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Football Pass Plays

What is a passing play in football? What are the rules of passing plays? Get ready to learn about passing plays in football.

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 will throw a:


The quarterback in football is a player on offense who throws passes to receivers.


A receiver is a player who can legally catch a pass in football. Only players that are eligible to be receivers can catch passes. These players are called eligible receivers.

Football Receivers

Football Pocket

The pocket is an enclosed area on the field in the offensive backfield created by the offensive line to shield the quarterback from being tackled. The pocket gives time for the quarterback to scan the field to find an open receiver to throw to.

Football Pocket

Forward Pass

A forward pass is a type of pass thrown by the quarterback from behind the line of scrimmage to a receiver in the defensive backfield. Forward passes are great for gaining lots of yards quickly. A forward pass can be beaten by zones.

Illegal Pass

Only one forward pass is allowed from the behind the line of scrimmage on a down. If the quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage he cannot throw a forward pass.

Back Pass

A back pass or backward pass is a type of pass thrown by the ball carrier to a player behind him. Back passes are legal anywhere on the field.

Lateral Pass

A lateral pass is a sideways pass similar to a back pass. Lateral passes can be thrown by the ball carrier to any player on the field.

Eligible Receivers

An eligible receiver is a player who can catch a pass. Eligible receivers wear specific numerals. Eligible receivers are:

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

IMPORTANT: Defensive players can also catch passes and are considered eligible receivers.

Ineligible Receivers

An ineligible receiver is any player that cannot catch passes in football. An example of an ineligible receiver is an offensive lineman. Offensive linemen cannot catch forward passes.


A completion is a pass that is caught by an eligible receiver.

Incomplete Passes

An incomplete pass or 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 a receiver steps out of bounds
  • If a receiver does not maintain control of the ball

If an official believes any of the above were violated, the pass will be ruled as an incompletion and will not count.

Football Double Catch

On a double catch a player from both teams catches the ball at the same time. In that case, the ball belongs to the team that threw the pass.


A fumble is a ball that is dropped by the ball carrier. A fumble can be recovered by any player on the field.


A pass that is caught by an opposing player is called an interception.

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