Sunday, February 7, 2010

What's Going On In Between the Super Bowl Commercial: A Beginner's Guide- Part IV

Alright- it's game day! Time for a last minute crash course on penalties.

Penalties are what make a 60 minute football game last 3 hours. When a team does something that is against the rules, a penalty is called. If the team that committed the error is on offense, the penalty is, well, penalized as a loss of yardage. That means the line of scrimmage is moved backwards. There might also be a "loss of down." So, if the Saints are on a 2nd and 7 and there is a 5 yard penalty called, the result will be either a 2nd and 12 or a 3rd and 12- depending on the penalty. On the other hand, if the Saints are on 2nd and 7 and the Colts commit a 5 yard penalty, then the Saints would have a 2nd and 2 or a 3rd and 2, again depending on the penalty. So penalties committed by the offense make it harder to get a first down and penalties by the defense make it easier to get the first down. As I mentioned last time, some penalties result in an automatic first down.Others may result in a first down because the penalty adds enough yards that the team makes it to a first down.

With penalties, is important to watch the referees. During a play, if you see a yellow flag go flying, then you know there is a penalty. You can also watch the top of the tv screen which will also indicate that  flag has been thrown.  After the play is finished the camera will show the head ref indicate what the call is via a hand motion. He will indicate the call and then point in the direction of which team it is called on. Then they will confer with the other referees, come back on the screen, and announce over the loudspeaker what the call is and what the penalty is. The team that did not commit the foul has the option of turning down the penalty if it is advantageous for them (ex- if the actual play resulted in a touchdown but the penalty will result in re-playing the down, the team will opt for the touchdown rather than replaying the down) and the ref will announce that decision at this time, if applicable.

There are way too many penalties to cover now- so we'll go with a few for today that are more common.

Watch for these first three penalties at the start of each play.
1) Delay of game- indicated by the ref folding his arms in front of his chest- This happens when the play clock runs out before the ball is snapped. Teams typically have 40 seconds to line up and start a play. If they do not start a play before that 40 seconds run out, the penalty is a 5 yard penalty and the down is replayed.
2) False Start- indicated by a "wheels on the bus" motion. This occurs when an offensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped (play doesn't officially begin until the ball is snapped to the quarterback).  Also a 5 yard penalty and replay of down.
3) Offsides- the ref will put his hands on his hip- This is when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. It is the opposite of a false start. Also a 5 yard penalty- here against the  defense, so the offense will gain 5 yards.

4) Holding- ref will put one fist in front of his crest and grab the wrist of that arm with his other hand. This is pretty common and occurs when a player grabs another player (other than the player with the ball) in an attempt to ward off a block or protect a receiver. If committed by the offense, it is a 10 yard penalty. If committed by the defense, it is a 5 yard penalty AND an automatic first down.

5) Intentional Grounding- ref will swing his arms on an angle across his body and towards the ground. Essentially- when a quarterback can't find a open receiver to throw the football to and can't find anywhere to run to himself, he will sometimes throw the ball to no one to avoid being sacked. This is illegal if he is "in the pocket," which means the area between his offensive tackles.  This is a ten yard penalty or spot of the foul, whichever is farthest from line of scrimmage.

Actually- this is a pretty good start. If you feel comfortable with this, you can spend some time reviewing these pages- 

So- here you go- you are prepared for the Super Bowl. Feel free to ask any questions (or you can follow me on Twitter @kebhouse).  I'll be rooting for the Colts, since they are my favorite team. But I also went to school in New Orleans, so I'll be happy for the Saints if they win too! Who will you be rooting for?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What's Going on In Between the Super Bowl Commercials: A Beginner's Guide- Part III

In order to understand the basics play of football, you have to understand the downs system
First Downs
Now, if you are a complete beginner when it comes to football- pay very close attention. This is very important but it's also where it get's confusing.  In order to score like we discussed in Part II, a team has to move down the field to get closer to the end zone.  To do this, you have to get a first down. To get a first down, you must move the ball at least ten yards. You have four chances to go those ten yards.  If you don't, the other team gets the ball. Let's break it down-

Say the Colts get the ball on their own 30 yard line. (Remember from last time, that means they are on the side of the field that is closest to where the Saints need to be to score.) Thus, they have 70 yards to go to score. From the 30 yard line, they need to get to the 40 yard line to get a first down. They can do this by either running or passing the ball.

