Let’s consider this scenario:
Your team has advanced pretty far down the field on offense. They are at the opposing team’s 20-yard line facing 4th down. They decide to kick a field goal instead of trying to go for it on 4th down, and it seems like a good decision since a kick from the 20-yard line is pretty much a chip shot. But when the kicker comes out for the field goal, the announcer says it’s a 37-yard attempt. And you’re thinking…What gives?! Where did those extra 17 yards come from?!
You’re not crazy. That’s a good question!
Here’s a good brain exercise: that field goal in the example above will, in fact, be kicked from the 20-yard line. But it will also be a 37-yard attempt. And while it would seem like this is more of the same football shenanigans we’ve seen before – things like imaginary lines and invisible boxes – it’s actually not.
The line of scrimmage doesn’t change for field goal attempts. But that’s where the offensive linemen are all lined up, not where the holder is. The holder – the guy who takes the snap and holds the ball in place for the kicker – is 7-yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Those are the first 7-yards. The other 10 come from the location of the goal post: at the back of the end zone, which is 10-yards deep. So the 7-yards behind the line of scrimmage where the ball is kicked from plus the 10-yards to the goal post in the back of the end zone account for 17 extra yards that are added onto every field goal attempt. Which makes that “chip shot” from the 20 still makable from the 37, but at nearly double the distance.
So your math equation for every field goal attempt is as follows: current line of scrimmage + 17 yards = actual field goal distance.
Check out this video to put all of the pieces together – the offensive line on the line of scrimmage, the holder 7-yards behind, and the goal post at the end of the end zone.
Quiz of the day: In the video, Matt Prater kicked a 53-yard field goal, which means that the Broncos 4th down line of scrimmage was at which yard line?
10 points if you guessed the 36-yard line! 53 – 17 = 36.
(And 10 more if you used a calculator to double check your 1st grade math, as I just did.)