Surviving the Super Bowl : Answers

Ok people, it’s the moment of truth! How did you do on the Surviving the Super Bowl quiz yesterday? Find out below!

1. What’s a snap?

  1. That noise you make with your fingers and thumb
  2. The button thing on your vest
  3. The exchange of the football from the center to the quarterback
  4. The exchange of the football from the quarterback to the center

While 1 & 2 are valid answers, a snap is what happens at the beginning of every play when the center transfers the ball to the quarterback.

2. What’s a drive?

  1. A collection of plays that results in the scoring of a touchdown
  2. A team’s complete collection of plays during one possession of the football
  3. When a defensive player tackles the quarterback
  4. The way a team travels from the hotel to the stadium

Teams can expect to have about a dozen offensive possessions, or drives, per game.

3. There are 6 players on offense who stay constant, 5 who are interchangeable. Which of the following is a constant on offense?

  1. Tight End
  2. Center
  3. Wide Receiver
  4. Running Back

The right and left guards, right and left tackles, center, and quarterback are the players who remain constant on every offensive play. The tight ends, wide receivers, and running backs are interchangeable and arranged in personnel groups.

4. Which of the following is NOT an offensive lineman?

  1. Right Guard
  2. Left Tackle
  3. Center
  4. Linebacker

5. What does the phrase “3 and out” mean?

  1. A team did not convert on it’s first 3 downs and has to punt
  2. A team has 3 players out on injury
  3. A team is sending 3 wide receivers running out routes down the field
  4. A team did not convert on it’s first 3 downs and is kicking a field goal

If a team doesn’t gain 10 yards on their first 3 downs and is deep in their own territory, they’ll likely punt it away on 4th down. This process is called a “3 and out.”

6. It’s 2nd and 12 at the offenses 30 yard line. Which yard line do they need to reach to earn a first down?

  1. The 40 yard line
  2. The 42 yard line
  3. The 20 yard line
  4. The 18 yard line

2nd and 12 means that the offense needs to gain 12 yards for a first down. Since they’re at their own 30 yard line, they’ll need to reach their 42 yard line to earn a new set of downs.

7. A team has 4 chances, called downs, to gain 10 yards. So why wouldn’t most teams run a play on 4th and 1 from their own 20 yard line instead of punting it away?

  1. It’s against the rules
  2. They’re going to kick a field goal instead
  3. They have to punt at least 10 times per game
  4. They’d be risking turning the ball over to the other team and putting them in scoring position

If a team goes for it on 4th down and doesn’t convert, they have to turn the ball over on downs to the other team. That means that the other team will begin it’s drive right where the offense left off. If the offense left off at their own 20 yard line, that means the other team, now on offense, would be within 20 yards of the end zone and therefore very likely to score if the ball were turned over on downs.

8. The two sections of defense are:

  1. The defensive starters and the defensive backups
  2. The defensive front and the defensive backs
  3. The defensive offense and the defensive defense
  4. The defensive red zone and the defensive end zone

The defensive front consists of the defensive tackles, defensive ends, and linebackers. The defensive backs are the cornerbacks and safeties.

9. Which of the following players does NOT play in the defensive front?

  1. Ends
  2. Tackles
  3. Linebackers
  4. Safeties

Safeties play in the backfield with the cornerbacks.

10. The single tackle in a 3-4 system is called the:

  1. The front tackle
  2. The main tackle
  3. The nose tackle
  4. The head tackle

The one ridiculous answer in this quiz that is actually true: the sole tackle in a 3-4 system who plays in between the defensive ends is called the nose tackle.

11. The defensive backs are also known as the:

  1. Primary
  2. Secondary
  3. Tertiary
  4. Quad Unit

The DB’s are called the secondary because they are the second section of defensive players.

12. The defense brings 8 players into the box. What type of play are they anticipating?

  1. Punt
  2. Field Goal
  3. Run
  4. Pass

Lots of players up front = running play. Lots of players spread out in pass protection = passing play.

13. One linebacker goes out, one defensive back comes in. What package is the defense using?

  1. Penny
  2. Nickel
  3. Dime
  4. Quarter

If two linebackers were swapped out for two DB’s, it’d be a dime package. You’ll rarely see a quarter package (a swap of 3) and a penny package doesn’t exist.

14. Kickoffs occur:

  1. At the beginning of the first half
  2. At the beginning of the second half
  3. After scoring plays
  4. All of the above

The coin flip, however, only happens once, and determines who kicks the ball off first and who defers until the second half.

15. It’s 4th and 1. The offense is on the defense’s 20 yard line and decides to kick a field goal instead of going for it. What will the total field goal distance be?

