What He Said : 3 and Out

football, 3 and out, advanced

Have you ever been watching a game and the announcer said something to the effect of, “And the Vikings are going to go 3 and out”? (No offense, Vikings fans; I picked a team at random. Kind of.) You may have thought that statement was a piece of complicated football jargon, but it’s not! It’s actually really simple and makes a lot of sense once you figure out what it means – as per all of football. Let’s dive in!

Do we all remember everything we’ve learned about downs? Let’s review just in case we need a refresher:

Once the offense starts their drive, they have four chances, called “downs,” to move the ball 10 yards from where they started (this place is called “the line of scrimmage”). Each play is then calculated by what chance (down) the offense is on and how many yards they have left until they reach 10 yards total. Once they reach or exceed the 10 yards in one set of downs, they get a new set – four more chances to move the ball 10 more yards. The calculation of what down it is and how far they have left to go is called the “down and distance.”

Let’s say the offense is starting their drive (current offensive possession) on their own 20-yard line (a very common occurrence). The ball will be placed on the 20-yard line, and the imaginary line extending from the ball to both sidelines is the line of scrimmage. The offense needs to reach or exceed the 30-yard line, which means they’ve gained at least 10 yards total from where they began (at the 20-yard line), over the course of the next 4 downs to receive a new set of downs and therefore another opportunity to advance down the field and score. You will know how far the offense needs to go to gain a new set of downs thanks to the magic of technology: they need to reach or exceed the bright yellow electronic line on the field, which indicates how far the offense has to go to get a first down.

Ok, so let’s keep rolling with this scenario to talk about going 3 and out. Let’s say the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back on first down and he gets pummeled before making any progress. He is down at the 20-yard line, so the new down and distance is 2nd and 10 (because it’s their second chance and they still have 10 yards to go). On the next play the quarterback hands the ball off to another running back…who is also pummeled before making any progress. Down and distance: 3rd and 10. On 3rd down, the quarterback throws a pass out to a wide receiver who can’t make the catch. That’s an incomplete pass, and it’s now 4th and 10.

4th down is when everything changes. The offense has 3 options:

1. PUNT. This happens most often when a team is on their own side of the field (the 50 yards connected to their own end zone) or fairly close to it.

2. KICK A FIELD GOAL. This happens most often when a team is within field goal range (30-50 yards is typical length for NFL kicks) and doesn’t want to give the other team the ball where they currently are. (Although it should be noted that if the offense misses the field goal, the other team gets the ball at the spot of the kick (not at the 4th down line of scrimmage), unless the kick is from the 20 yard line or closer, in which case the other team would get the ball at the 20 yard line.)

3. GO FOR IT. This happens most often when the yardage is short (4th and 1 or 4th and inches) and the team believes they can either convert (get the 1st down) or hand the ball over on downs without sacrificing too much field position.

In our scenario, the offense is on their own 20-yard line. That means they have 80-yards of field to cover before they reach their opponents end zone. A field goal is out of the question; it’s way, way too far of a kick. Going for it would be a desperation attempt. If they don’t get the first down, they hand the ball over to their opponent and put them right in scoring position, 20-yards outside of the end zone. The only reason they would choose this option is if they are way behind late in the game. Let’s assume that it’s only the 2nd quarter. In this situation, the offense would more than likely choose to punt: kick the ball away to the other team to start a new drive.

If a team punts on 4th down on their FIRST set of downs, it’s called going “3 and out.” Why? Because they were unsuccessful in their first 3 downs, and they’re using the 4th down to go “out” or off the field by punting. It means they barely got out there before needing to punt and get off the field again.

It’s important to note that anytime a teams punts on 4th down after 3 unsuccessful attempts is NOT a 3 and out. So if a team has successfully converted downs during their current drive – let’s say they advanced from the 20-yard line to the 47-yard line over the course of two sets of downs – and decides to punt after 3 unsuccessful attempts, it’s not a 3 and out. Anytime the offense has earned a new set of downs on their current drive, punting on 4th down can no longer be considered going 3 and out because they had a successful conversion prior to the punt.

So, to review:

Punting on 4th down after 3 unsuccessful attempts on the FIRST set of downs = 3 and out.

Punting on 4th down after 3 unsuccessful attempts after the first set of downs = just a punt. 

Got it?

What Just Happened? : Jets Game-Winning Penalty

There was a penalty involving “pushing” called during a failed field goal attempt in the waning minutes of the Patriots at Jets game on Sunday afternoon, a penalty that directly resulted in the Jets getting significantly better field position and kicking a closer field goal for the win.

So, what happened? Isn’t “pushing” happening on every play?

No. And yes. But not legally. But let’s talk about it.

