In my last post, you learned all about a team's offense. It's very exciting, as they're the ones who put points on the board. But there's a saying: Offense brings in the fans; defense wins the games. (Or something like that.)
How is that possible, when they don't score points as often? (And yes, the defense can score.) Read on.
Basics of Defense in Football:
1. The defense is the team who does not start with the ball on any given play. (If they force a turnover, that team becomes offense on the next play after they get possession of the ball.)
2. The primary goal of the defense is to stop the offense of the other team from moving toward the goal line. This can happen in a few ways:
a. The defensive players push back the offensive players so that they gain less than 10 yards in a play (ideally, less than 3).
b. The defensive players get to the quarterback and force him down before he releases the ball. This is called a "sack" and results in a loss of yardage (since the quarterback is several yards behind the line of scrimmage).
c. The defensive players force the offense to make a mistake either from the quarterback's throw, or a receiver's catch/ runner's run causing the ball to go somewhere other than where it was intended. If an offensive player had possession of the ball, and it gets dropped, that's called a fumble, and the defense can pick it up and run it toward their intended goal. If a defensive player catches a pass from the opposing team's quarterback, that is called an interception. One step further - if the defensive player catches the pass and then makes it to the goal line for a touchdown, that is called a "pick 6."
Now, here are the guys who can do all that.
This is literally the first line of defense against the offense. Typically you have big guys up front there, because the idea is they shouldn't have to move really far to stand in the way of, or push against, the offensive linemen (who are trying to keep these guys from reaching the QB and the runners/receivers). The line can contain:
Defensive Tackles (T), and sometimes, a Nose Tackle (NT)
(A nose tackle is the position of the middle tackle, when you have a 3-4 defense, see below.) The main job for a tackle is to clog up the middle to keep any running backs from getting yardage up the middle. If the QB sinks back for pass, your tackles are the guys who will hold back the guys on the offensive line, so that the defensive ends can do their job.
Defensive Ends (DE)
And what is the job of the Ends? Get the quarterback (if it's a passing play), or get the running back (if it's a running play). Basically, they're the first ones to go for the guy with the ball.
There are many formations you will hear for defenses. Most popular among these are 4-3 formations or 3-4 formations. Based on the formation that the coaches prefer, you may see extra Tackles and no Ends. But formations are always changing in defense during a game, based on what they see the offense doing.
A popular defensive play is called a "blitz." Basically, this is when the defense sends more guys after the quarterback than just the DEs. Coaches can choose different formations for this play, but immediately you will see guys pushing in to get the QB.
Corner Back (CB) -
These are the fastest guys on the defense. They have to cover the receivers, who take off right at the start of the play. Since CBs are covering receivers, they are the ones who are most likely to pick up an interception.
Listen carefully, because this one sounds a lot like "quarterback." If the announcer is talking about someone on defense, though, he said, "cornerback."
Middle Linebacker (MLB)
This player, in the center of everything, sets up the defense and the play, much like a QB does on the offense. Once the play starts, he goes after any running backs that make it past the front line.
Outside Linebacker (OLB, also Strong Side Linebacker - SLB, or Weak Side Linebacker - WLB, based on the handedness of the QB)
The OLBs are responsible for covering the tight ends and wayward running backs. If a runner turns into a receiver for a short pass, the OLB will cover for those passes as well. Linebackers do not have to be quick, and typically stay in their zones.
In a 3-4 defense, a team will usually use 4 linebackers. The outer two OLBs typically play up closer to the line of scrimmage in these cases to cover the TEs. In this formation, you now have 2 guys playing Inside Linebacker (ILB). The ILBs take the job of the MLB.
Linebackers are typically big guys who cause a lot of damage and pain to their opponents.
Safety (Strong Safety, Free Safety)
Safeties are the guys furthest back from the line of scrimmage. They are kind of like the "clean up" guys. They take care of what the guys in front of them didn't stop. Safeties often cover any receivers who have broken through the initial coverage. When there are two safeties on the field - the one who has to move faster to run after a receiver is the Free Safety (FS) and the one who is bigger and delivers bigger hits is the Strong Safety (SS).