  1. 2 yards
  2. 20 yards
  3. 30 yards
  4. 37 yards

Ball at the 20 + 10 yards of end zone + 7 yards lined up behind the tee = a 37-yard kick, total.

16. What does it mean to “go for 2″?

  1. Run a 2-pt scoring play instead of kicking for an extra point
  2. Run 2 players into the end zone and have both of them score separate touchdowns
  3. Kick a field goal for 2 points
  4. Kick an extra point for 2 points

If a team needs to even or exceed the score late in the game, they’ll likely go for 2. 

17. When can a team go for 2?

  1. After an extra point
  2. After a field goal
  3. After a touchdown
  4. After a kickoff

A team can only go for 2 after scoring a touchdown, in place of kicking a 1 point extra point.

18. If a team is down and needs to get the ball back quickly, what type of kick might they try?

  1. A kickoff
  2. An onside kick
  3. A fair catch kick
  4. All of the above

If you need more information about the thought process and execution behind onside kicks, check out this post.

19. True or False: Offensive and defensive players can also play on the special teams unit

  1. True
  2. False

True! Sometimes a few of a team’s best offensive players play on the special teams unit as punt returners, like wide receiver Wes Welker.

20. True or False: You are SO PREPARED to Survive the Super Bowl!

  1. True
  2. False

SO TRUE! You can absolutely survive the Super Bowl in fine form with all of this information under your belt. You’re going to love watching the Super Bowl this year! Have fun!

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Surviving the Super Bowl: The Basics of Special Teams (2013 Edition)

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It’s hard to imagine that often times all of the complicated scheming and hard-fought battles between offenses and defenses are ultimately decided by one guy’s leg…but more often than not in a close game, that’s exactly what happens. It all comes down to a kick.

There are five types of kicks to be aware of, and you’re probably familiar with most of them:

1. Kickoffs: Kickoffs happen after scoring drives and at the beginning of each half. A coin is flipped at the beginning of the game to determine who kicks off first (the winner of the coin toss gets to decide whether they want to kick off first (and therefore play defense first) or defer to the second half (and therefore play offense first), a decision entirely based on strategy, not whim).

2. Punts: Teams punt the ball away when they have reached 4th down and don’t believe it wise (or possible) to try and get the extra yardage they need to get to the first down marker. (We talked about punts in more detail in the 4th down section of the basics of offense post, if you need a refresher.)

3. Field Goals: If a team is near the end zone and can’t score a touchdown in 3 downs, they’ll likely kick a field goal on 4th down. Field goals are worth 3 points. You might have noticed that the distance from the line of scrimmage to the end zone and the distance from the line of scrimmage to a field goal are different. You’re right! If a team is at the 30-yard line on 3rd down, they’ll be kicking a 47 yard field goal attempt, not a 30 yard field goal attempt. That’s because 17 yards are added to the distance to account for the 10 yards of end zone (the goal post is at the back of the end zone) and the space between where the line of scrimmage is and where the kicker lines up (7 yards away). (Need more help? Check out this post.)

4. Extra Points: After a team scores a touchdown (6 points), they line up to kick an extra point (worth…you guessed it: 1 point!), for a total of 7 points. Barring a penalty, extra points are kicked from the 2-yard line. If a team is behind and needs to catch up or even/exceed the score, they might “go for two” instead of kicking an extra point, which means that instead of kicking an extra point after a touchdown, they’ll line up at the 2-yard line and try to get the ball in the end zone. If they do, it’s worth 2 points.

5. Onside Kicks: If a team is down by a lot of points late in the game and is slated to kick the ball off to the other team, they might attempt an onside kick to regain possession of the ball and try to score more points on offense. You’ll notice an onside kick attempt quickly and easily because the teams stand much closer to each other than they do for normal kickoffs. In an onside kick, the ball is kicked low to the ground and travels like a skipping rock. It must travel at least 10 yards, but the kicker will try to keep it as close to 10 yards as possible to give his team a greater chance of recovering the ball, since the other team is lined up closer than usual and has a greater likelihood of reaching the ball first. (For much more on onside kicks, see this post.)

6. Drop Kicks: Drop kicks happen every once in a blue moon (literally), but are important to know about because they can easily catch the opposing team off-guard. As defined by the NFL rulebook, a drop kick is ”a kick by a kicker who drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground.” A team can drop kick a field goal or an extra point, but they can also drop kick a fair catch. A player signaling for the fair catch of a punt can receive the punt and then drop kick the ball in a field goal attempt.

