A guide to understanding American Football in time for Super Bowl LII.


DSo the forthcoming Super Bowl LII (52) is upon us and maybe you’re thinking of watching it this year, or maybe you just want to try stay awake for the much anticipated half-time show? Justin Timberlake is given a second chance this time after the wardrobe malfunction he caused for Janet Jackson 14 years ago in Super Bowl XXXVIII (32). So why not get an understanding of the game in time for the main event of the year?


The game is played over 60 minutes of game time, consisting of 4 quarters of 15 minutes. The reason the game actually lasts for an eternity is because whenever the ball goes out of play, hits the floor or a penalty is called, the game clock is stopped until the next play. In an attempt to speed the game up, there is a play clock that the referee can start when they deem the ball ready for play. The offensive team then have 40 seconds in which to play the ball. The aim of the game is to get the ball into the opponents’ end zone to score a touchdown, which will score 6 points. Once a touchdown has been scored, the offensive team then has a choice to either kick the ball for 1 point, or they can choose to pass/run the ball for 2 points. The offensive team have 4 attempts, known as downs, to cover 10 yards towards the end zone by either throwing or running the ball. If the team manage to get 10 yards then this is repeated until they are either stopped or score. However, scoring a touchdown isn’t the only way to score, the offensive team can also kick the ball, otherwise known as a field goal, through the goal posts which scores 3 points. To stop the offensive team scoring, the defence must either stop them as mentioned above, intercept a pass or force and recover a fumble. An interception is pretty self-explanatory, if a player from the defensive team can catch the ball thrown by the offensive team without the ball hitting the floor first, this is counted as an interception. A fumble is similar to a knock on in rugby and any player can fumble the ball. If a player is in full control of the ball and then either drops the ball or is knocked loose in a tackle, the ball can then be recovered by either team, so whoever comes out with the ball gets possession.

Each team has what’s known as ‘The Three Platoons’ which is split into Offence, Defence and Special (specialist players are the kickers, holders etc. that only feature on the field when needed, but are otherwise not seen on the pitch during a play)


As mentioned, the offensive unit has the sole job of trying to score a touchdown by either running or passing the ball into the end zone. The five offensive linesman, the tackles, guards and centre, have the job of stopping the defence getting to the quarterback, and the running backs and receivers have the job of scoring points.

Quarterback (QB) – This is normally the star player whose job it is to throw the ball to a player in order to gain yards.

Running Back (RB/HB) – A pretty self explanatory role, these players tend to be the players that run the ball, although as the games progressed they will act as receivers to be thrown to.

Wide Receiver (WR) – These are the players who will catch the ball when thrown by the quarterback. These are the players in all the highlight reels with spectacular catches.

Tight End (TE) – These players are the big guys of the offensive unit. They will either act as blockers for extra protection, or will be a target for the quarterback.

Tackle, Guards and Centre (T/G/C) – Much like the defensive unit, these guys are the quarterbacks protection and they will stop the defensive players getting through, the centre is the player who will pass or ‘snap’ the ball to the quarterback.


The defensive unit have the job of stopping the other team travelling the 10 yards within 4 downs, or by intercepting or forcing a fumble. The ends and tackles are the first line of the defence, trying to break through the offensive line to get to the quarterback, along with the linebackers. The safety’s and cornerbacks are known as the secondary defence, so their job is more to block and intercept passes, or to stop a running back if they make it through the defensive line. The defensive unit must be completely flexible in their roles as their task for the play will.

Cornerback (CB) – These players tend to cover the wide receivers to either prevent them catching the ball or intercept the ball.

Linebacker (OLB/MLB) – These players either ‘man-mark’ a specific player or will try and break through the offensive line to get to the player with the ball.

Safety (S) – Exactly what it says on the tin, these players are the last line of defence and will either cover a certain area of the field or ‘man-mark’ a specific player, like a cornerback.

Ends and Tackles (E/T) – These are the big guys; they will attempt to push their way through the offensive line or attempt to create gaps for the linebackers to run through.



Written by: Lucy Holland

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