During the play in question (a field goal attempt) one of the Patriots’ defenders came from behind and pushed another Patriots defender forward into the offensive line. The goal of this action is to break through the offensive line and disrupt the kicker. The NFL rule used to be that defenders couldn’t come from the second level – linebackers or defensive backs behind the defensive line – and push a fellow player forward. The new rule, which made it’s stunning and game-deciding debut yesterday, is that no player can come from behind and push another player forward. It’s a safety issue. The penalty was called as unsportsmanlike conduct for pushing (15 yards) and put the Jets in much better field position to kick a game-winning field goal, which they did.

The irony in this situation (other than having an NFL penalty called for pushing, which seems funny to me considering the much more violent acts that routinely occur on a football field) is that pushing frequently occurs on the offensive side of the ball, even though it’s illegal there too, and it is never, ever called. Case in point: every quarterback sneak ever played. There are always players pushing the quarterback forward in that scenario.

That being said, the safety issue is much more apparent in the field goal situation than it is in the QB sneak (or any offensive pushing) situation. So it was kind of like the Patriots got caught going 46 mph in a 45 mph work zone. It’s more dangerous than speeding in regular traffic, but no one is going to call you out on it. Until you get a speeding ticket. And technically, a mile over the limit is still breaking the law. That’s pretty much what happened to the Patriots on Sunday. It was a tough break for them since this all went down in overtime, but it was still a good call.

Make sense?

What Just Happened? : Peyton’s Naked Bootleg

That isn’t what it sounds like. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Sunday afternoon’s Broncos at Cowboys matchup featured one of the most epic Peyton Manning touchdowns in a long career of epic Peyton Manning touchdowns – except this one was his first rushing (or running – same thing) touchdown in 5 years. As I mentioned on Sunday, I felt like my eyes might fall right out of my face due to the overabundance of enthusiasm and adoration and sheer adrenaline.

football, advanced, bootleg

So, what happened?

Watch this.

That play is called a naked bootleg, and Peyton ran it to perfection…in slow motion.

A bootleg is a play in which the quarterback runs behind the offensive line, in the same direction they are moving, before running outside of the offensive line in an attempt to break down the field and gain as many rushing yards as possible.

A naked bootleg is the same play, only the quarterback runs in the opposite direction of the offensive line before breaking down the field for as many rushing yards as possible – or, in Peyton’s case, a rushing touchdown.

It was a thing of beauty. A thing of beauty that almost made my eyes fall out.

Wait…What Happened? : Offsetting Dead Ball Fouls

football, advanced, packers, niners, refs

We did a bunch of these posts last season, and I’m bringing them back again this season because I found them really helpful! I hope you do, too!

Each week, something weird happens in an NFL game. So each Tuesday, we’ll review what happened and break it down in Normal Girl terms. This time around the bend we’ll be talking about the snafu with the refs and the Packers over the weekend.

And it’s not even 2012!

Somehow, someway, the Packers always seem to be on the bad end of a bad call by an officiating crew – regular, replacement, the guy next door – doesn’t matter! These calls have a way of finding the Packers. It’s a hoot.

In this edition, the Packers had a hand in their own demise. Let’s recap the situation:

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews body slammed Niners QB Colin Kaepernick to the ground…out of bounds. That’s clearly going to draw a flag for unnecessary roughness. The unfortunate move by Matthews ignited the fury of Niners offensive lineman Joe Staley, who had a few choice words for Matthews on the sidelines (who, honestly, had it coming, and probably should have been flagged again rather than Staley). That was enough for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the 49ers. Having two penalties of certain kinds (but not all kinds) can be like multiplying two negative numbers: they negate each other. It’s called having “offsetting penalties,” and that’s what happened on Sunday: Unnecessary Roughness (15 yards) x Unsportsmanlike Conduct (15 yards) = offsetting penalties.

So the refs replayed the down – meaning that everything was reset as it was before the penalties – the Niners were back at Green Bay’s 10-yard line, 3rd and 6. And Kaepernick proceeded to throw a 10-yarder to Anquan Boldin. Touchdown Niners.


Mike Pereira, ruler of all things officiating, commented during the game that offsetting penalties on dead ball fouls (penalties that occur when the ball is not in play) should result in a loss of down, not replaying the down. So because Kaepernick gained 4-yards before getting WWF’d by Matthews, it should have been 4th and 2 from the Green Bay 6-yard line. Which likely would have meant a field goal try for the Niners, not a touchdown attempt.

Head official Bill Leavy acknowledged the mistake after the game, and another acknowledgement from the NFL a year too late could also be forthcoming.