All of the kicking plays described above are executed by the special teams unit – an ironically named bunch seeing as how they usually get the short end of the respect stick. But special teams can truly make or break a season for a team. Have you ever seen a complete momentum shift after a team that was down returns a kickoff for a touchdown? That’s all special teams. How about when a team misses an opportunity to go to the playoffs due to missed field goal in the final seconds of the game? That’s special teams, too. It’s the unit that is either a team’s best friend or worst enemy.

The special teams unit is responsible for any play that involves punting or kicking. The placekicker and the punter are specialized positions specifically for the special teams unit. Those players only play on special teams. But guys who play on offense and defense can, and usually do, have a role in special teams as well as a roll on offense or defense. Wes Welker, who is going to the Super Bowl with the Broncos this season, had a long history as a productive member for both offense and special teams for the Patriots. Ditto: Chicago’s Devin Hester (although Hester primarily shines in special teams). More often than not, though, rookies and second-string players are relegated to the less-than-glamorous positions on the special teams units because they haven’t earned playing time on offense or defense yet.

And there you have it! Tomorrow we’ll have a final review (hint: a quiz) to make sure you’re 100% ready, but if you’ve made it through the offense, defense, and special teams posts over the past few days, you are well on your way to Surviving the Super Bowl! Way to go!

(Do your own touchdown dance. Come on, just do it! You know you want to.)

Surviving the Super Bowl : The Basics of Defense (2013 Edition)

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Ok people, here we go for Round 2! If you survived yesterday’s post, today should be no problem.

The (Basic) Basics of Defense

Defense is usually perceived as the unit that tries to stop the offense from scoring. And while that is one of the most important things they do, their primary goal is to score. Defenses score by taking the ball from the offense and scoring points off of those turnovers (read more about turnovers here).

Let’s talk about who’s on the field and what they generally do:


A standard defense gets divided into two sections: the defensive front (7 players) and the defensive backs (4 players).

The Defensive Front

Defensive Tackles (DT): The defensive tackles play on the inside of the defensive line (the line of players directly across from the offensive line). In a 3-4 system, as pictured above (3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers), the defensive tackle is the player in the middle and is called the nose tackle. Don’t worry too much about the specifics, just know that the defensive tackles are in place to stop running plays as well as contain the offensive linemen in front of them (or him, if there’s only one tackle in place).

Defensive Ends (DE): The defensive ends play on the outside of the defensive line. If the offense runs the ball, the defensive end on the side of the run needs to stop him. If it’s a passing play, the defensive end will usually rush (run at full speed) the quarterback in an attempt to sack him (tackle him to the ground).

Linebackers: There are several types of linebackers – you can learn more about the Mike, Sam, and Will linebackers in the glossary. What’s important to know is that linebackers are the team’s best tacklers; they are responsible for guarding against both running and passing plays.

The Defensive Backs ( also known as the “secondary”)

Cornerbacks: Cornerbacks generally line up near the line of scrimmage directly across from the offense’s best wide receivers. You’d be right to wonder why they are called cornerbacks and collectively known as defensive backs if they play up front with the defensive front. You’re not crazy – that’s a legit question. Here’s the deal: as soon as the ball is snapped, the cornerbacks will backpeddle and take off running toward the backfield to cover the wide receivers who are also running in that direction (toward the end zone). So cornerbacks line up in the front of the formation, but in a split second they’ll be sprinting to the backfield, waiting to make a play on a long ball.

Safeties: Safeties generally play towards the inside and can move up to the front or to the back depending on their position. The free safety (FS) usually lines up the farthest back and defends the deep middle of the field against passing plays. His goal is to break up the pass or intercept the ball. The strong safety (SS) defends against the run and the pass; he lines up closer to the front of the formation, usually covering the tight end. (General Note: whatever side of the formation the tight end lines up on is called the “strong side” because he’s an extra player added to that side, which is why the safety covering the tight end is called the “strong” safety. See, it all connects!)

Putting It All Together:

So you know who these guys are and what they do. Now it’s time to translate that to what you’ll see this weekend while watching the games.

In general, you’ll rarely see a defense as straightforward as the one diagrammed above. It’s pretty vanilla. But you can easily tell what kind of play the defense is anticipating  just by where all of the players are lined up, even if you’re unsure of who’s who in a complicated formation. It couldn’t be easier.

Are the majority of players bunched up toward the front of the line? The defense is expecting a run. Remember when we talked about 8 in the box? Anytime the defense brings more than the standard 7 players into the box (the part of the field where the linemen and linebackers play), you can be fairly sure that the defense is either planning on blitzing the quarterback or stopping a running play. (And remember – the cornerbacks don’t count. They’re outside of the box, on the edges of the formation.)

