Vol.2, No.3

Football 101: offense

The offense in football is the primary unit which scores points. Their goal is to score more points than the opponent.

An offensive play in football
Photo Credit: Bill Grove
The goal of the offense in football is to score points. The defense and special teams can score points, but the offense is the primary unit for scoring points. Most football leagues have the same scoring system however; there are some, such as the Canadian Football League, which use a different scoring system.

A player, who has possession of the football, and takes it across the goal line the opponent is defending, scores a touchdown. A touchdown is worth six points. After a touchdown, the offense has the option of kicking an extra point, worth one point or going for two points by running an offensive play beginning near the 2-yard line and having a player with possession of the ball taking it across the goal line. An extra point is scored when a place kicker kicks the ball through the goal posts. The goal posts are centered at the back of the end zone. An extra point is kicked from a short distance of 19 yards.

The place kicker kicking a field goal, worth three points, can also score points. A field goal is similar to an extra point except the kicker is usually kicking from a farther distance. Teams elect to try field goals when they are close to their opponent's goal line but cannot score a touchdown. If a field goal is missed, the opponent takes over possession of the ball from where the kicker attempted the kick. If it is made, the team kicks the ball to the opponent from their own 30 (35 for college and high school) yard line.

A safety is worth 2 points and is scored by the defense when they tackle the opponent (or force out of bounds) in the opponent's end zone (end zone the defense is not defending). After a safety, the offensive team must kick the ball to the opponent. Safeties are rare.

A football field is 100 yards between the two goal lines, it is about 50 yards wide, and the end zones are 10 yards beyond the goal line. The offense must move the ball by passing, catching, and/or running the ball toward the opponent's goal line. Only five positions on offense can run, throw, or catch the ball (There are 11 positions on offense). These positions are the quarterback, fullback, halfback (also called the tail back) wide receivers and the tight end. The remaining positions are offensive linemen and they block the defensive players for the runners and throwers. There can only be one quarterback on each offensive play but the there can be combinations of the other positions.

The offense has four plays or downs to move the ball at least 10 yards toward their opponent's goal from where they began. Moving the ball at least 10 yards from where the original play begins (line of scrimmage) is called a first down. After a first down, the offense gets four new downs to gain at least 10 yards. The offense continues gaining first downs until they are stopped by the defense, lose possession of the ball, or they score. No points are awarded for first downs.

If the offense fails to get the necessary yards in four plays, the opponent takes over possession of the ball (goes on offense) where the offense last had possession. If an offensive team does not make the necessary yards after three downs, they have an option of punting the ball to the opponent or trying a field goal if they are close enough. When a team punts, the kicker kicks the ball from about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The opponent can return the kicked ball and then they go on offense. The offense can also lose possession of the ball if they throw it and the opponent catches it (interception) or if an offensive player loses control of the ball (fumble) and the defense recovers it.

Offenses run plays; designed schemes, which they think, will most likely succeed in gaining yards. The plays are called in a huddle before the action begins. A huddle is when the players group together in a circle about 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The offense has a limited amount of time to begin their play usually 25-40 seconds. Sometimes, the play called in the huddle is changed at the line of scrimmage, this is called an audible.

There are variations of offensive plays and the amount and complexity increase with the level of the league. Some teams are good at running the ball and some are good at throwing the ball. The best teams are usually good at both.