The ABCs of NFL 

 Originally Written: January 20, 2014

By  Hanna Trafford


nfl feature






I thought about this topic for a while and decided to venture into that typically male territory and give it a shot. Why you ask? Well – you see – I don’t really have a problem with the football season. I actually enjoy watching a good football game. And I do have an explanation for it for those of you who think I am just saying it. I have two sons – now actually a grown adult men. As they were growing up, I decided to join them in the NFL football passion and it became quite entertaining. We each had a favourite team. Mine were the San Francisco 49ers – and the incomparable Joe Montana. Dusan’s were the Denver Broncos and to this day, Dan is a huge fan of the New Orleans Saints. And we did have some fun Sunday afternoon and Monday nights – especially if any of those 2 teams were pitted against each other!

All that to say that it is possible to enjoy the game and refuse to be the football widow as they call it. The key is figuring the stuff out and actually understanding a bit what those guys on the TV screen are after.

So I decided to give my best shot to lending a  helping hand and provide anyone interested with the basic football info – the terms that will more than likely make the whole thing clearer.

But first – let me give you a little overview:

  • The purpose of the game is to move the ball forward, heading towards and ultimately into, the opposition’s end zone.
  • This is achieved be either running with the ball until tackled or throwing the ball in the right direction and hopefully to a team-mate.
  • While they are doing this, they are moving the ball forward in chunks of at least 10 yards. (The white lines on the field are marked in 10 yard sections)
  • The guys that have the ball and are doing this are the offence and the number of times it takes them to get through the 10 yard chunks are called downs.
  • They have 4 of these downs to get at least 10 yards.
  • If they do that – they get to keep the ball, if they don’t do it within the 4 allowed times, they loose the ball.
  • Then the other team gets it and the process starts all over again until one of them gets it either into the end zone – and that is a touchdown or decides to call their kicker and he kicks the ball into that funny looking U-shaped goal in the end zone. And that is called a field goal. Different scoring points for each :

How they score:

Touchdown – 6 points

A touchdown is scored when a offensive team player crosses the goal line with the ball, or catches or collects the ball in the end zone.

Field Goal – 3 points

The field goal is usually attempted on fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts (they also call them uprights)

Extra Point – 1 or 2

A point is earned by kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown. Two points are scored by taking the ball into the end zone again.

Safety (2 points)

These points are awarded to the defensive team when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in his own end zone.

So now that you know a little about the game, here are the most common used NFL terms:

The ABC’s of NFL:


Audible: Verbal commands shouted by the quarterback to his teammates at the line of scrimmage to change play on short notice.


Backfield: the area behind the line of scrimmage.

Backs: the running backs; the halfback and the fullback.

Ball carrier: any player who has possession of the ball.

Blocking: the act of preventing a defensive player from getting to the ball carrier; blockers use their arms and bodies but may not hold an opponent.

Bomb: a long pass thrown to a receiver sprinting down the field.

Bump-and-run: a technique used by pass defenders, where they hit a receiver once within 5 yards (1 yard in college) of the line of scrimmage to slow him down, and then follow him to prevent him from catching a pass.


Call a play: instruct players to execute a pre-planned play.

Cut back: a sudden change in direction taken by a to make it more difficult for defenders to follow and tackle him.


Down: one of 4 chances a team on offense has to gain 10 yards; also, the state of a player who has just been tackled; also, a ball that a player touches to the ground in the end zone to get a touchback.

Draft choice: a player chosen by a professional sports team from a pool of college players in an annual draft.

Drive: the series of plays a team puts together in an attempt to score.

Drop back: when a quarterback, after taking the snap, takes a few steps backward into an area called the pocket to get ready to pass.


Encroachment: if a player (besides the center) is in the neutral zone and contact occurs prior to the snap; a foul punishable by a 5-yard penalty.

End line: the boundary line that runs the width of the field along each end.

End zone: the area between the end line and goal line bounded by the sidelines, which a team on offense tries to enter to score a touchdown.

Extra point(s): additional point(s) scored by a team after it has scored a touchdown, either by a point-after-touchdown (1 point) or a 2-point conversion (2 points).


Fair catch: when a kick returner decides only to catch a punt or kickoff and not advance it, protecting himself from being hit by an opponent; he signals for a fair catch by raising one hand in the air and waving it.

Field goal: a place kick that passes above the crossbar and between the uprights of the goalpost, earning the team that kicked it 3 points.

Field position: the location of a team on the field relative to the two goal lines; good field position for a team is near its opponent’s goal line, while bad field position is close to its own goal line.

First down: the first chance out of 4 that a team on offense has to advance 10 yards down the field; as soon as it gains those yards, it earns a new first down.

Forward pass: a pass thrown by a team closer to the opponent’s goal line; a team is allowed to throw only one forward pass per play, and it must be thrown from behind the team’s line of scrimmage.

Forward progress: the location to which a ball carrier has advanced the ball, even if he was pushed backwards after getting there.

Free kick: a type of kick taken to start or restart play after a team has scored, with no defenders nearer than 10 yards away; includes a kickoff and a kick after a safety.

Fumble: when a ball carrier loses possession by dropping the ball or having it knocked away before a play ends; the first player to regain possession of the loose ball is said to make the recovery, and his team becomes the offense.


Goal line: a line drawn across the width of the field, 10 yards inside each end line, which a team must cross with the ball to score a touchdown.

Goalpost: a tall metallic structure that stands at the back of each end zone; consists of a crossbar and two uprights that extend upward from it, supported directly above the end line by a base; teams try to kick the ball above the crossbar and between the uprights to score a field goal or extra point.


Heisman Trophy: an award presented annually by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York to the best college football player in the country.