Are the majority of players spaced out in the backfield? The defense is expecting a pass. The defense usually employs specific packages for this type of situation. In a nickel package, a linebacker is taken off the field and an extra defensive back is put in (because there can only be 11 players on the field for each unit at all times, so they’d have to swap players in and out). In a dime package, two linebackers are taken out and two defensive backs are put in. The more defensive backs, the more chance the defense has of breaking up a pass or intercepting it.

And if you’re thinking either scheme leaves the defense vulnerable in one way or another – you’re right. If everyone is up front expecting a running play, the offense might be tempted to try a bomb downfield. If everyone is spread out in pass coverage, the offense might have an opportunity to run through an obvious hole up front. It’s always a gamble – but that’s what makes football so much fun to watch!

Does all of this make sense? If you have any questions, leave ’em in the comments and I’ll be happy to help!

Surviving the Super Bowl : The Basics of Offense (2013 Edition)

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It’s back and better than ever! We are going to survive the Super Bowl – and on more than good snacks alone! This is your essential guide to what’s happening on the field (which may actually be a welcome relief from the deluge of Super Bowl coverage of all things off the field). Today we’ll talk about offense, defense tomorrow, special teams on Wednesday, with a quiz and answers on Thursday and Friday just for all of you overachievers in the crowd.

Ready? Let’s get started! It’s going to be fun! (No, really. I promise.)

The Basics of Offense in 4 Simple Points That Won’t Make You Pull Your Hair Out

1. The offense is the team in possession of the football. 

When you’re watching the game, you’ll recognize the offense as the team that has the football and is trying to move it down the field to score. You’ll see the quarterback take the snap (the exchange of the football at the beginning of the play) from the center and either run or pass the ball. That team is the team on offense for that particular drive (drive = the total collection of plays for the team on offense during their current possession of the football). (Don’t you feel wiser already? And it only gets better from here!)

2. The offense has 6 players that never change and 5 who change frequently (but always, ALWAYS, 11 players on the field at all times).

There are six consistent players for the offense: the quarterback, who leads the offense by throwing or handing off the football, and the offensive line, which consists of five players who protect the quarterback so he has time to do something with the football and open up running lanes for running backs to go through. The other five players are a combination of skill position players: running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. Running backs are the guys who get the ball handed off to them and try to barrel down the field while holding onto the football. Tight ends can either run or catch; they’re the most versatile of the skill players. Wide receivers are the ones who run down the field and make spectacular catches. These five players are sent out in different combinations based on the type of play the offense wants to run. (To learn more about these combinations, check out these two posts on personnel groups.)

3. In general, you can identify offensive players by where they are lined up on the field.

Here’s a basic offensive formation:

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The offensive line is the line of 5 squares. From left to right, you’ll find the left tackleleft guard, center, right guard, and right tackle. Directly behind the center is the quarterback, who will take the snap from the center (the center is the one who has his hand on the football at the beginning of the play and transfers it to the quarterback – an action known as “snapping” the ball). The yellow triangles are the skill position players. The running backs (RB) generally line up in the backfield near the quarterback. The tight ends (TE) usually line up close to the offensive linemen. Wide receivers (WR) line up on the outsides of the formation, near the line of scrimmage (the imaginary line where the play starts from).

4. The offense has four chances, called “downs,” to advance the ball ten yards. If they do, they receive a new set of downs and the opportunity to continue trying to reach the end zone to score.

Don’t give up on this part before we start! Even if the whole first down thing has confused you in the past, you’ll be able to learn it quickly and easily today. This is the hardest part, but if you can add and subtract at a 1st grade level, you can learn this, no sweat.

You are already familiar with the terminology. You’ve heard TV commentators talk about “3 and outs” and “1st and 10″ and “4th and long.” Here’s what all of that means:

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.

Stay with me! Here’s an example!

Let’s say the offense is starting their drive 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 move further 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.

The first play is called “1st and 10,” because it’s the offense’s first down (chance) and they still have 10 yards to go to get a new set of downs. Let’s say they hand the ball off to a running back and gain 3 yards. The next play would be called “2nd and 7,” because it’s their second chance and the running back gained 3 of the 10 yards needed for a new set of downs, so the offense still has 7 yards left to go before they earn a new set of downs. 10 – 3 = 7. See! 1st grade math! You can do this!!!

Ok, so it’s now 2nd and 7. Since the offense started at the 20 yard line, we know that they are now at the 23 yard line because they gained 3 yards on the last play. Let’s say the quarterback throws a quick pass out to a wide receiver who catches it and gets tackled at the 25 yard line. It’s a 2 yard gain. So what’s the new down and distance?