Now that you have read their jobs, you can look down on them from the sky and see the defense line up in a fashion that looks something like this:
CB OLB MLB OLB CB
DE DT DT DE
Line of Scrimmage
Now you know the basics of offense and defense in American football. Could there be more? Oh, yes. My next post will give you some insight into what "special teams" do as well as some common penalties you might see. After that, stay tuned for the baseball edition of the Position Primmer, which just arrive just in time for the World Series.
I love football. That's no secret. Part of what makes it great is how different players interact during the game.
Before the season starts, or really gets into full swing, I want to help out those of you who care about someone who loves football. It's hard to sit through something you don't understand. My plan is to give you the basics of what you'll be watching, so you can, at the very least, ask the right questions. Your loved one will likely heap plenty more information on you to further clarify the game.
It's worth it. Football is such a great game.
Let's face it, anyone who is good enough to make it to the pros (in any sport), is probably close to the same skill level as everyone else in the league. So, USUALLY, games shouldn't be run-aways (unless you are watching the Super Bowl from 2014). A lot more has to do with the coaching and the play calls than the athletic ability of most of the players.
Of course, there are some exceptions, as there always seem to be.
With that in mind, below are the basics of the standard football positions. In this post, I will focus on offense. Defense and special teams will be out later this week. First, what do I mean by "offense?"
Offense in football:
Here are the basics of offense, in case you really don't know.
1. Offense is the team that starts with the ball.
2. A player is either an offensive player or a defensive player. (Not like basketball, where everyone plays both.)
3. You can only have your offense or your defense (or a special teams unit, like a kicking squad) on the field at any time. Officials are pretty strict about that. You can't even have a defensive player still running off the field when the next play goes off.
4. The offense stays on as long as they manage to get the ball (by running or throwing) 10 yards in 4 plays. Each play is called a "down." The play only lasts - the ball is only "live"- until the ball hits the ground. (However, if the ball is "fumbled," or the offense gives up the ball by dropping it, the defense can pick it up and continue to move the ball toward their intended goal line.)
5. If a team can't get 10 yards down the field, they automatically forfeit the ball to the other team, who will pick up on offense at exactly the point on the field where the other team left off. That is called giving the ball up on downs (meaning 4 plays, or downs, expired before the team could go 10 yards.) You rarely see this situation in the NFL, however, because after 3 downs, a team usually tries to punt or kick a field goal. (I will explain these more in my "special teams" edition.)
6. So, when an announcer says the offense is "2nd and 4," for example, that means they have tried 2 plays, and managed to get the ball 6 yards down the field. The "2nd" is the down, and the "4" is how many yards they need to go to get a first down and start over. Ideally, the offense wants to continue to get "1st and 10" until they score. "1st" down means you still have 4 tries to get the 10 yards you need for another set of downs.
7. When you get within 10 yards of your intended goal line, you will hear the term change to "1st and goal" or "2nd and goal" and so on.
8. Basic scoring is this: 6 points for a touchdown, either run or thrown into the end zone. After a touchdown, the team gets a chance to kick the ball between the goal posts for an extra point. (Teams can also elect to run another ground play after the touchdown to get 2 extra points instead of one. That is called a "2-point conversion.")
9. If a team is 3rd and goal, or 3rd and anything and fairly close (within 40 yards or so) to the goal line, the team will likely try to kick a field goal instead of trying for a touchdown. Field goals result in 3 points.
10. When watching TV, before the play starts, if you don't know which team is on offense, look at the score for a little football icon or a line by the name of the team. That will indicate which team has the ball.
Now, let's talk about the guys we're looking at on offense.
This is the guy who gets all the press. He's really the only non-coach who gets to make any decisions. He's gotta be smart as well as athletic and so is often considered one of the most valuable players on the team.
So what's his job?
The quarterback (QB) puts the ball into play. He basically has 3 choices: throw it (to an eligible receiver), hand it off (to a running back), or run with it himself. The last choice is rarely used because it is dangerous, putting the QB into harm's way. (Anywhere where the ball is, is in harm's way.)
*Noteworthy - except in trick plays, which don't happen all that often, the QB is the only one who ever throws a pass.
