Understanding Pro Football Rules

Understanding pro football rules is a great entry into one of America's most popular spectator sports. For over 80 years, fans have enjoyed watching professional football and its combination of strategy and physical prowess. Pro football rules have been developed to protect players, organize play and create a fair contest.

The Basics Of Pro Football Rules
The objective of the game is to score points either by moving the ball into the opposing team's end zone or by kicking the ball through the opponent's goal. Each team can have up to 46 players, but may only field 11 players at a time. Your team can advance the ball by carrying it while running, throwing it from one teammate to another or by kicking it. The team with control of the ball is said to have "possession" of it. The team with possession of the ball is considered to be on offense. The team trying to stop the ball from being advanced is considered to be on defense.

Pro football is played on a field that is 120 yards long and 53 yards wide. Two 10-yard areas called end zones bracket the 100-yard field of play. Each end zone has a goal made up of a goalpost, a crossbar and two uprights attached to each end of the crossbar. The field of play is marked with a goal line at each end and sidelines along the long edges. Distance markers are laid across the field at 5-yard intervals and smaller marks (called hash marks) are set at 1-yard intervals.

A pro football game is divided into four 15-minute quarters with a 12-minute break in the middle called half time. Although the game clock runs during plays, it can be stopped for injuries, timeouts, changes of possession or plays that end out of bounds. These stoppages can lead to games that run much longer than the 60 minutes of playing time.

Advancing The Ball
The offense has four attempts (called downs) to move the ball 10 yards down the field. If the offense is successful, they are awarded another set of four downs. If the offense fails to move the ball 10 yards in four downs, possession of the ball changes to the opposing team.

The ball is advanced by carrying it (called a running or rushing play) or throwing it to another player (called a pass play). A player may no longer advance if he runs out of bounds or is tackled (brought to the ground) by another player.

Scoring In Football
The football rules provide a number of ways to score, including:

  • A touchdown (six points) - A touchdown is scored when a player with the ball crosses his opponent's goal line-the line between the playing field and the opponent's end zone.
  • An extra point attempt (one or two points) - Once a touchdown has been made, the scoring team may add to their score by kicking an extra point attempt (kicking the ball through the uprights in the end zone) worth one point or by attempting a two-point conversion, which involves running or passing the ball across the opponent's goal line using only one attempt.
  • A field goal (three points) - A field goal is successfully completed when the ball is kicked through the opponent's goal posts by the team in possession of the ball.
  • A safety (two points) - A safety occurs when a player with the ball is tackled in his own end zone.

 Football Penalties

Penalties take the form of a loss of yardage or downs and can be given out for various rules infractions. Typically, a penalty is given to players who unfairly impede the progress of others (by holding, tripping or illegal blocks) or who engage in play that might injure other players (roughing the passer, late or illegal hits). Procedural infractions (too many players on the field, delay of the game, etc.) can alsoresult in penalties.

Losing The Ball
Defenders can gain possession of the ball by a turnover. When the ball changes possession, the defending team becomes the offensive team. A turnover can be:

  • An interception - Defenders can catch passes intended for the other team. Once a defender has intercepted the ball, that player can run the ball toward the opponent's end zone.
  • A fumble - If the player carrying the ball drops it before he is tackled, the ball is considered fumbled and may be picked up by players of either team. If a defender picks up the ball, possession of the ball changes sides. The defender who recovers a fumble can run the ball toward the opponent's end zone.
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