If you are an Eagles fan, you have been hearing a lot about special teams these days. You may be thinking, "Of course the Eagles are a special team! Aren't they all?" If so, please read on. You need this.
Also, it is a misconception among newbies that every time a team scores in football, 7 points go on the board. In actuality, there is never a time when 7 points are scored at one time. Let's address this one first.
When a team scores, they could at one time be awarded 1, 2, 3, or 6 points. Here's how.
6 Points = Touchdown! (TD)
When the ball crosses the plane of the goal line, in possession of an offensive player, a touchdown is awarded. The player himself doesn't actually have to make it into the end zone with the ball, which is why you may see a player diving toward the orange pylon in the corner, and holding the ball out over the pylon. If the ball is being thrown to a receiver in the end zone, however, the player must make a legal in-bounds catch to get the touchdown. In other words, he must have clear possession of the ball (no bobbles) and two feet in the end zone.
1 Point = Extra Point Conversion by Kicking (PAT- point after touchdown)
This is the option most often taken after a TD is scored. The ball is snapped from the 2 yard line and the kicker kicks it through the uprights. They almost never miss the kick, but sometimes there is a "muff," which means the play doesn't go off right, and ball is not in the right place.
*Note- To be considered "good," a kicked ball has to make it to the goalpost and go through. If it hits the post and still goes through, it is still good. There is no height restriction. This is also true for field goals.
2 Points = Extra Point Conversion by Ground Play
After the TD, the scoring team can choose to run a ground play instead of kicking. This is another offensive play by the offense. There is only one attempt (no downs), starting at the 2-yard line, to get into the end zone by running or throwing. If successful, the team gets 2 additional points.
*Note- You will not often see a 2-pt conversion. Teams only use it if they are desperate for the extra point. Unlike the 1-pt kick, the 2pt. conversion is not a guarantee. (As a matter of fact, it usually does not work.)
2 Points = Safety
This is another type of scoring you don't see often. I'm not sure I've seen one yet this season. A safety is when an offensive player with possession of the ball gets tackled in his own end zone. Plays rarely start in the end zone, and that's why it's uncommon.
*Note- The best part about a safety is the signal the referee makes, clasping his hands above his head like an Egyptian.
3 Points = Field Goal
When a team seems to be having trouble scoring a touchdown, and they are on their 3rd down, the team can choose to run a 4th down ground play (which they hardly ever do), punt the ball away (described below), or try to kick a field goal. It's like a consolation prize. They can only kick a field goal, however, if the starting line of scrimmage is in the kicker's range. (Most kickers' longest kicks are under 55 yards.) Field goals are pretty common, and kickers in range usually make them. That's why you will hear announcers use the phrase, "settle for a field goal." They take it as a given.
There was a reason I went over scoring first, before discussing what special teams are. Many of the special teams' jobs revolve around scoring.
Every team has special teams. Mostly, they are regular members of the offense or defense with a different job. Sometimes, there are special teams players whose only job is on special teams. (Usually, that is a player who kicks or punts the ball.)
Here are the different special teams you will see:
Basically, this consists of the kicker and 10 other players. On the kick-off, the kicker (who is a "place kicker" - meaning the ball is held in place when kicked) will play deep, to get a running start. Five players will line up next to the ball on one side, and 5 on the other side, unless the team is trying an on-side kick to get the ball back. Those 10 non-kicking players try will push back the receiving team and try to keep the receiver from getting any ground after catching the ball. Teams often have some of their biggest players on this line to block the returner.
The kicker's goal is to kick the ball as far as possible to give the opposing team the farthest distance to go to get to the goal line. If they kick it into or past the end zone, the other team is awarded a "touchback," which means they automatically start on the 20 yard-line.
The kickoff team could have many of the same players as the PAT/ field goal unit, however, there is less space between the offense and defense in that situation, so you are looking for players who are better at pushing from close quarters. Also on the PAT/field goal unit, you will need a snapper to toss the ball to a place holder, who will set the ball quickly on the ground for the kicker.
In the NFL, the kick-off kicker, field goal kicker, and PAT kicker are almost always the same player. Remember, every NFL team is only allowed 53 players on their roster.
First, what is a punting situation? A team needs to punt when they have gone 3 downs and still are not close enough for a field goal attempt. (This is known as a "3-and-out," because basically, you are giving up the ball after 3 plays.) The reason for it is to make the other team have even farther to go to get into scoring range, since you have to give the ball up anyway.)
This team could consist of mostly the same players as the kicking teams, though they will likely line up differently. On a kick off, there is more distance between the kicking and receiving team. When you are punting, the other team is lined up pretty much near the line of scrimmage, so your team better have a more prepared stance to meet them.
Your punter is different from your kicker, however. Punting is drop-kicking the ball, which requires a different motion than place kicking.The punter gets the ball directly from the snap. And again, he wants to kick it as far down the field as he can.
Kick-Off/ Punt Return Team: (Often the same players on a return for a kick off or a punt)
The different player you come across on a return team is the kick/punt returner. Rarely is this a specialized position, though you need to have some special skills for it. Usually, teams use their fastest players in this position (which would likely be a WR, RB, or CB). Often, you will have different players in this position through out the game. The other 10 players play like linemen, trying to block the kicking teams' rushers.
When you hear about special teams doing a great job, most likely one of these things is happening:
1. Kick-offs or punts are being returned for lots of yardage or even touchdowns.
2. Teams are blocking kicks and punts, causing fumbles, and scoring from them.
3. Kickers are hitting really long field goals.
None of those are very common, so if you hear good things about special teams, they are indeed, very special.
Stay tuned! I'm not done with my Position Primmer series! My next football post will explain the refs and the rules. But before I get to that, I will have a special Baseball edition, just in time for the World Series. Be sure to share this one, and any other Primmers, with your loved ones who need to know more about this great game of American football.
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T.C. Slonaker, Eagles fan
Sports Made Simple!