This is when you will hear the expression "first and ten." That means it is the first down and they have ten yards to go to get another first down. The ball is placed on the "line of scrimmage," in this case the 30 yard line, and play starts. Here's a simple example of what could happen:

1st and 10: The Colts could do a running play- Peyton will hand the ball to one of his running backs, who will run until he gets tackled. (We'll cover what exactly tackled means in a minute.) Let's say the running back makes it 3 yards from the line of scrimmage. In actuallity he will have run more than 3 yards, but the part that matters is how far he runs past that line of scrimmage. So in this scenario, he makes it to the 33 yard line.

2nd and 7: Now, we are on the second down and they have 7 yards to go before they get another first down. Let's say they run a passing play- Peyton throws the ball to a receiver who tries to catch the ball. (Again, we'll cover what constitutes a catch below). Let's say that the receiver catches the ball on the 37 yard line and is immediately tackled. That would be called a "gain of four yards."

3rd and 3: Here we are at the third down and the Colts only need 3 yards to get the first down. We'll go with Peyton throwing another pass that's caught on the 40 yard line and the receiver then runs another 3 yards for a total gain of 6 yards. This would be a first down. You'll know a first down has occurred when you see the referree turn in the direction that the play is moving and extend his arm straight out.

Once a first down occurs, the game clock stops temporarily for the "chains" to be moved. The Chains are two orange poles connected by a ten yard long chain and a third pole that has a number (one through four) at the top.  They are on the side of the field and indicate 1) what down it is, 2) where the beginning and the end of the first down area is, and 3) where the line of scrimmage is. So in our example, the first pole would be placed on the 30 yard line and the second pole would be on the 40 yard line. The third pole is moved along with the line of scrimmage and the number at top is changed to indicate what down it is. So, now the chains will be moved to the 43 yard line. More accurately, the first pole will be on the 43 yard line, the second will be on the Saint's 47 yard line (see what happend there- we crossed the 50 yard line and now the numbers are getting smaller). The third pole will have a one at the top and will be placed next to the first pole on the 43 yard line.

Alternative Scenarios!
Now, go back to our 3rd and 3. What if when Peyton threw the ball, no one caught it. That would be a gain of no yards. Now we are faced with a 4th and 3. At this point, the question is always will the team "go for it" or will they punt the ball.

First Alternative 4th and 3- "going for it"-  If a team does not manage to go ten yards in four downs, they are forced to turn the ball over. So, here the Colts can decide to "go for it" and try and get those three yards for a first down.  So, Peyton could hand the ball off to the running back who is immediately tackled for no gain of yards. That would mean that the Saints would have the ball on the Colts' 37 yard line and would only have to go 37 yards to score.

Now, in actuality, teams are not going to "go for it" on a 4th and 3. Especially not if they are only on their 37 yard line. If this had been a 4th and 1 or a 4th and inches (where there is less than a yard for the first down), then they might go for it. It really just depends on the situation- where the ball is, what the score is, etc.

So, if the Colts go for it and get it- great- that's a first down. If they go for it and miss, then the Saints get the ball and it's their turn to go for the first down. 

Second alternative 4th and 3- the punt- Now, more likely, in this situation, the Colts would choose to punt the ball. Here the "special teams" take the field and the kicker will come out and drop kick the ball to the other team.  A player from the other team will then catch the ball and run as far as he can before he is either tackled, runs out of bounds, or scores. Now the other team has the ball and it's their turn to try and get a first down.

Now the advantage to this over going for it and giving your opponent the ball that way is field position. In the first alternative, the Saints had the ball on the Colts' 37 yard line.  In this second alternative, the Saints will likely end up with the ball somewhere in their own territory- 50 yards or more from the end zone they need to reach to score. The result is the same- the other team has the ball, but the likelihood of them scoring is less.