It you answered 3rd and 5, you’re right! It’s now the offense’s 3rd chance, and they’ve gained 5 total yards (3 on 1st down, 2 on 2nd down), so 10 – 5 = 5 yards left to go.

So it’s 3rd and 5. The quarterback drops back to pass, but he doesn’t find anyone open. He sees a small hole and keeps the ball himself, trying to run through the hole to gain at least 5 yards. But he’s tackled at the 29 yard line. He only gained 4 yards.

The new down and distance? 4th and 1.

Are you still with me? Because we’re going to make things a little more complicated now that we’ve reached 4th down. Re-read that last section again and then meet me at the next paragraph.

Ready? Let’s move on to 4th down!

When a team reaches 4th down, it’s not as simple as trying one last try to get a first down. If the offense tries and fails on 4th down, they surrender possession of the football right where they are – no kicking or punting – to the other team. So in this situation, if the offense were to go for it on 4th and 1 at their own 29-yard line and the quarterback throws an incomplete pass for no gain, that means the other team would take over at the offense’s 29 yard line, giving them excellent field position to score. They’d already be within field goal range and aren’t even 30 yards away from the end zone. Unless a team is desperate, you’d rarely see an offense “go for it” on 4th down when they are so deep in their own territory.

What you’d normally see in this situation is the offense punting the ball – kicking the ball to the other team – to start the other team’s new possession. This is what we call a “3 and out.” The offense tried to advance the ball 3 times, failed to get a first down, and then had to punt the ball away.

Let’s switch things up for a moment and pretend that the offense isn’t on their own 29-yard line, they’re on the other team’s 29-yard line. In that situation, the offense has two options on a 4th and 1 play: they can try for a field goal, which would be kicked from the 46 yard line (read this for the lowdown on actual field goal distance), a fairly standard field goal attempt. But the offense might also try to go for it on 4th down to try and gain the one yard they need for a new set of downs. This makes sense for two reasons: 1. If they make it, they’re in great field position to try and score on the next set of downs. 2. If they don’t, the other team gets the ball right where they are, on the offense’s 29-yard line, which isn’t giving them too much of an advantage in terms of field position.

Let’s review. When 4th down comes to call, a team has these 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.

5. Enjoy the game!

You now know the basics of offense. You know who’s on the field, what they’re trying to do, and what all of the numbers mean. You know that the yellow line isn’t just for esthetic appeal, and know how important it is to the progression of the offense. But when in doubt? Just enjoy the athleticism and competitive greatness on the field. In my opinion, there’s nothing better.

Questions? Comments? Victories? Confusions? Leave ’em in the comments below and we’ll take care of one and all!

The 12 Posts of Playoffs : 1 Winner

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Now that the conference championships have been decided, we know the representatives from each conference: the Broncos will be representing the AFC and the Seahawks will be representing the NFC. This is weird because both teams were the #1 seeds for their conference. #1 vs. #1 in the Super Bowl happens practically never.

The Broncos and the Seahawks will face off at MetLife Stadium in NYC next Sunday to determine an ultimate winner. Which conference is most likely to come out on top? It’s a pretty even split. Since the merger in 1970, the NFC has won 25 titles and the AFC has won 22. It’s truly anyone’s game!

Next week is entirely devoted to getting you ready for the Super Bowl. The Surviving the Super Bowl Series is back and better than ever! Starting on Monday, we’ll go over the Basics of Offense, the Basics of Defense, the Basics of Special Teams, and have a quiz to test your knowledge. Then we’ll preview the Super Bowl with everything you’ll need to know about game day.

It’s going to be a wonderful week.

See you all on Monday!

The 12 Posts of Playoffs : 2 Conferences

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The NFL is split into two halves, called conferences: the AFC and the NFC.

Here’s how that works:

There is one league, the National Football League.

I feel like we’re about to say a pledge.

Ok, so one league. And as we just said above, there are two conferences within the National Football League: the AFC (American Football Conference) and the NFC (National Football Conference).

Quick history lesson: the NFC and the AFC used to be the NFL and the AFL (kind of, with different teams) – two separate leagues. True story. Long story short: the AFL joined the NFL in 1970 and the two become one, the NFL. (Now it really sounds like we’re at an official ceremony.) Though changes have been made to the teams and the divisions within each conference since the merger in 1970, the current setup has been in place since the 2002 realignment.

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled programming

Each conference (AFC and NFC) has four geographic divisions: North, South, East, and West. 4 teams x 4 divisions x 2 conferences = 32 teams.

Here’s a handy visual if you need one:

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