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Roughly 100 million people in the U.S. will watch Super Bowl 57 this year. The game featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles will be present on television screens in most houses and sports bars throughout the country. Many of those watching won’t have a clue about what’s going on between the lines. This Football 101 crash course is for you. (Key football words/phrases are in italics. Use them frequently if you want to impress your football friends).

We’re not going to get into the differences between zone and man coverages here. We’ll talk strictly basics. If you’re at a Super Bowl 57 party and can’t figure out what all the drama is about when the team moves the sticks, we’re here for you. We’ll give you some basic knowledge to help you at least get a sense of what’s taking place in the big game.

Football 101: The yellow line is key

The first thing we need to establish for football newbies is the difference between offense and defense. Once we’ve understood that the team in possession of the football is on offense and the other team’s defense is trying to stop them from scoring, we can focus on the yellow line (to me, it looked more orange in Sunday’s games, but focus on the yellow/orange line) on the television.

When the offense is on the field, the ball is placed at the line of scrimmage (a fancy term for where play begins). From there, the goal is to make it all the way to the end zone (where the team’s name is painted) to score points. The offense has four chances (or downs) to move the ball 10 yards. That yellow line (only viewable on TV) is where the offense has to go to earn another set of downs and keep their possession alive.

For the sake of argument, if the offense begins possession at the 50-yard line (or midfield), that yellow line will be at the 40-yard line. It will be first-and-10, meaning it’s the first of four downs with 10 yards to go (to get another fresh set of downs). If the quarterback (the player who throws the ball) throws a pass six yards that is caught by a wide receiver, it will now be second-and-4 at the 44-yard line (four yards away from the yellow line). If the offense gets the ball past the 40-yard line, we do it all over. It will be first-and-10 starting from where the player was tackled. That will be the new line of scrimmage.

What’s a punt and a field goal?

Kansas City Chiefs punter Tommy Townsend punts in the fourth quarter of an AFC divisional playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 21, 2023, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. | Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

If it’s third down and the defense stops them before they reach that yellow line, the offense has a decision to make. They can punt, kick a field goal, or go for it. That decision will usually be based on where the ball is on the field.

For example, if the defense stopped the offense at midfield, and it’s now fourth-and-8, the offense is likely to punt. Punting means you are kicking the ball to the opponent and hoping to pin them deep in their own territory, so they have to go as far as possible to score a touchdown. Now, if it was fourth-and-8 from the opponent’s 20-yard-line (you were 20 yards from the end zone), you’d likely opt for a field goal.

In that case, a kicker would come in and try to kick the ball through the yellow goalpost in the end zone. Should that happen, the offense would get three points. Should the kick not sail between the uprights, the opponent would get possession of the ball, with the line of scrimmage being at the spot from where the kicker kicked the ball.

What’s the difference between a field goal and an extra point?

The ultimate goal for the offense is to score a touchdown (worth six points), which is done by getting the ball into the end zone. After a touchdown, a kicker typically will boot a short kick, the extra point. The team also has the opportunity to go for two by having the ball placed on the 2-yard line and having one offensive play.

The odds of making the extra point are better than the two-point conversion, so most teams opt for the safe point with a kick.

Why do they always try to run into a big pile?

Whenever I’ve watched football with a non-football fan, one of the biggest questions is, why does the offense try to run with the ball into the middle of a big pile of players? The simple reason is to keep the defense honest.

It’s common sense that the offense will move the ball downfield faster if they passed the ball every time. If that happened, the defense would take many of its 11 players and pull them away from the line of scrimmage to prepare for the pass. When the offense runs the ball, it forces the defense to put some of its players right at the line of scrimmage.

Also, if it’s third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, it’s likely you’ll see the offense run the ball into that big pile to try to pick up the one yard needed for a new set of downs.

What does first-and-goal mean?

If the offense runs (or passes) the ball and gets tackled, say, at the 5-yard line, getting past that yellow line, it becomes first-and-goal. That means there are fewer than 10 yards to the end zone. So now it’s first-and-goal instead of first-and-10. When it’s an “and-goal” situation, the yellow line is gone, and now the offense has to get a touchdown within the four downs or make a decision to kick a field goal or go for it. There is no reason to punt when you are five yards from the end zone.

There’s certainly plenty more to cover, but those are the basics. It’s a crash course for beginners to help at least fake like they have a clue about what’s going on in Super Bowl 57.


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