On the other hand, had the ball  been on the Saints' 37 yard line instead of the Colts', then the team would have tried for a field goal instead of a punt.

To recap- 4 chances to move 10 yards or you lose the ball. Now, there are some exceptions to that- for example, some penalities have the result of an automatic first down, or there is the rare fumble followed by another fumble that results in a new first down, but these are exceptions that you shouldn't worry about right now.

Running and Catching
As we saw above, the basic way of moving the ball to get the first down or score is to either run or pass the ball.

Running- here the quarterback hands the ball off to one of his backs who will attempt to run the ball as far as he can. It's pretty simple. The player runs until he is tackled or until he is forced out-of-bounds. A player is tackled when an opposing player stops his forward movement or forces the player with the ball to touch the ground with one or both of his knees. The spot at which the player goes down is where the "ball is spotted" and is where the line of scrimmage is moved to. (If the quarterback is tackled while holding the ball, it is called a sack and usually results in a loss of yard- i.e., the line of scrimmage will move backwards.)

Additionally, if a player is running and any part of their foot goes out of bounds, then the play is over. Even if it is just a millimeter of shoe that is touching the white out-of-bounds line, then the play is over. The line of scrimmage moves to where the player went out-of-bounds.

Catching- the alternative to running the ball, is passing and catching the ball. Simply stated, the quarterback throws the ball and a player, likely a wide receiver, catches the ball. Just like in Part II when we discussed catching the ball for a touchdown, a ball is considered caught when the player has control of the ball AND both feet land in-bounds while control of the ball is maintained.

If the player fails to catch the ball, the player is "down" (his knees are touching the ground) when he catches the ball, or the ball touches the ground before the player catches it, it is considered an incomplete pass. This is indicated by the same hand motion as missed field goal- arms extended out and then waved back and forth.

Pass Interference-
However, sometimes the player doesn't have to actually catch the ball! Sometimes a "pass interference" will be called and the ball is treated as having been caught. I'll be honest with you, sometimes pass interferences still confuses me, but we can get through this together. ;) Let's start with the hand motion- when you see the ref extend his arms straight out, with his hands up and palms out, then you know it's a pass interference call. That's the easy part.

As for what qualifies as a pass interference- at it's simpliest, it is when a defensive player interferes with the offensive player's ability to catch a forward pass. So, say Drew Brees throws the ball to his wide receiver who is being covered by a member of the Colt's defense.  Essentially, all that the defensive player can do to stop the wide receiver from catching the ball is to try and catch it himself.  He can't push, shove, or block the receiver in an attempt to prevent the catch.  For the defensive pass interference to be called, you have to have 1) an eligible receiver (don't worry about what that means), 2) nobody can have touched the ball after it left the quarterback's hands, 3) the defensive player has to some how attempt to interfere with the offensive player's ability to catch the ball, other than catching or deflecting the ball himself, and 4) the pass has to have been catchable in the first place. If the defensive player appears to inadvertently contact the offensive player, then a pass interference is not called. Here are the rules on read at your own risk.  There is also offensive pass interference, but I wouldn't worry about that right now.

If a pass interference is called, the ball is spotted at the spot of the foul. So if Drew throws the ball from his own 35 yard line down to the 30 yard line on the opposite end of the field, where the pass interference occurs, that's a gain of 35 yards! If the foul occurs in the end zone, the ball is spotted on the one yard line. If the spot of the foul was less than the one yard line, then it is half the distance between the spot of the foul and the end zone. Additionally, it means an automatic first down.

So now we've learned about scoring and about moving the ball down the field.  In Part IV we will learn about penalties! In addition to runs and passes, another way to gain or lose yardage is through penalties by the defense or offense. Penalties are actually a lot of fun to learn about and once you get penalties down, your appreciation for what is going on in the game will increase dramatically. Then you'll be ready for the Big Game on Sunday!

Friday, January 29, 2010

What's Going on In Between the Super Bowl Commercials: A Beginner's Guide- Part II

In our last installment, we learned the Who, What, When, Why and Where of the Super Bowl. Now it's time to get down to the basics of The Game.

I'm going to teach you the basics of the game through the referee's hand signals. Once you learn what the hand signals mean, the game will suddenly make a lot of sense. Plus, you'll be able to impress your friends with your superior knowledge. Just trust me on this one.

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. As with most games, the team to score the most points wins. So how do you score those points? There are three basic ways to score in football:

1) Touchdowns and Extra Points,
2) Field Goals, and
3) my personal favorite, the Safety.

Touchdowns and Extra Points
When the Referee extends his arms straight up, like so, it is indicative that the team on offense has scored either by a touchdown, extra point, or field goal.  (If you have children, you will also recognize this motion for "SOOOOOO Big!" ) We'll get to field goals next, but for now let's focus on touchdowns and extra points. There are two basic ways to score a touchdown- running the ball and catching the ball.

Running the ball in
In the National Football League, you can score on a run if you are holding the ball and it passes into the end zone with you still holding it. What matters here is that the BALL enters the end zone.

And what does "entering the end zone" mean? Picture a football field.  Now- the area at each end of the field is called the "end zone." See that large white stripe around the end zone? Imagine that an invisible wall is rising up out of it. In football, we call that the "vertical plane" and once the ball penetrates the vertical plane, a touchdown has been scored.  Ball + end zone = touchdown! Easy enough, right?

Catching the ball in the end zone
Additionally, a player can catch the ball while in the end zone for a touchdown. For a catch to count, the playing must have control of the ball AND both feet must touch the ground inside the end zone. Both feet don't have to be touching the ground at the same time- the right foot can land and then the left, for example. Also, they just have to touch the ground. A ballerina-on-her-toes type of landing is perfectly acceptable. All that matters is that both feet touch the ground while the receiver has control of the ball.

So, if either of those things happen, the ref will do this, the fans will cheer, and the team will get 6 points!

Extra Points
After scoring a touchdown, the scoring team is given the opportunity to try for an extra point. Also known as a try or a p.a.t., point after touchdown. This is typically done as either a kick for one point or a two-point conversion for (shocking!) two points.  Most of the time, the team will opt for a kick rather than the two-point conversion.

With a kick, the team's kicker simply has to kick the football through the goal post, i.e. the large, yellow Y-ish-shaped thing at the back of the end zone. If the ball goes through the up-rights, as they are commonly called, then the team gets one point. This is a fairly easy way to score, so there is little risk involved in choosing this.

For a two-point conversion, the team essentially has to score another touchdown. The ball is placed on the two-yard line and the team either tries to run the ball or throw the ball into the end zone. It is riskier, but the reward is greater.  Obviously, there is strategy involved in whether to go for one or two points, but for now, just know that these are the two options you are likely to see.

Field Goals
When the team doesn't have enough time or can't get close enough to the end zone to score a touchdown, they can try for a field goal. This one is pretty easy- all you have to do is kick the ball through the goal posts, just like the extra point we just discussed. A team will usually attempt a field goal once they get to about the 35 yard line, give or take some. Obviously the closer the team gets to the end zone, the more likely they are to score. The farther away, the less likely they are to score.

A field goal is worth 3 points and a successful field goal kick is indicated by the same "so big" arms motion as the touchdown. If a field goal is missed, it is either called "wide right" (to the right of the uprights), "wide left" (to the left of the uprights), or short.  If this happens the ref will extend his arms out in front of his body and wave them back and forth.

The safety is rare, but it yields the best of the hand motions. A safety occurs when the defense tackles an offensive player who is holding the ball in the offense's end zone. Confused?  Yeah, it's confusing.

