A Geeks Guide to American Football (Or that stuff happening in front of the new Star Wars trailer)

So, our “fearless” leader (he’s afraid of squirrels, folks, can you believe it?) asked me to write this article for good ol’ Ace of Geeks. Those clever little bastards over at Disney have decided to debut the final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens during half time of this evening’s Monday Night Football game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. Many of us geeks, in a desire not to miss a single second of the trailer, will be inclined to tune in to the game, and may find themselves not having a clue what’s going on. I’m not saying that all geeks don’t watch sports. Hell, I’m a giant nerd, but I still love my New England Patriots. They’re sort of like the Empire, but only because they’re better than everyone else, and they annihilate their competition while maybe, sometimes, but never really been proven to have a casual relationship with the rules of the game. Speaking of rules, let’s get down to business, so you can maybe tell the difference between a run formation and a nickle defense!

The game is played on a field 100 yards long, with an End Zone (no, not like the Phantom Zone. Or the Negative Zone. They are very different) at each end of the field, with a goal post sticking out at each end. Each team has 53 players on their game day roster, with 11 starters each for offense, defense, and special teams (kicking field goals, punts, and kickoffs). The other 20 players fill out specialist roles and can substitute in and out in case of injury or if another player needs a break. Each team takes turns on Offense and has 4 tries (or downs) to move the ball ten yards while the opposing defense tries to stop them. You can do this by passing the ball forward to an eligible receiver (a team is only allowed to have five receivers on the field at any time) or running the ball with a running back. However, on 4th down, the offense can (and usually does) kick, or punt, the ball away, making it more difficult for the opposing team to march down the field towards their end zone.  A team scores by getting the ball in the end zone, which earns them 6 points (I don’t know why, so don’t ask) and the scoring team then has the chance to either kick a short field goal for 1 extra point, or run a play at the 5 yard line for 2 extra points. If the team can’t make it into the End Zone, they can try and make a Field Goal, which is a kick through the Goal Posts that counts as 3 points. Think of it as a big game of Warhammer, but without the orcs and the death but still the possibility for severe injury.

The game is played for 60 minutes broken up into four 15 minute quarters and a 15 minute half time in between the second and third quarters. Refs are there to call penalties and spot the ball at the end of a play.

The Quarterback is the guy who runs the offense, sorta the Captain Reynolds of the team. If he’s a good quarterback, he’s calling the plays and decides to either throw the ball to one of this receivers or hand the ball off to his running back. He’s protected by his Offensive Line which are the giant, scary looking guys that stand in front of their quarter back. It’s their job to keep the Quarterback on his feet or make room for the running back to run through. They, however, cannot tackle a person on defense, or grab him outside the numbers of the opposing players jersey. That’s a penalty called Offensive Holding and it forces the offense back 10 yards and they have to replay the down. The Quarterback can throw it to one of his Wide Receivers, players who typically only run downfield to catch the ball, his Tight End, usually a strong, tall guy that can also be asked to stay on the Offensive Line to block, or the Running Back if the play calls for the Running Back to catch a pass instead of run it. He cannot throw it to one of his lineman unless that lineman tells the referee he is eligible to catch a pass.

The Defense is made of up of three “levels”. No, there is no XP involved, so don’t get too excited. The first level is the Defensive Line. These guys are also big and scary and are the ones trying to stop the Quarterback or the Running Back by breaking through the Offensive Line and tackling one of the two. Tackling the Quarterback behind the Line of Scrimage (the spot of the ball where the play has started) is called a Sack.

The next level are the Linebackers. They are usually still big and scary, but more nimble and quick than the defensive line. That’s because they can either drop back and help defend against passes, or rush in to try and stop the runner or sack the quarterback. A good Quaterback will often try and point out the “Mic” for the offensive linemen, which is the linebacker he thinks is going to crash into the line and try and sack him.

The next level is called the Secondary. “But, Kyle,” you say, “Isn’t that the third level? Why is it called the Secondary?” too which I say, shut the fuck up, that’s why. The Secondary consists of Defensive Backs (or DB’s. Not douche bags, though it’s professional sports, and many of them are.) and Safeties. The DB’s try to defend the Wide Receivers (or Tight Ends if they are running out to catch a pass). They are kind of like TIE Interceptors, they need to be quick and nimble and be able to change directions quickly. Now they are allowed to hit the receivers, but not past five yards from the line of scrimmage.  This is illegal contact, it’s a five yard penalty and an automatic First Down. The DBs are also not allowed to grab the receiver to keep him from being able to catch the ball. This action is a penalty called Defensive Pass Interference, and it brings the ball to the spot where the penalty occurred and is an automatic first down. The DB can only try and hit the ball itself or tacks the Receiver as hard as he can to keep the Receiver from catching it. If all that doesn’t sound fair, then you’re right but it doesn’t matter because thems the rules so quit crying.

The safeties are the last line of defense. The Helm’s Deep of the offense, if you will. If a receiver or a running back gets behind the Linebackers and the DBs, it’s their job to cover them. Sometimes, a Safety will rush in to try and block the run or sack the quarterback, but it’s considered risky.

So, there you have it. Football basics. So now you can watch the Giants and the Eagles play, kind of have an idea of what’s going on, and then forget everything after the Star Wars trailer airs. Because after that, who really cares?


Kyle Johannessen
Kyle Johannessen is an award winning filmmaker from Boston, Massachusetts and is generally cranky. He’s also a bit of a masochist, often reviewing terrible movies for the sake of a good article. He also loves video games and can often be found exploring Skyrim on his PC or playing Halo for the 1000th time on his Xbox One.

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