Football is one of the most popular sports in the United States. NFL players can grow into cultural icons and events like the Super Bowl have become must-see television and even a tradition for some football fans. However, from an outsider’s point of view, American football looks like a complicated game.

While there are indeed multiple mechanics to know about how American football is played, understanding the game is easy once you’re familiar with the basics of the sport. A solid knowledge of the basics and exposure to the game will have you understanding American football in no time.

The Field

A football field is 120 yards long and 160 feet wide. Each team has a 10-yard end zone measured from the goal line, and the field is marked every 10 yards for up to 50 yards. After the 50-yard line, the markers are put in a descending order until the opposite goal line. 

Teams in Football

American football is played by two teams composed of 11 players each. Each team may be the offensive team or the defensive team depending on who has possession of the ball. The team which has possession is the offense whose goal is to score while the defense’s objective is to prevent the other team from scoring. 

Each team generally has a distinct lineup depending on whether it’s playing offense or defense. Football players may either be purely offense players, defense players, or specialized players. 

Rules of Football

A football game is divided into four quarters, which generally lasts 15 minutes depending on the league. The objective of each team is to score more points than the other team by the end of these four quarters. 


Downs are an essential part of each offensive possession. Downs are basically the chances that the offense has to move the ball forward by at least 10 yards. The offensive team begins with four downs, and if the offense fails to move forward by at least 10 yards within the four downs, they give up possession to the defense. However, if the offense successfully advances 10 yards, the counting starts over and they’ll have another four downs to work with.

Methods of Scoring

There are different ways to score in football, and each method has a different corresponding number of points.

  1. Touchdown

Touchdowns are counted when an offensive player with the ball reaches the end zone or when a player catches the ball within the end zone. These are worth six points.

  1. Conversion

After each touchdown, the offense has the option to earn an extra one or two points. The team may either kick the ball through the uprights for an additional one point or may attempt to take the ball to the end zone again for an extra two points. 

  1. Field Goal

Field goals are scored by kicking the ball through the uprights and are usually attempted during the fourth down. Converted field goals are worth three points.

  1. Safety

It’s possible for the defensive team to score points when a defensive player tackles an offensive player who has the ball within their own end zone. Safeties are worth two points. 


Offensive Positions

  1. Quarterback

The quarterback is the leader of the offense. He is in charge of calling plays and is the one who initiates action in every possession. He may either hand over the ball or pass it or run with the ball himself. Pinpoint passing is an essential quality.

  1. Running back

The running back is a versatile player who may run and catch, block, or even pass the ball occasionally. Running backs are agile players who are able to handle contact as well.

  1. Fullback

Fullbacks are sturdy players who act as blockers for running backs and quarterbacks to ensure that the defense does not interfere with the play.

  1. Wide receiver

Wide receivers are primarily geared towards catching passes. They’re positioned wide in the field and run routes in order to provide an opening for the quarterback.

  1. Tight end

The tight end plays both the roles of an offensive lineman and a receiver. He could either block together with the offensive line or he can run routes when necessary like a wide receiver.

  1. Offensive line

The offensive line is composed of five players, which are the left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, and right tackle. Their function is to block the defense from getting to the quarterback to buy him time to make a play. The center is also in charge of “snapping” the ball to the quarterback.

Defensive Positions

  1. Defensive line

The defensive line is composed of three or four players who comprise the first line of defense. It is made up of one or two Defensive Tackles and two Defensive Ends. They’re tasked with tackling the quarterback or getting to ball carriers to stop a play. 

  1. Linebacker

Linebackers are positioned behind the defensive line and their job is to prevent running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers from getting open, and to tackle the ball carrier. 

  1. Cornerback

Cornerbacks are the most agile defensive players and are generally lined up against receivers and are expected to intercept passes or tackle catchers. 

  1. Safety

Safeties are the last line of defense. They are in charge of defending against deep passes and against runners.