By Danny Carrington
Last Updated: 15th October 2019
As the NFL’s 2019 London Games continue in London, the focus shifts from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to Wembley for the next two games. We’ve put together a rather handy dummies’ guide to the NFL for those that don’t know their American football from their rugby.
Like most sports, the NFL is based on scoring more points than your opponent, which can be done in a number of ways…
A touchdown occurs when the attacking team has possession of the ball in the opposition end zone, either by running it in or catching it. A touchdown is worth six points, with the PAT (Point After Touchdown) worth another point via kicking the ball through the uprights – much like a conversion in rugby. Alternatively, teams can opt to secure a two-point PAT, though via the tougher challenge of taking the ball into the end zone once again from the opponent’s goal line.
Additionally, teams can also opt to kick a field goal in open play between the uprights, much like a drop goal in rugby, which is worth three points.
Offensive play in the NFL is based on forming drives, effectively when a team uses its plays to march down the field. Each team gets a set of four downs, not unlike the “sixth-tackle” premise of rugby league, and have to move the ball forward 10 yards to gain a fresh set of four downs. If they are unable to match or exceed the allotted 10 yards in four downs or fewer, they turn the ball over to their rivals. Teams usually punt the ball away, or kick a field goal on fourth down in order to improve field position.
How they line up
Each team is allowed 11 players on the field at any one time. However, NFL squads are made up of a mammoth 45 active players, many with specialised roles within the teams.
Arguably the most important position in the team is the quarterback. The quarterback runs the offense, calls the plays in huddles before the snap – i.e. when the ball is passed to the quarterback, indicating the start of a play – and is responsible for passing the ball to the running back or throwing downfield to a wide receiver.
The quarterback is protected by an offensive line, which consists of two tackles to the edge of the line, two guards and a centre in the middle of the line. A tight end is also part of the offense and can act as a blocker, an extension of the offensive line, or as a pass-catcher, similar to the wide receivers.
The defense matches up similarly to the offense, with a defensive line tasked with trying to tackle or sack the opposing quarterback. Behind the defensive line stand the linebackers, whose job is to tackle opposition running backs or wide receivers, while cornerbacks and safeties form the secondary, protecting the field from long throws to wide receivers and acting as a last line of defence.
In the opening NFL 2019 London Games fixture, we saw one of the best defenders in the game, linebacker Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, in action against his former team the Oakland Raiders. In an end-to-end clash, the Raiders triumphed 24-21 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with the Raiders running backs scoring three touchdowns between them, including a game-winning score with just two minutes to play.
Last weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced their divisional rivals, the Carolina Panthers. In their first meeting this season, the Buccaneers triumphed 20-14, however star of the show for the Panthers was once again running back Christian McCaffrey, scoring two touchdowns in their 37-26 win. McCaffrey remains an early favourite to win the NFL MVP (Most Valuable Player) award alongside Seattle Seahawks quarter back, Russell Wilson.
The real beauty of the game is on any given Sunday anything can happen in the NFL, which is what makes it so unpredictable and exciting.