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What are the rules of football?

What are the Rules of Football

Football is an American sport played on a field with a length of one hundred yards. Each team plays with 11 athletes on the field at one time and the defense must stop the offense from getting the ball into the end zone for a score, known as a touchdown. Football is a very physical sport that carries many rules along with it. Here are some of the key things that you need to know regarding the rules of football.

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The Field

football field

A football field is one hundred yards in length and fifty three and a half yards wide. Within this field are two end zones, one at each end of the field. End zones are 10 yards long and as wide as the rest of the field, and are where teams must get the ball into to score a touchdown.

Most football fields are made of turf, and almost always the end zones will be painted with the home team’s logo or colors.

Duration And Format

Football games feature four quarters that are 15 minutes each, making a total of one hour of gameplay. However, if you were to watch a football game it would take about three hours because of timeouts, halftime, and the overall pace of the game. Halftime happens after the end of the second quarter and typically lasts 12-15 minutes.

Teams are given three timeouts each per half and can use them whenever they wish, but extra timeouts do not carry over from the first half to second half.

The clock runs only when plays are live. The clock stops after an incomplete pass, turnover, change of possession, timeout, or if a ball carrier steps out of bounds.


football positions and roles

At any time during a football game, there will be twenty two players on the field. Eleven of them will be the offense, and eleven will be the defense. The offense has possession of the ball and has to move the ball down the field with a mixture of passing plays and running plays, while the defense runs plays to stop them.

There are not 11 different positions for 11 players on each side of the ball. Many teams put multiple players at the same position (Ex: Wide Receivers and Cornerbacks). 

The positions for offense on a football team include:

The positions for defense on a football team include:


A down is simply another word for a play in football. The team on offense has four downs to advance the ball ten yards. If they fail, it is a turnover, but if they succeed the downs reset back to first down and they keep moving. 

For example, if a team just got a first down, their next play will be first down and ten yards to go. If they then proceed to gain 3 yards, they will be faced with second down and seven yards to go.

Players on the field are reminded of what down it is by the marker that is held on the sideline.

If a first down is gained inside of the ten yard line but short of the end zone, the offense will face a first and goal and now instead of needing to get a first down, they need to get into the end zone.


Football Scoring

In football, there are several ways to score points, with the most popular method of scoring being a touchdown. Touchdowns are when the ball is brought into or caught inside of the end zone and are worth six points each. Touchdowns are most commonly scored by the offense through a running play or a passing play, but can also be scored by the defense. If the offense commits a turnover, the play is still live and the defense can run the ball back the other way. Whether it be an interception or a fumble recovery, the defense can run the ball back until they are brought to the ground.

After every touchdown, teams have a choice of either kicking a 33 yard field goal known as an extra point, or trying a two point offensive play from the two yard line. This is a serious choice to make because extra points are only worth one point.

Another way for football teams to score points is through a field goal. Teams will mostly elect to kick a field goal when they face a fourth down in a spot on the field where their kicker can make a field goal. However, field goals do not need to be kicked on fourth down and can be kicked at any point. If a team misses a field goal, the other team gains possession from the spot of the missed kick.

The least common way to score in football is through a safety. A safety occurs when the defense tackles the ball carrier inside their own end zone, and is worth two points for the defensive team. On top of the two points, the team who got the safety will also gain possession of the ball.


Football is a sport that has lots of possible penalties. While some may seem a bit excessive, the penalties are there to ensure the safety of everyone on the field. Penalties are enforced in football by losing or gaining yards. For example, low tier penalties such as offside and false starts are five yard penalties. These are when players on the offense move before the ball is snapped, or if they are positioned across the line of scrimmage. Encroachment is the defensive version of these penalties and is also worth a five yard penalty.

As penalties get worse, the penalty yardage goes up. For example, offensive holding (when an offensive player holds a defensive player back in an illegal way to prevent a tackle) is worth 10 yards. Defensive holding is only worth five yards, but also gives the offense an automatic first down.

A pass interference penalty, typically when a defender touches the intended receiver before the ball arrives, is a judgment call made by officials that if enforced, gives the offense the ball at the spot of the foul, which can result in huge yardage gains at times.

One of the most serious penalties is called for a helmet to helmet hit. The penalty is called on whichever player (offense or defense) used their helmet to directly hit into another player's helmet. This is a fifteen yard penalty and a personal foul.

Another serious penalty is a facemask, and is called when one player uses another player's facemask to tackle them. This can result in serious injuries and is also a personal foul and fifteen yards.

A personal foul is handed out after the most serious penalties, and if a player totals two personal fouls in one game, they will be ejected.


Who enforces the rules during a football game?

There are seven referees strategically spread out across the field who are in charge of knowing and enforcing the rules. They call penalties, stop play, and speak to replay crews. Penalties are marked by a yellow flag that referees throw to the spot of the foul, then the penalty is announced once the play is dead.

Can coaches call for a replay review?

If a coach does not like the spot of the ball, or a call that was made by an official (such as yardage, catch/no catch, or scoring review) they can invoke a replay review by throwing their challenge flag. This is a red flag similar to the penalty flag, and coaches have two challenges per game. They are granted a third if they get their first two challenges correct, but lose a timeout along with every lost challenge.

Can the ball only be thrown forward?

Since the goal of football is the move the ball forward down the field, throws are made by the quarterback forward down the field. However, players can throw the ball backwards at any time. This is known as a lateral and is rarely used, but can come in handy on trick plays or in late game situations when the offense is too far away for a hail mary or a field goal. The ball can only be thrown forward behind the line of scrimmage, but can be passed backward anywhere.

What are the rules for overtime?

Football is different than every other major American sport because after just one overtime period, the game is ruled as a tie. Overtime is ten minutes long and begins with a coin flip. If the team who receives the ball first scores a touchdown or the defense scores (TD or safety), the game is over right there. However, if they do not score, the next score (of any kind) decides the game. If the team with first possession only manages a field goal, the other team must either match it to keep the game alive or score a touchdown to win.

Games will not end in ties in the playoffs; the game will not end until someone wins the game.

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