 .
  20. Danny Kelly: Alex Gibbs, the godfather of the modern zone blocking scheme. SB Nation , July 25, 2014, accessed August 30, 2016 : "[The zone blocking scheme] origins go way back to the post-WWII era of football, if not further, and it was popularized in the NFL in Cincinnati in the late 1980s. "
  21. Doug Farrar: Origin of the Species: Zone Blocking. Football Outsiders , August 12, 2010, accessed August 30, 2016 .
  22. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 46 .
  23. ^ Matt Bowen: NFL 101: Introducing the Zone-Running Game. Bleacher Report , May 23, 2014, accessed August 30, 2016 .
  24. ^ Mark Bullock: Differences between the zone and power running schemes. The Washington Post , May 21, 2015, accessed August 30, 2016 .
  25. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 48 .
  26. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 48 f .
  27. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 51 .
  28. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 49 f .
  29. Holger Korber: Successful offense . Huddle Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-9811390-2-0 , pp. 50 .
  30. Christian Riedel: 111 reasons to love American football . Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf , Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-86265-513-7 , pp. 184 .
  31. France is European champion! Esume's team defeated Austria., August 5, 2018, accessed on March 6, 2019 .
  32. ^ Scoring a touchdown in China. Retrieved August 18, 2017 .
  33. IFAF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS COME TO CHINA. Retrieved August 18, 2017 .
  34. CHINA DAILY: “China to join pro football wars”. Retrieved August 18, 2017 .
  35. ^ Report: Pollution a major obstacle for NFL game in China. Retrieved August 9, 2017 .
  36. Désirée Karge: Shaken athlete's brains. picture of science, issue 3-2014. Pages 94-99.
  37. J Strain, Didehbani N, Cullum CM, Mansinghani S, Conover H, Kraut MA, Ghart J jr, Womack KB: Depressive symptoms and white matter dysfunction in retired NFL players with concussion history . In: Neurology . 81, 2013, pp. 25-32. PMID 23709590 .
  38. Sports Injuries : Hidden Trauma. In: DRadio Wissen , February 4, 2013, archived from the original on December 30, 2013 ; accessed on December 30, 2013 .
  39. ^ Alan Schwarz: Concussions Tied to Depression in Ex-NFL Players. The New York Times , May 3, 2007, accessed January 4, 2014 .
  40. Caroll Cole: Uncovering Concussions: How They're Changing Our Brains and the Game. Chicago Health , accessed December 31, 2013 .
  41. James Klatell: John Mackey: From The NFL To Dementia. CBS Evening News , April 28, 2007, accessed January 4, 2014 .
  42. ^ CTE, a Degenerative Brain Disease, Found in 34 Pro Football Players. ABC News , December 3, 2012, accessed December 31, 2013 .
  43. ^ C Korngold, Farrell HM, Fozdar M: Online Info The National Football League and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: Legal Implications. . In: J Am Acad Psychiatry Law . 41, 2013, pp. 430-436. PMID 24051597 . Retrieved December 30, 2013.
  44. GW Small, Kepe V, Siddarth P, Ercoli LM, Merrill DA, Donoghue N, Bookheimer SY, Martinez J, Omalu B, Bailes J, Barrio JR: PET scanning of brain tau in retired national football league players: preliminary findings . In: Am J Geriat Psychiatry . 21, 2013, pp. 138-144. PMID 23343487 .
  45. CTE found in living ex-NFL players. ESPN , January 22, 2013, accessed December 30, 2013 .