What is '3rd and 1' in Football?
In football, '3rd and 1' is used to describe a situation in which the offense needs to gain one yard in order to achieve a first down and avoid being stuck on their fourth and final down. Play calling is extremely important when the offense is faced with a 3rd and 1, as failure to secure the yard often results in having to punt the ball away to the opposing team or settle for three points in the form of a field goal.
Since the offense needs just one yard to pick up a first down and keep the drive moving, the coach will often call a running play. There are two types of running plays that are particularly effective on 3rd and 1, both of which are described below:
- Halfback Dive/Blast: the running back is handed the ball from the quarterback and runs straight forward towards the center that has just snapped the ball to begin play
- Quarterback Sneak: the quarterback receives the ball from the center and immediately lunges towards the center's right or left side, trying to fall forwards past the first down marker
Due to the short-yardage situation the offense is faced with, the defense often anticipates a running play and crowds the line of scrimmage to stop the running back's momentum before the first down can be reached. When a quarterback notices the defense committing to a running play and leaving less players in coverage as a result, he may decide to call a 'play action' pass.
Play action generally involves a fake handoff to the running back, followed by the quarterback rolling out to his strong-hand side and trying to complete a pass to a receiver. Especially on 3rd and 1, play action passes tend to be high risk/high reward plays. Fooling the defense by faking a running play will likely allow the offense to pick up a first down and then some, however the quarterback risks being sacked and losing additional yards because of the extra defenders overwhelming the offensive line.
Failure to Convert on 3rd and 1
As mentioned above, if the offense manages to get the yards needed for a first down, the drive continues and they are rewarded with a fresh set of four plays to pick up 10 yards. If the defense stops the offense from reaching a first down, however, the offense is left with three options:
- Drop kick the ball away to the opposing team and lose possession of the ball (this is known as a punt and is performed when the offense is not close enough to attempt a field goal)
- Attempt a field goal, where kicker is sent onto the field to kick the ball through the uprights for three points (generally an option only when the offense is on the opposing team's 40-yard line or further)
- Let the offense run a play on 4th down and try to pick up the first down by running a play (failure to obtain the first down results in the opposing team automatically gaining possession of the ball where play was stopped)