A down in American football is the time period where a play takes place. Its starts when the ball is snapped and ends when the ref blows their whistles. It’s one of the fundamental terms in a football game; you will always be hearing an announcement talking about 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th down, to explain what point in the drive is currently taking place. In American Football, the offensive team has four downs to either make a first down or score. If neither a first down or score occurs in four downs, the defense takes over on offense exactly where the previous offense had the football.
So, what is a down during a football game? What does a down do in football? What is an example of a down, and why do teams tend to punt or kick field goals on 4th down? Are there any types of plays teams run on 4th down to get a first down?
Below we will discuss the NFL down and the specific of them.
What is Considered a Down in Football?
A down is when the team with possession of the ball snaps the ball and performs a play. The down continues until either the ball carrier is taken down by a member of the opposing team or if they manage to score a touchdown. If the player is brought down or goes into the sideline before scoring, they will continue to the next down until a change of possession occurs.
For example, if it’s 1st down, once the passer snaps the ball, the down begins. However, if the passer gave the ball to the wide receiver and the linebacker tackles the wide receiver before acquiring a new first down, the offensive team would move to a second down and make another attempt at a first down. The sequence of events leading to the players getting tackled is considered a down.
Per football rules, a team has four downs (1st,2nd,3rd, and 4th down) to either achieve a first down or score before relinquishing possession. All downs start with ten yards to the next first down or first to goal if it is less than 10 yards to the endzone.
What Does a Down Do in Football?
A down is a tracker of field position for a football team. It gives the offensive team an indication of how many tries they have to achieve a first down, and it gives the defensive team an indication of how many shots they have to prevent a team from scoring a first down or more.
Downs also allows a team to strategize their next move. Depending on what yard line and what down they are on could determine what the offense and defense plan to do next.
What Does 2nd Down and 10 Mean in Football?
In college and the NFL, a 2nd and ten means a team is on their second down out of four and needs 10 yards to get a new set of four downs. The ten is the number of yards they need to get the first down. Next is a third down if they can not get those ten yards, and then eventually a fourth down situation.
For example, if a team could pick up eight yards on three plays, the fourth down would be fourth and two.
What is the Chain Gang in Football?
In addition to downs, there are marker “chain gang” that you will see on the sideline. The chain gang is on the sideline that will show a team what down they are on, how many yards to go, and where the line of scrimmage is, so a team will always be aware of what down it is. It is a very bright color on the sidelines, so everyone will be able to see it during a game.
Why Do Football Teams Tend to Punt on 4th Down?
It is not always a given thing that a team will kick a field goal or punt on a 4th down; the circumstance will determine what a team does. For example, a team may elect to go for it if they believe they feasibly have a chance of obtaining the first down, desperately need a touchdown, or if it’s close to half-time and the team believes they have nothing to lose. Teams will carefully weigh their options because they understand that if they do not score the touchdown or first down, they will effectively be handing possession of the football to their opponents.
However, most teams will punt the ball because by kicking it, they can place the ball toward their opponent’s goal line so that the opposing team will start their drive deep in their territory. This positioning gives the team better options when defending and forces the offensive team to drive down a long field to score, which can be challenging for some teams.
Why Do Teams Elect for a Field Goal Kick on 4th Down?
Teams will kick a field goal on fourth down because they are trying to achieve three points from their current offensive drive. The team will only go for a field goal if they believe their kicker has the leg strength to make it from their current position. If the player misses, the defensive team’s offensive unit will start their first down where the team was kicking the field goal.
During the 2021 NFL season, kickers made most of their 40 -yard and 50-yard field goal kicks. Some kickers were able to achieve over 60-yard kicks as well. However, many factors can impact how far a kicker can kick a field goal. Some of those factors include a kicker’s strength, weather elements, the field type, and more.
What Offensive Plays Do Teams Run on 4th and Short?
If a team has a quarterback that is particularly good at the “QB sneak,” they can attempt that play on 4th down and short. The idea behind the QB sneak is to get the ball and directly plow up the middle behind your offensive line to get the first down. Chances are the offensive team needs less than a yard, so if the QB can get low enough to the line as they dive, they can create a new set of downs via first and ten.
Teams tend not to pass on 4th down unless they need to. For example, if the game is in the 4th quarter and the team on offense is losing without much time left on the clock, they will elect to pass if they need multiple yards to get the first down. Teams tend to run a shotgun type of formation to get a first down on these 4th down tries.
However, if the offensive team can’t pick up enough yards to make a first down, the defense takes over as offense at that exact spot on the field. That is why going for it on 4th down has a gigantic risk. If the defense starts with great field territory to their endzone, they have a high chance of scoring.
Conclusion: What is a Down in Football?
Each down is critically important to a team during a football game. What down a team is currently playing will often determine what course of action the coach chooses to take next. For example, a team may might perform a pass play on first down rather than on second down. However, what play a team runs depends on how many yards they need for a first down. Same goes with how close the team is to the endzone.
The football league prides itself on fairness. Each team has the same set of downs and the same opportunities. Football players understand their responsibilities and use down markers to better understand how they will uphold their commitments.
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