Rules Of Nfl

Wed, 17 Sep 2008 23:05

Rules Of Nfl

How the game is played in national football league.

The rules of the National Football League (NFL) keep on evolving. Some changes were introduced this year. This article is written To understand better the NFL rules. The first part of this article explores the basic rules of the game and the second half deals with the rules that changed recently.

Basic Game Facts

The field measures 360 feet (sidelines) x 160 feet (end lines). Yard lines are marked every 5 yards, and numbered 10 yards from the middle of the field which is 50 yards from the end line. The scoring area or end zone extends 10 yards beyond the goal line. In each end zone are two goal posts connected to a crossbar standing 10 feet from the ground. In NFL standard, the goal posts stand 222 inches apart.

Each team consists of 11 players in the field at one time. The rules allow the teams to substitute any or all their players during a break between plays, if time still allow it. An NFL team has at least 46 players, each player assigned a specialized role. Teams commonly create special groups or units, such as a unit for offense, a unit for defense, or a unit for a special formations and tactics.

Officials of the game and their responsibilities


The referee has the general control and oversight of the game. He signals all fouls and gives final judgment in the interpretation of rules. He is positioned strategically in a favorable line of sight, 10 to 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The referee rules on a variety of playing stages: snap, running play, pass play, and kickoff.


The umpire has the main responsibility of ruling on player’s equipment, their conduct, and acts on the line of scrimmage. He stands four to five yards downfield but moves from the front of the weakside to the place of the strongside guard. He calls when there are false starts by offensive linemen and observes the legality of contact by defensive players as they attempt to ward off blockers and by offensive linemen when they do blocking. He judges rule infraction whether it occurred in the offense or defense. The umpire actively shifts position as play develops, especially during passes.

Head Linesman

The head linesman is mainly responsible for ruling on line violations offside, and encroachment or actions in the scrimmage line prior to or during a snap. He positions himself closest on the side of the field. The linesman rules on the legality of action involving receivers coming to his side zone, and the legality of blockers and defenders in a running play, pass and run, or kick. The linesman assists the referee in determining if intentional grounding occurs.

Line Judge

A line judge keeps a position straddling the line of scrimmage on the side opposite the linesman. He double-tasks as backup time keeper. His main responsibility is to see if a passer is behind or beyond the line of scrimmage during a pass. He also observes blockers' and defenders' actions on his side of the field, while the linesman does his on the other side.

Field Judge

The field judge stays 20 yards deep on the same side occupied by a line judge. He zeroes in on the wide receiver on his side, observing legality of blocks or actions against the wide receiver. His main work is to decided on the legality of catching, recovery, or illegal touching of a loose ball outside the scrimmage line.

Side Judge

The side judge is positioned 20 yards deep the side of the field occupied by a linesman. Like the field judge, he looks into the wide receiver on his side of the field, and watch for same violations like the field judge.

Back Judge

The back judge is positioned 25 yards down the field. He watches over the tight end’s path and observes the legality of upcoming blocks or actions taken against him. His primary responsibility is to rule on plays taking place in the end line. He also looks over passes, catch infractions, and clipping of kick returns together with the field judge.

Object of the game

To score points, the ball must be advanced to the opponent’s end zone for a touchdown or must be kicked through the goals posts or a field goal. A score is also gathered when the opposing ball carrier is tackled in their own end zone, or what is called a safety. The team who scores most points after the time has expired shall be declared winner.

Starting the Game

A game starts after a coin toss on whose side will be given the right to kickoff a ball.

Time of Play

A game is played in 60 minutes, divided into 4 quarters at 15 minutes each. But since the clock is stopped frequently, a typical game duration can be more than 3-4 hours. Clock is stopped when there is incomplete pass and when ball is out of bounds. In NFL rules, the clock starts again only after the referee’s ready to play signal at the last 2 minutes of the first half and the last 5 minutes in the second half. Each team has a privilege of 3 timeouts each half. They may use such timeout at will.

The clock may be stopped for a timeout called by officials. When there is a question whether the ball was moved far enough on the first down, the clock is stopped as the officials measure the distance. When the measurement is taken, the referee signals, restarting the clock. Also, the clock may be stopped while officials are administering penalty, or if someone gets injured.

There is a secondary clock used aside from the primary clock. The secondary clock counts down the time that the offense starts the next play. This clock is usually 25 seconds from when the referee marks the ball for play. In NFL rules, the clock used is a 40-second play clock that starts right after the previous play ends. With certain delays like penalty enforcement, the offense has 25 seconds leeway from when the ball is marked for play. Media time-outs may also be called.

Overtime is played if the scores are a tie at the end of the 4th quarter. In NFL rules, overtime period is 15 minutes and played in “sudden death." This means that the team that scores first by any means wins the game.


A field goal is counted as 3 points. This is when the ball is kicked and reaches the goal posts in the opponent’s end zone. A touchdown is worth 6 points, and this is when a player manages to cross the goal line with the base possessed legally. A try is worth 1 or 2 points. In NFL rules, when the ball is spotted at the 2 yard line, the team is given one play to earn points.

Fouls and penalties

Football is a sport with rigid contact among players. There are many rules written to balance offense and defense, to ensure equality, safety, and allowed contact and actions of both team’s players. An elaborate system to determine fouls and impose corresponding penalty is established. In the NFL rules, “no penalty may move the ball more than half the distance towards the penalized team’s goal line, except in three conditions: defensive pass interference, intentional grounding, and offensive holding.

Fouls that may be committed by the offense include false start, illegal motion, illegal shift, and illegal formation. The penalty for these is five yards from the previous spot. Delaying the game, illegal touching and ineligible receiver is also penalized by 5 yards. Intentional grounding in NFL rules is penalized by ten-second penalty.

Offensive pass interference is penalized by ten yards from the previous line of scrimmage. Illegal forward pass is meted out with five yards and loss of one down. Holding, the illegal use of hands or arms while blocking, is penalized ten yards. Illegal block in the back is ten yards. Clipping, blocking below the waist, and tripping are penalized by 15 yards.

Fouls that the defense may commit which includes encroachment, neutral zone infraction, delay of game, and running into the kicker are each penalized by five yards. Illegal use of hands is penalized by five yards in NFL rules. Personal foul or safety-related infraction is penalized 15 yards and a first down.

Either team can commit a foul such as staying offside; penalty in NFL rules is five yards. When there are 12 or more players in the field after the ball is snapped, this is called substitution infraction or illegal participation, and is penalized by five yards. When a coach or a player on the sidelines is spotted on the edge of the field, first offense is five yards and second call is 15 yards. Conduct or safety related infraction is a personal foul penalized by 15 yards. Unsportsmanlike conduct is a non-contact foul, and in new NFL rules, it is defined as “prolonged and premeditated celebrations" with a penalty of five yards.

A team whose player takes off equipment is penalized five yards. When an illegal person comes to the field to prevent a player from scoring, such violation is penalized by awarding the deprived team with the score.