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Top Ten Rules in American Football

Even a complete novice can start learning about the most popular football game in American right now. Check out these 10 basic American Football rules and regulations meant for complete beginners.

Mastering these ten simplified laws for gridiron football will help you understand the fundamentals. You will learn about the players, field markings, moving the ball, and the four different ways of scoring points.

NFL BASICS: We have summarized the complex National Football League regulations into short snippets.

So, it will only take a few minutes to read through the basics and absorb all the key tactics.

But, once you have mastered the rudiments of the game you can move to the next level. The main section lists the rules and regulations of American Football in greater detail.

You can use this section as the ideal introduction for learning how to play the game or to increase your enjoyment while watching as a spectator.

In fact, American football basics cannot be made any simpler. These 10 abbreviated guidelines are super easy to understand for newcomers and for absolute novices.

Spend a few minutes reading through these top ten rules in American Football. The 10 snippets will acquaint you with gridiron football American style. You can also study the official NFL Rule Book if you have more time.

So, here’s the step by step guide:

1. Teams and Players

Three units of players combine to make up a full NFL squad of 53 players. The offensive, defensive, and special teams units take turns to play on the field throughout a game.

But, neither of the two teams can field more than eleven (11) players at any one time during normal play.

2. Field Measurement and Markings

American Football is played on a field that measures 100 yards long by 53 yards wide. There is a 10 yard end zone situated at each end of the rectangular pitch.

The white line markings on the field help players, the officials, and spectators keep track of the movement up and down the field.

Note: You can learn more about the equipment for American Football in one of the advanced sections.

3. Starting a Game

A game begins with a coin toss and then a kickoff. The team with possession of the ball is the offense and the team without the ball is the defense.

The main role of the offense is to move the ball up the field and try to score points. Players can achieve this by either running forwards with the ball or by throwing it up the field for a teammate to catch.

4. Aim of the Game

The object of the game is for your team to score more points than the opposing team. The main thrust of play is trying to move the ball into the opponent’s end zone to score a touchdown (see scoring below).

5. Defensive Players

The main job of the defense is to stop the offense moving the ball forwards, by tackling them. This can include pulling them to the ground, stopping them moving forward, or forcing them off the field.

So, the defensive unit would enter the field when the other team has possession of the ball.

6. Duration of Play

The game contains 4 x 15 minute quarters to make a combined total playing time of sixty minutes. The team with the highest score at the end of the sixty minutes wins the game.

In fact, tied scores are rare in American Football, but overtime play would take place when it becomes necessary to determine a winning team.

Note: There are several different leagues and they have various rules regarding tied games.

7. Moving the Ball

Players achieve points by moving the ball down the field in a series of plays (called DOWNS). They can do this by passing the ball through the air or by running with it.

The offense must move the ball at least 10 yards downfield every four (4) PLAYS to keep possession of the ball. Doing so would earn the team another 4 downs to drive the ball toward the opponent’s end zone.

But, if the defense prevent them from making the 10 yards, the team with the ball must lose possession to the opposition or attempt to kick it between the upright posts (if close enough).

The offense is given four chances (DOWNS) to advance at least 10 yards. Moving the ball 10 yards, or more, means they retain possession of the ball and get another four downs to try and move another 10 yards forward.

8. Offensive Players

If the offense fails to move the ball forward 10 yards in the 4 downs, the ball goes to the defending team at that point. The defending team will then bring on their offensive players to try and move the ball in the opposite direction and score.

Specialist Unit

The specialist team players would come on the field when there is a kick involved. The quarterback is the most influential player on the field. Quarterbacks can choose to pass the ball up the field, hand it off to a teammate (e.g. to a wide receiver to run with it), or run with the ball themselves.

Note: You will most likely see an offense kick the ball away and up field on a fourth down if they do not advance. Doing so makes it more difficult for the other team to score.

9. Scoring Points

There are four ways to score points in American Football:

    The most common way to score is by a touchdown. It means a players has carried the ball into the end zone or it’s been thrown and caught. Scoring a touchdown is worth 6 points.

    Note: Unlike rugby union rules there is no need to put downward pressure onto the ground with the ball. Crossing the line with the nose of the ball is enough to score the points.

    Once a touchdown has been scored, you have the option of kicking the ball through the uprights for an extra point or trying to pass or run the ball into the end zone for an extra two points.

    Note: As a rule, most teams tend to play it safe and aim to get the one extra point.

    At any time, the team with the ball can attempt to kick it between the posts and over the crossbar. A teammate will hold the ball steady on the ground and wait for the kicker to make the kick. Converting a successful kick will score three points.
    If the defense tackles an offensive player behind their own goal line, the defending team would gain two points for a ‘safety’.

10. Common Terminology

And finally, the 10 basics of American Football finishes with some fundamental terminologies. Familiarizing yourself with these terms will help you understand the game better, whether you are watching or playing.


A fumble occurs if a ball carrier or a passer drops it. Any player can try to recover the ball by diving onto it. The team that recovers the ball after a fumble would get possession.


If the defense tackles a quarterback while in possession of the ball it is a ‘sack’ (usually resulting in a loss of yards).

Incomplete Pass

The referee would rule an incomplete pass if one intended for a receiver hits the ground first or is thrown out of bounds. A ‘down’ is wasted and play restarts from the spot of the previous down.


The referees will throw flags onto the field if a player breaks the regulations. The official will determine who committed the foul and how many yards to penalize the team.


An aggressive defense can regain possession of the ball by catching or intercepting passes meant for players on the other team.

Note: Gaining possession after fumble recoveries and interception allows the player to run into the end zone to make a touchdown.


Either team can choose to stop the clock to regroup, take a break, or discuss strategy. Teams can take three timeouts per half. Each timeout lasts 60 seconds and players will get a break of 12 minutes at the half time interval.

Note: We are developing a glossary of American Football terms full of phrases and definitions to enjoy.

10 Basic Rules of American Football Made Easy for Beginners