Football 3rd Down

football 3rd down

What is a Third Down in Football?

A game of football has cycles of downs where a team has to travel a distance of 10 yards towards the end zone. A third down is the team's third chance out of four at maximum to travel those 10 yards. If a team gets to a third down it means that it has failed to travel the 10 yards in the first and second downs combined. A third down situation puts the attacking team under some pressure; that is because most of the time if a team fails to meet the remaining distance in the third down, the ball is punted away to the opponent, or a field goal kick is attempted. Fourth down plays are rather risky, as failure to reach the first down marker will result in a turnover where the play ends.

You may hear expressions such as "Third and 6". That means that the attacking team is at its third attempt of traveling 10 yards, its third down; and still has to travel six yards, as it traveled a total of four yards in the first and second downs combined. You may also hear "Third and 15". A team can also travel backward in the field, and in that case, the attacking team traveled five yards back in the two previous downs combined, and so it has to travel fifteen yards on its third down.

3rd Down Strategies

3rd down is the penultimate down of the down cycle before 4th down. For most teams in a standard game, 3rd down is the final down you get to run a play because most teams punt the football to the other team on 4th down. In 3rd and long scenarios (situations where the 1st down line is ten or more yards away), passing is imperative unless you're trying to fool the defense by running the ball. In 3rd and short situations (situations where the 1st down line is less than three yards away), running and passing are both viable options for the offense.

If the offense does not reach the 1st down marker on 3rd down, it then becomes 4th down. Depending on the situation, the offense may elect to go for the 1st down on 4th down, which is very risky.


What does third down and goal mean in football?

Third down and goal, also referred to as "third and goal," means that a team must reach the end zone instead of getting a first down. Whenever a team gains a first down inside of the ten-yard line, they have four plays to reach the end zone or kick a field goal. Failure to do so will result in a turnover to the other team. In many cases, third and goal is the last chance in the drive for a team to score points. In cases where the offense is down by a lot or inside of the five-yard line, they may decide to go for it on fourth down as well.

What is a third down back in football?

A third down back is a running back that typically comes in whenever a team faces a third down. As the game has evolved over the years, teams have utilized multiple running backs as opposed to one workhorse back. Third down backs are typically smaller than a team's main running back and specialize in receiving and pass blocking. By coming in on third down, a third down back can give the team an extra receiver in an obvious passing situation or keep the defense guessing by running the ball. While third down backs are not a defined position, some teams will use one running back on nearly every third down situation.

Do teams ever punt on third down?

Teams will basically never punt on third down, as it would be a massive waste of a down and give the opposing offense the ball back prematurely. However, there have been a few rare instances in which a team punted on third down due to extenuating circumstances. Perhaps most notably, Penn State punted versus Auburn during the 2021 college football season. This laughable occurrence took place because game officials accidentally labeled second down as third down, meaning the next play was labeled as fourth down even though it was only third down. These instances are extremely rare, but make for quite the spectacle when they do happen.