But, as noted above, the Packers had a hand in creating this situation. For one, the hit by Matthews never should have happened. They deserved to be penalized for that – even if it was by a bad call. Also, football is like life: you do your best with the hand you are dealt, whether it’s “fair” or not. The Packers defense was to blame for allowing the proceeding TD to Boldin, not the bad call. The kicker is that the play that caused all the hoopla never would have happened if Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had declined the penalty from the previous play (a 5-yard illegal formation call on the Niners). If he had, it would have forced the Niners into a 4th and 1 (the next down) rather than the 3rd and 6 (5-yard penalty, replay down).

Coach McCarthy was none too pleased with the prospect of discussing the aforementioned decision making sequence:

“We went for third-and-6. Obviously, the play went into another sequence of plays where there were two fouls called. I don’t really think that even factored in the game. So if that’s your criticism, then that’s fine.”

And really, the man’s got a point. Again: football is like life. The what-if’s will drive you crazy if you let them.

But really…what does a team have to do to get a good call around here?!

Film Room : Four Types of Screen Plays

And you thought you had it made with just two types of screen plays on Monday!

You’re in luck – today the guys at ESPNU are breaking down 4 types of screen plays frequently used in college football, but you’re likely to see them run in the NFL from time to time, too.

First things first – why is a screen a good idea?

Because it takes pressure off of the quarterback. Even though the offensive line lets the defense invade their territory, the quarterback has plenty of time to get the ball out and a much bigger window in which to throw it into now that the defense is focused on reaching him, not the receiver.

Just a few key notes on each pass reviewed:

Bubble Screen:

  • An inside receiver who bubbles back and up to receive the pass
  • 3 x 1 set = 3 receivers on one side, 1 on the other
  • The two receivers on the 3 receiver side block, and the bubble receiver now has an open lane to run through

Tunnel/Jailbreak/Slip/Wide Screen:

  • The outside receiver will get the pass; the two inside receivers block
  • The receiver catches the ball just outside of the tackle box
  • The goal is to run up inside the middle of the field for gain

Base Slow Screen:

  • QB drops back and sets and the tailback fakes a block
  • The inside of the line pulls (moves) over to the other side to block for the rusher
  • QB “sugars” the defense – tricks the defense into blitzing him

Dual Screen:

  • Tunnel screen on one side, base screen on the other side
  • The QB has options depending on what the defense does

Not too bad, right?

Film Room Field Trip : Earl Thomas as Single High Safety

Ok, I’m going to make you guys work for today’s film room post. You’re going to have to follow links to get to the actual “film” part. And there’s to be no complaining because a) it’s not hard to do and b) I’m not enough of a rebel to knowingly post illegal footage on my website, so you’re supporting a good cause.

Today we’re going to learn how to find the single high safety through the excellent work of Seattle free safety Earl Thomas. He’s all kinds of crazy back there – due largely to the fact that Pete Carroll is all kinds of crazy when it comes to developing defenses. The Seahawks were hanging out near the bottom of the pile of the league’s best defenses before his arrival; now they live at the top of the list.

Earl Thomas is their resident single high safety when they use that coverage (and most of the time, they do). Take a look at two of the great interceptions he made last season: Here, a Pick 6 against the Bills, and here, in a comeback attempt against the Falcons in the playoffs.

He comes out of nowhere to pick those passes, right? Exactly. Let’s figure out how to find him using his interception against the Redskins in the Wildcard round. Watch the pick here, and then watch it again and again and again.

So where did he come from?! Let’s take a look from an overhead perspective. Here’s the first look the Redskins see as they approach the line of scrimmage:

football, advanced, safety

The Seahawks are so good with this they aren’t even trying to disguise it. They’re going to run the single high and they’re going to beat you with it…and you’re going to know it’s coming the whole time.

Taking a look at that screen shot might give you a bit of sympathy for quarterbacks trying to read the defense when contrasting it with this screen shot:

football, advanced, safety

Oh yeah, people are moving and shaking. Except for Earl. He’s still back there taunting you as the single high.

Let’s see if anything changes once the ball is snapped:

football, advanced, safety

There’s a bit of movement, but mostly everyone is set. And it’s blindingly clear who’s hanging out up top as the single high. Earl!

Here’s a question: just from what you see on the field, is this Cover 1 or Cover 3?

One high safety playing zone with three defensive backs playing man up front = Cover 1! (If that’s clear as mud – have no fear. We’ll go over how to figure out who’s on the field and what they’re doing with one simple trick in next Monday’s Fundamentals post.)

Let’s take a look at the actual interception:

football, advanced, safety

See how Thomas is closing in from the inside? We can tell he’s coming at the ball from the middle of the field as the single high safety. And see how Brandon Browner, 39, is defending from the outside? He was the defensive back on the line playing man against the wide receiver.

Once you have the foundation of Cover 1/2/3 and man vs. zone, finding the single high safety isn’t hard at all. Can I get an amen?!