In football, the team that is on defense (trying to keep the other team from scoring) is guarding their own end zone. So if the Saints' are about to score a touchdown, it will be in what we call the Colts' end zone.  But in order for a safety to be scored, the offense has to be in their own end zone. So for the Saints to score a safety, the Colts would have to be on offense and the Colts' player holding the ball would have to be tackled in the Colts' end zone.  If a safety is scored, the ref will clap his hands above his head. I call this one the "genie in a bottle" motion.

Safeties are the result of strong defensive play in combination with the offense having bad field position. If that doesn't make any sense, it will soon enough. Hopefully. ;)

So there you have it- the fundamentals on how to score in a professional football game. You are now one step closer to understanding the game!

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's Going On In Between the Super Bowl Commercial: A Beginner's Guide- Part I

Ok- so I started this blog MANY months ago and never updated it, but NOW is the time! This will be the first in a several part, crash test in football. Everything you need to know to survive a Super Bowl Party!

Let's start with the basics- Who, What, When, Where, and Why

New Orleans Saints- This is the Saints' first Super Bowl appearance EVER. This is big news down in the bayou- expect to hear lots of stories comparing the Saint's trip to the Super Bowl with the city's recover from Hurricane Katrina.

You will also hear the expression "WHO DAT" a lot. This is the rallying cry of the Saints' and their fans- "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints." Surely, a proud moment for all English teachers in New Orleans. ;)

The Saints are quarterbacked by Drew Brees. The team is coached by Sean Payton. Also, for a pop culture reference, the Saints' running back, Reggie Bush, is dating the-famous-for-no-apparent-reason, Kim Kardashian.

The Saints started their season 13-0, before losing the final 3 games of the regular season. They defeated the Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs to make it here.


Indianapolis Colts- The Colts are making their second Super Bowl appearance in 4 years. The Colts are lead by Peyton Manning. If you haven't at least heard of Peyton Manning, you probably haven't turned on a t.v. in the last 5 years. And I say this with nothing but love for Peyton, but he does appear in pretty much every single television commercial ever and he hosted SNL. Peyton is the son of former Saint's quarterback Archie Manning and Peyton is from New Orleans. But, no fears, Archie has already said that he'll be rooting for his son's Colts to win the big game. Expect to hear about this approximately 3 dozen times during the big game. Also, you'll see video footage or photos of young Peyton in a Saints' jersey.

The Colts' head coach is rookie coach Jim Caldwell, who is only the 5th first-year coach to make it to the Super Bowl. The Colts started the season 14-0 before losing to the New York Jets in a controversial move by the head coach to pull the starters to avoid injury and rest before the playoffs. Many Colts fans were disappointed as the team had a good chance of going undefeated for the year. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only NFL team to have remained undefeated for the whole season, including the playoffs, so going undefeated would surely have been a great feat to obtain. The Colts defeated the Baltimore Ravens and the aforementioned Jets in the playoffs.

This match-up is exactly the kind of match-up that the Super Bowl should be. The two top-ranked team in their divisions (AFC and NFC) make it to the championship game. Additionally, they are the two teams to go farthest in the season without losing. Add in some great human interest stories and you've got yourself the makings of a great game.

Super Bowl XLIV (that's 44 for those who don't remember your roman numerals)

Sunday, February 7th at 6:25 pm, EST, on CBS

Sun Life Stadium,* Miami, Florida (Though the NFL is calling it "South Florida," I guess this is to make more of the state feel like they are included.)

*Be surprised if anyone other than NFL officials or CBS commentators call it Sun Life Stadium. More likely to be referred to as Joe Robbie, Pro Player, or Dolphin Stadium.

It was in this same stadium that the Colts won their last Super Bowl in 2007. The old Baltimore Colts won Super Bowl V in the Orange Bowl Stadium, also in Miami. Will history repeat itself?

The winner takes home the Vince Lombardi Trophy, bragging rights, and probably lots of $$$. This is what it all comes down to.

In our next installment, I'll start teaching you the basics of the game. If nothing, you'll come out of this with a basic understanding of the game to survive a Super Bowl party without dozing off in between the commercials. Hopefully, though, you'll come out with a greater appreciation of the game.