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A formation in football refers to the position players line up in before the start of a down. There are both offensive and defensive formations and there are many formations in both categories. Sometimes, formations are referred to as packages.

Offense

At the highest level of play in the NFL and NCAA, the one constant in all formations is the offensive line, consisting of the left and right tackle, left and right guard, and a center. These five positions are often referred to collectively as the "line", and have the primary role of blocking. By rule there must be two additional players on the line of scrimmage called ends. These players are eligible receivers and may play near the linemen (tight ends) or farther away (split end or wide receiver). Most teams play additional players near (but still off) the line of scrimmage to act as extra pass receivers.

Offensive positions

Up to four players can be behind the offensive line, but one is always designated the quarterback (defined as the player who receives the ball from the center). Upon the snap of the ball, the quarterback becomes the ball carrier. The ball carrier has five options:

The three other backs can be halfbacks (who primarily carry the ball), fullbacks (who primarily block), or they can play near (but not on) the line of scrimmage to act as extra tight ends or wide receivers. A tight end that fills the role as the 4th back is often called an "H-Back", and a wide receiver that fills that role is sometimes known as a "flanker" or a "slot" receiver (depending on where he lines up). Most formations have a "strong" side (the side with the tight end, or the side with more players) and a "weak side" (the side opposite the tight end, or the side with fewer players).

The ends, which may be either wide receivers or tight ends, may catch a passed ball or receive a handoff.

Descriptions and diagrams to display offensive formations typically use the following symbols:

Rules

The offense is required to set up a formation before a play, subject to several rules:

Defense

Two terms often heard in referring to defensive formations are box and secondary. The box is defined as an area on the defensive side of the ball, within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and framed by the offensive tackles. This area is most commonly occupied by defensive linemen and linebackers. The secondary can refer to the defensive backs as a group, or to the area behind the linebackers usually occupied by defensive backs. The two standard NFL defenses, the 4-3 and the 3-4, have 7 players in the box. The phrase "8 in the box" is used to indicate that 1 of the 2 safeties has moved into the box to defend against the run.

Defensive positions

The three basic defensive positions are:

Rules

Rules regarding defensive formations are not as complex or strict as their offensive counterparts. The defense may line up anywhere on its side of the neutral zone, and players are free to move at any time before the snap, but all defensive players must remain on their side of the neutral zone (defined as the length of the ball) before the snap. If they line up on the wrong side of the line, the offending players are offside. The exception is during a field goal attempt, PAT, or punt. The defense is only allowed a maximum of 6 players on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap. Having 7 or more players on the line on one side will result in an illegal formation penalty. The standard defensive formations in use at most levels of American football are the result of decades of experimentation, trial and error, along with rule changes in the 1950s that eliminated the one-platoon system and gave greater prominence to lighter, faster linebackers (prior to the 1950s, most defensive formations were mirror images of those used on offense).

A defensive formation with the "box" highlighted.
A defensive formation with the "box" highlighted.

This formation assumes the offense is lined up strong side right (from the offense's point of view). This diagram could be matched up to an offensive formation diagram to make a complete 22 player football field.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e "NFL Rules Digest: Positioning of Players at Snap".
  2. ^ "NFL Rules Digest: Forward Pass". nfl.com.
  3. ^ "NFL Rules Digest: Summary of Penalties". nfl.com.