Holding: a foul where a player impedes the movement of an opponent by grasping or hooking any part of his body or uniform; punishable by a penalty – 10 yards if against the offense, 5 yards (10 yards in college) plus a first down if against the defense.

Home field advantage: the benefit a team gets by playing games in the area where it is based, due to fan support, familiarity with its surroundings and the lack of required travel.


Incomplete pass: a forward pass that touches the ground before being caught.

Intentional grounding: a foul called against a quarterback who purposely throws an incomplete forward pass solely to avoid a sack; cannot be called if the pass lands at or beyond the line of scrimmage.

Interception: a pass caught in the air (picked off) by a defender whose team immediately gains possession of the ball and becomes the offense.


Kickoff: when a player kicks a ball from a tee at his own 30-yard line (35 in college) to the opposing team, whose player tries to advance it the other way; used to start the game, the second half and overtime, and to restart play after each score.


Lateral: a pass thrown to a teammate backwards from the team’s line of scrimmage or parallel to it; unlike a forward pass (which can be thrown only once per play), players may lateral the ball as often as they want.

Line of scrimmage: an imaginary line which no player may cross before the snap; each team has its own line of scrimmage, separated by the neutral zone.

Loose ball: a ball that is not in possession of either team, such as after a fumble or a kickoff; it can be recovered by either team.


Man-in-motion: a single player on the offense who is permitted to move prior to the snap; he may only run parallel to the line of scrimmage or away from it.

Midfield: the 50-yard line, which divides the length of the field in half.


Neutral zone: the region that contains the ball as it sits on the ground before each play; the area between the two lines of scrimmage.

NFL (National Football League): the major professional football league in the U.S. with 32 teams; its headquarters are in New York.

NFL Championship: the game held from 1933 through 1965 to decide the champion of professional football; renamed the Super Bowl in 1966.

Nickel defense: when a defense brings in a 5th defensive back to replace a linebacker on the field, increasing its pass coverage.


Offside: when any part of a player’s body is beyond his line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped; a foul punishable by a 5-yard penalty.


Pass defender: a defensive player who covers an opposing receiver.

Pass protection: blocking by offensive players to keep defenders away from the quarterback on passing plays.

Pass rush: a surge by defenders to get past blockers and sack the quarterback.

Personal foul: a foul that might cause injury; punishable by a 15-yard penalty.

Picked off: intercepted.

Play: a spurt of action that begins with a snap and ends with a dead ball.

Play clock: a clock displayed above each end zone that limits the time teams may take between plays to 40 seconds (30 in college); the ball must be snapped before the clock runs down to 0.

Play-action pass: a passing play after the quarterback has faked a hand-off.

Playoffs: the post-season tournament that determines the NFL champion.

Possession: to be holding or in control of the football.

Punt: when a player 10 yards behind the center catches a snap, drops it and kicks it before it hits the ground; an opponent tries to catch and advance it the other way.


Quarterback: the leader of a team’s offense, he takes the snap from the center and either hands the ball to a running back to run with, passes it to a receiver or runs with it himself; he also communicates each play to his teammates.


Reading the defense:
recognition by the quarterback of the defensive formation; he may then call an audible to adjust the offense.

Receiver: an offensive player who catches or attempts to catch a forward pass.

Red zone: the imaginary area between the defense’s 20-yard line and its goal line from which the offense is most likely to score points.

Return: an attempt by a player who has just caught an interception, punt, or kickoff to advance the ball the other way.

Rush: a running play; also, a pass rush.


Sack: a tackle of the quarterback behind his line of scrimmage.

Safety: when a ball carrier is tackled in his own end zone after bringing the ball there under his own power; the defense earns 2 points and receives a free kick from the offense’s own 20-yard line.

Scrambling: evasive movements by a quarterback to avoid being sacked.

Snap: when the center while facing forward quickly hands the ball between his legs to a player standing behind him (usually the quarterback) to start each play.

Special teams: the group of players who participate in kicking plays.

Spike: when a player throws the ball at the ground to celebrate a touchdown.

Super Bowl: the championship game of the NFL, played between the champions of the AFC and NFC at a neutral site each January; it is the culmination of the NFL playoffs.


Tackle: a player position on both the offensive and defensive lines; there is usually a left and right offensive tackle, and a left and right defensive tackle; See also tackling.

Tackling: contacting a ball carrier to cause him to touch the ground with any part of his body except his hands, thereby ending the play.

Touchback: when a player who gains possession of a ball in his own end zone kneels to the ground and automatically starts the next play at his own 20-yard line; also awarded if his opponent kicks the ball across the end line.

Touchdown (TD): when a team crosses the opponent’s goal line with the ball, catches a pass in the opponent’s end zone, or recovers a loose ball in the opponent’s end zone; earns a team 6 points.

Turnover: the involuntary loss of possession of the ball during a play, either by a fumble or by throwing an interception.

2-point conversion: when a team that just scored a touchdown starts a play at the opponent’s 2-yard line (3-yard line in college) and crosses the goal line to earn 2 points; when successful, it looks just like a touchdown; introduced to the NFL in 1994.

I do hope you enjoyed reading this and that it was helpful to you – I will most welcome your comments, additional input and suggestions!


Hanna Trafford

Hanna is the mother of two grown sons Dan and Dusan Nedelko, and is also the Grandmother to Jax, Cohen and Mila. She is the lead editor of Mama Knows and is hoping to create an exchange of communications with other grandmothers, mothers and daughters - giving everyone the opportunity to learn and share about everything that is "Mama"

Your Signature

related posts:

All About New Year’s Resolutions and Why I Don’t Make Any

Auld Lang Syne Lyrics

Best New Year Quotes

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch