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Football Scrimmage Downs

What are scrimmage downs? How does a down work in football? Get ready to learn the lingo and meaning behind phrases like first and goal.


What is a scrimmage down in football?

To start, the line of scrimmage refers to the yard line that denotes the position of the ball at any given time. From each line of scrimmage, the offense is given four attempts, or downs, to advance the ball 10 yards further towards the opponent's end zone. A down is considered to be lost if the following happens:

  1. The player with the ball is in contact with the ground with any part of his body other than the hands and feet, and is touched by a member of the defensive team
  2. The player with the ball travels beyond the boundaries of the field of play
  3. There is an incomplete pass, in which a legally-thrown ball hits the ground before it is contacted by members of either team.

Scrimmage Downs

A scrimmage down, or down, is just a fancy word for a play starting at the line of scrimmage.

When the offense gets the ball they are given a set of four downs to move the ball on the football field. These scrimmage downs are called:

Scrimmage Lines

The scrimmage line shows the spot of the ball on the field. It's where all downs begin and end.



Downs always begin with a snap or hike of the ball from the center to the quarterback. Both are players on the offense. A snap or hike is a backward pass throw the legs.

After the snap, the ball is live and the down begins.

Dead Balls

The down ends when the ball is declared dead by officials. The down ends for a variety of reasons:


Chain Crews

The chain crew will mark the new line of scrimmage, first down line, and the distance between the two lines after every down. The chain crew is a group of referees that stand on the sidelines.

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