American Football Rules: A Beginner’s Guide

You have probably heard about football and american football. In fact, in America, it is more common to refer to it as just football to make it more confusing. Also, have you heard talk about the big game around family, friends and co-workers? Have you wanted to understand more about the game without asking questions? Are you heading to a football game and want to learn before getting there? Do not worry. We will guide you to learn the basic rules of American Football.  

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    How Many Players Are On The American Football Field At A Time? What Positions Are In American Football?

    A maximum of two teams face each other in a game and each team can have a maximum of 11 players on the field at one time. Teams have unlimited substitutions in the game and any player can re-enter the game.

    On offense, the football rules state that a team must have a minimum of 5 offensive linemen and the remaining 6 players can be a combination of quarterbacks (QBs), running backs (RBs), wide receivers (WRs), tight ends (TEs), and miscellaneous position players. The only other requirement is that at least two of these other players (one of each side of the field) have to also be on the line of scrimmage with the offensive linemen.

    On defense, the team is not required to have a minimum number of defensive linemen (DLs), safeties (S), cornerbacks (CBs), and linebackers (LBs). Therefore, defenses can be very creative with their formations that can have any number of these types of players as long as the team only has a maximum of 11 players on the field at one time. The two most common base formations for a defense are a 4-3 (four DLs and three LBs) and a 3-4 (three DLs and four LBs). Both formations will also consist of two CBs and two safeties.

    What Is The Size Of An American Football Field? How Long Is An American Football Field?

    The field measures 120 yards in length and 160 yards wide.

    The game is 60 minutes and is divided into four 15 minute quarters. When there is no more time at the end of the 4th quarter, the game is over and it is also referred to as the end of regulation.

    If the game has a tie score at the end of regulation, the game will go into overtime. The football rules differ between the professional football and college football. It is not possible for a college football game to end in a tie after overtime. However, it is possible for a regular season professional football game to end in overtime as a tie.

    The offensive team has a 40 second play clock before every play. If 40 seconds expires, the offense receives a delay of game and lose 5 yards. That’s the only penalty in football, right?

    What Penalties Occur In American Football?

    There’s a yellow flag on the play.. Oh and there’s another penalty on the play. No matter how much you know about football, it can be difficult to keep up with all of the penalties that occur during a game. Our goal is to give a really high-level understanding of the most common penalties in the NFL version of football. This way, it’s easier to identify what penalty happens during a game.

    Penalty Yardage Effect on Downs
    Holding (Offensive) 10 yards (from the spot of foul) Repeat down
    Holding (Defensive) 5 yards Automatic first down
    Pass Interference (Offensive) 10 yards Repeat down
    Pass Interference (Defensive) Spot of the foul Automatic first down
    False Start (Offensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Offside (Defensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Neutral Zone Infraction (Defensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Encroachment (Defensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Roughing the Passer (Defensive) 15 yards Automatic first down
    Facemask 15 yards Automatic first down
    Unsportsmanlike Conduct 15 yards If on the defense: may result in an automatic first down. If on the offense: repeat down.
    Delay of Game (Offensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Illegal Forward Pass (Offensive) 5 yards and loss of down Loss of down
    Intentional Grounding (Offensive) Spot of the foul and loss of down Loss of down
    Illegal Use of Hands 10 yards (from the spot of foul) Repeat down or Automatic first down based on which team committed the penalty
    Personal Foul 15 yards Depends on the nature of the foul and which team committed it
    Illegal Formation (Offensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Illegal Shift (Offensive) 5 yards Repeat down
    Chop Block (Offensive) 15 yards Repeat down

    What Are The American Football Rules on Scoring?

    The main aim of American Football is to score more points than the other team before time runs out. The different scoring opportunities are:

    • a field goal (3 points)
    • touchdown (6 points)
    • safety (2 points)
    • extra point (1 point)
    • two point conversion (2 points)
    • defensive two point conversion (2 points)

    A field goal awards a team 3 points when they kick out between the yellow uprights.

    A touchdown occurs when a player runs into the opposition team’s end zone with the football. This action primarily happens on offense. However, this can also happen on defense via a turnover (interception or fumble) or special teams (fumble, interception, punt return or kickoff return).

    After a touchdown, the offense can kick a field goal for an extra point or go for a two point conversion.

    However, if the defense blocks the kick or gets the football on a turnover, they can attempt to return it for a defensive two point conversion. If they get tackled before the end zone, no additional points are given.

    If the defense tackles an offensive player in the offensive’s end zone, the play results in a safety and the defense is rewarded with 2 points on the scoreboard. They also get to receive the football on the kickoff.

    What Are The Phases Of The Game In American Football?

    The beginning of each game begins with a coin toss and, after each team determines who will kick and receive, the game begins with a kickoff.

    There are three phases of the game: Kickoff, Offense/Defense, and Field Goal/Punt.


    During a kickoff, a team kicks the ball from their own 35-yard line to the opposing team and aims to stop them swiftly. The greater the distance the receiving team advances the football, the more advantageous their offensive position will be when they take over. When the receiving team chooses not to advance the ball from the end zone, it results in a touchback. In such cases, the football is placed on the 25 yard line to resume play.


    During the offense/defense phase, the offense has 4 downs to advance the football 10 yards against the defense. The first down marker will show what spot the offense needs to get a first down. If the offense gets a first down, then the first down marker moves ten more yards down the field from where the offensive player got tackled and the process repeats. The offense will try and move the football by either running or passing (throwing) the football.

    The defense will try and prevent the offense from scoring. Another goal is to stop the offense from advancing the football too much to give their offense better field position.

    Teams will have an offensive gameplan that determines which formations they use for the game. This can change depending on the down, distance to first down, the game score, and the defensive strategy of the other team.

    Teams will have a defensive gameplan that determines which formations they use for the game. This can change depending on the down, distance to first down, the game score, and the offensive strategy of the other team.

    The three other ways that the defense can gain possession of the football is by a fumble recovery, safety or an interception.

    A fumble is when an offensive player in possession of the football loses control of it. A fumble recovery is when the defensive player recovers the football for their team. An interception is when the defense catches a pass thrown by the offense.

    Field Goal/Punt

    If the offense fails to get 10 yards within 3 downs, they have the option to “go for it”, punt, or kick a field goal.

    If a kicker misses a field goal, the defense gets the football at the spot of the kick. Also, if the spot of the kick is within 20 yards of the end zone, the other team gets the football at the 20 yard line.


    Woohoo! You made it! Enjoy being able to share your newfound knowledge about American football rules with your friends. Who knows? This may have started a new love for American Football. If not, no worries. You should definitely look into learning about football.