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Football Down System

What is football down system? Get ready to learn about down system in football.

What is the Down System in Football?

What Is A Down?

A down is an attempt or play used by the offensive team to move the ball downfield. When the ball becomes live, after a snap, for example, a down begins. A down only ends when the ball is dead, which may happen because of a tackle or the ball going out of bounds, among other scenarios.

The Down System

The down system in football consists of a series of four downs, known as first, second, third, and fourth down. These attempts are used to advance the ball down the field to reach the line to gain, which is marked ten yards from the snap of the first down and is shown as a yellow line when broadcast on television. If the line to gain is reached within four downs, the offense is awarded a first down, and receives another four attempts to reach the next line to gain. As a side note, if the goal line is within ten yards of the first snap, it becomes the line to gain.

Fourth Down Options

While a team does have four downs to reach the line to gain, it still has a few options on fourth down. First, the coach may decide to simply run a fourth play if he thinks his team is close enough to the line to gain. However, if the team is too close to its own end zone, the coach may decide to use fourth down to punt the ball toward the opposing team's end zone, giving the other team possession, but much worse field position. Finally, if the offense is within field goal range, the coach can send out the kicker to attempt a field goal.


Describing a down consists of the down followed by the number of yards required to reach the line to gain. For instance, after gaining a total of eight yards on the first two possessions of the series, the next down would be called "third and two," referring to the third down and the two yards necessary cross the line to gain.

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