Where to look for him:
Before the ball is snapped, the QB will be directly behind the center (C), who is in the middle of the offensive line. The QB is the one you hear yelling what sounds like nonsense. As soon as the ball is snapped, the QB will take a few steps back into what's called the passer's pocket, and throw the ball or hand it off. Almost always, the QB runs with the ball only as a last resort, if he doesn't see anyone open.
Although the QB is a very important position, football is still a team sport. The best QB does not necessarily win the Super Bowl.
Running Back (a.k.a. Half Back, Full Back)
What's his job?
Usually, you will see two backs on the field with the offense. However, they aren't always involved in every play. As a matter of fact, right now in the NFL, there are marginally more passing plays than running plays. When a running play is called, however, the back involved will head right to the QB, who will then hand him the ball. After getting the ball, the back needs to run wherever he finds space to get as many yards as possible!
Where to look for him:
The running backs (RB, HB or H, FB or F) line up behind the line of scrimmage (the imaginary line where the ball starts, which is where the ball came down at the last play.), near the QB. Usually, you will see them behind the QB, so they can start running as soon as the play starts. After he gets the ball, look for the guy breaking through the line of sumo wrestlers.
There is a difference between the half back and the full back, but I'm not going to get into that here.
Wide Receiver (also, Slot Receiver, Split Receiver/End)
Most often, these are the big-mouth guys you see dancing in the end zone.
What's his job?
Like the RBs, there are usually 2 receivers on the field, and they are only used when a running play is not called. The receivers are the ones who catch the ball thrown by the QB. Ideally, the receivers take off running, way beyond the scuffle at the line of scrimmage, then turn to catch the pass, and hopefully keep on running!
Where to look for him:
Your wide receivers (WR) can either be a split end/receiver (SE), lining up on the line of scrimmage outside of the offensive linemen (see below), or a slot receiver (SR). The "slot" is back from the line, and way to the outside of all the other guys. He hopes from here to be able to outrun the slower guys on the line.
There must be 11 men on the field from each team. However, teams can change up the number of backs and receivers, having 3 and 1 instead of 2 and 2 if the team decides. As long as they use an accepted formation on the field, they can do what they want.
What's his job?
Tight End (TE) is a unique position. It's almost like the person who can't decide what he wants to do because he can do everything. A TE is an eligible receiver and is often used to catch a pass from the QB. But in the instances where he is not being used as a receiver, he is a blocker. He needs to ready to push back any defenders from the back field who are trying to sneak up and get through to the QB.
Where to look for him:
The TE plays up on the line of scrimmage just to the side of the tackle. (Which side he is on will often depend on whether the QB is left- or right-handed.)
Offensive Line (you may hear it called the O-Line)
The offensive line is like the defense, or protection, for the offense. Without them, the 11 guys on defense would be all over the poor QB. There are 5 players on the offensive line: the center (C), the left and right guards (G), and the left and right tackles (T).
What's their job?
The center starts with the football on the ground, on the line of scrimmage. The QB will call the play, and as soon as he is done, the center will hike the ball through his legs to the QB. After that, the center becomes another member of the offense line. These 5 guys have one job: to stop the defense from getting to any of the other offensive players. There's a little more to it, with coverage and who goes where, but the bottom line is: Stop the Defense!
Where you find them:
These guys are lined up, shoulder to shoulder, at the line of scrimmage in this order:
Unfortunately, you only really notice the O-Line when they aren't doing so well at their job. You see it when the QB gets sacked (tackled before he gets the ball out). A beat-up QB is a sign of a poor O-Line.
So here is what an aerial view of the offense would look like all together:
Line of scrimmage
WR T G C G T TE
I hope this gave you some good starting information about the game of American football. You can see how much I like the game, as I made one of my favorite characters in my book series a running back. Asher Andrews is a halfback, so now when you read that book, you will understand his job so much better.
I promise to get my next post out soon, so you can learn what the defense does. Look for it later this week.
Coming Soon… Defense! Learn why the offense doesn't score on every play.
T.C. Slonaker, Eagles fan
Sports Made Simple!