Football Pass And Passing

The two main ways to move the ball in football are through rushing or passing. Passing is when a player (usually the quarterback) throws the ball to a teammate. Read on to learn more about passing in football, including various types of passes and which players are a part of passing plays.

Football Passing Plays

A pass play in football is when the quarterback throws the ball from behind the line of scrimmage to an eligible receiver on the field. The quarterback can throw a:

  • Forward Pass
  • Backward Pass
  • Lateral Pass

Which Players Are Part of Passing Plays in Football?

There are a few types of players involved in a passing play in football. The two primary positions involved are the quarterback and the receiver. However, receivers can also be broken down into two categories: eligible and ineligible receivers. Read on to learn more about each of these categories!  


football quarterbacks

The quarterback is the player on the football team who acts as the on-field coach and the leader of the offense. The quarterback controls the football most of the time, taking the snap from the center, handing the ball off and passing to receivers on the field. The quarterback is also responsible for relaying plays from the coaches to the players on the field during a huddle. The quarterback is considered one of the most important positions on the field.


football receiver

A receiver is a player who is delegated to catch passes, called receptions. Several types of offensive players can be receivers, including:

For a receiver to catch a pass, they must be eligible. There are certain rules that dictate who can be an eligible receiver.

Eligible Receivers

An eligible receiver is a player who can catch a pass. Eligible receivers wear specific numbers on their uniform to help officials determine who is eligible. Eligible receivers are:

  • Offensive players on the scrimmage line near the sidelines or in the offensive backfield
  • Players who wear numbers 1-49 or 80-89
  • Any player after the ball is tipped by a defensive player
  • Any defensive player

Ineligible Receivers

An ineligible receiver is any player that cannot catch passes in football. Offensive linemen cannot be eligible receivers unless they notify the officials that they intend to be an eligible receiver and line up at the ends of the line of scrimmage or at least one yard behind the line.

Basics of Passes

Passing often seems like a simple task: throw the ball, make a catch, and gain yards. But passing is not as easy as it seems, and there are a variety of complexities involved in securing a completed pass. Below, we’ll take a look at the basic pass types and how they are performed:

Forward Pass

A forward pass is the most common type of pass in the game of football. A forward pass must be thrown from behind the line of scrimmage to a player who is ahead of the passer, and most often, a forward pass takes place between a quarterback and a wide receiver. If a forward pass touches the ground before reaching a receiver, the pass is called incomplete, and the play is over. No more than one forward pass may occur per play, and a forward pass cannot be thrown if the passer has passed the line of scrimmage.

Backward (Lateral) Pass

A backward pass, sometimes also called a lateral pass, is when the ball is thrown to a player who is behind the passer. A backward pass can occur anywhere on the field, and an unlimited number of backward passes may occur during any play. If a backward pass hits the ground before reaching a receiver, the ball is still live, and either team can recover it. Lateral passes can also move horizontally along the width of the field.

Completed Pass

A completed pass or “completion” is a pass that is caught by an eligible receiver. To secure a completed pass, a receiver must catch the ball, come down with both feet or any body part besides the hands clearly in bounds, and maintain control of the ball while making a “football move” or having enough time to do so.

Incomplete Pass

An incomplete pass, or an incompletion, is a pass that is not ruled a catch by an official. Examples of incomplete passes are:

  • If the ball touches the ground at any point while in flight
  • If the receiver drops a pass
  • If a receiver steps out of bounds in the process of catching the ball
  • If a receiver does not maintain control of the ball during the catch process

If an official believes any of the above occurred, the pass will be ruled as an incompletion, and the play will end.


Penalties associated with passes can be very costly in football. Pass interference is the most common, which is called when a player prevents the opposition from making a play on a catchable ball. Pass interference can be called against either the offense or the defense

Here is a list of some prominent passing or passing-play-related penalties:

Types of Passes

In passing plays, quarterbacks throw a variety of different passes, short and long, forward and lateral, to all corners of the field. Here is a list of the most popular pass types:

Pass Play Strategy

Pass plays are used in a variety of offensive strategies. Most NFL coaches prefer to call a mix of running and passing plays in order to keep the defense guessing and gain an advantage through surprise. From a statistical standpoint, running plays and passing plays are equally effective on every down as long as the distance to gain is 10 yards or less. Above 10 yards to gain, however, passing plays are much more effective. In down-and-long situations, coaches are nearly always more successful calling a pass.

Simultaneous Possession

Simultaneous possession is when two players, one from the offense and one from the defense, both catch and maintain possession of the ball at the same time. If both players were deemed to catch the ball at the same time, and neither loses possession at any point, the ball is awarded to the passing team.


A fumble is a ball that is dropped by the ball carrier. A fumble can be recovered by any player on the field. If a player loses control of the ball while in the process of making a catch, the pass is called incomplete. If the process of the catch is completed, then the player loses control of the ball, it is called a fumble.


An interception occurs when a pass is caught by a defensive player without the ball touching the ground. This player may immediately begin returning the ball in an attempt to score a touchdown.


What are passing plays in football?

In football, passing plays are when the quarterback throws the ball to a receiver. Passing plays are one of two types of offensive plays, the other being running plays. Coaches call a variety of passing and running plays in order to confuse the defense. Passing plays can be used to gain a lot of yardage in a single play, such as in a hail mary. But they can also be effective for short gains. Passing plays are risky because of the chance of interceptions.

When should you run a pass play in football?

There are many scenarios in football in which passes are the most common and strategic plays to make. Passing is common when you have a good amount of yardage to gain, or when you are running out of downs. Therefore, a situation of first and 15 represents a good time to pass, as do some second down and many third down plays.

Which players can make a pass in football?

Any player on the offensive team of a football play can technically make a forward pass during a play, so long as that pass is the only forward pass of the play, and it occurs behind the line of scrimmage. Any offensive player can also make a backwards or lateral pass at any point during the play. A forward pass is only illegal if it is made ahead of the line of scrimmage, or if it is a second forward pass made after the first.