You’ll learn all about the vocabulary of American football in this video. I’ll teach you how to understand the basic rules of the game, show you how to pronounce the key American football terms and help you feel confident speaking about American football with native speakers.
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Chances are you know all about football and you love it. But how much do you know about American football? In this video we’re going to sit down with my husband David who’s an expert on American football and we’re going to learn some vocabulary terms about football and also a little bit about the game.
Last year, I was posting about football a little bit more than normal because our team, the Philadelphia eagles, won the super bowl. So I was posting about it on instagram and this kind of thing. And some people wrote to me and said: I find American football so confusing. I live in the US, people talk about, it I’d love to know a little bit more about it. So I thought let’s make a video. So here we are, in the fall, beginning the football season. So David, can you sort of step me through a little bit about the game? Now unfortunately, or fortunately, the NFL, they’re very good or very tight about their own footage so I can’t put in footage of different plays in this kind of thing. But we’ll do our best to describe what’s going on and we’ll also talk about some interesting things that happen with the pronunciation of some of these words and phrases.
So let’s start where the game starts and that’s with a kickoff. And that is when one team kicks the ball almost the entire length of the field, the other team catches it, and they run as far as they can. Now, not to get picky here but is that really the beginning of the game, or is the beginning of the game a coin toss?
>> Yes, that’s picky.
>> But it’s also true?
>> Before the game…
Well, it’s true. Before the game, there’s a coin toss to determine which team is going to receive the kickoff and which team is going to kick off. So they all go out onto the middle, cause this doesn’t happen in soccer, does it?
A coin toss happens in soccer?
Well, then everyone already knows that term.
I don’t know if it’s a coin toss. I mean it was when I was a kid. That’s how it got determined. Like in the world cup, what do they do? I would guess there’s still a coin toss. Because sometimes, there may be an advantage with the wind, or with the angle of the light where you may want to be at one end of the field for the first half or the second half.
So whoever wins the coin toss gets to choose. You can choose whether they want to start with the ball or whether they want to choose which end.
Okay. So you’ve kicked off the ball to me, I’ve run it down to the field; your guy tackled me, what’s next?
So the whole point of football is to score as many points as you can. And the way to score the most points is by scoring a touchdown. And a touchdown is where you have the ball and you cross over the other team’s goal line, into the end zone, we’ll talk about those two words in a bit, but a touchdown is worth six points that’s the most points you can score with any play in football.
So yeah, it’s interesting to know that in football, different ways that you can score points get you a different number of points. So you want the big one. You want the touchdown.
Okay, so the first three words we’ve gone over: kickoff, touchdown, end zone. These are all compound words. A compound word doesn’t have to be a single word; it can be two words together. And in a compound word, stress is always on the first word.
So, touchdown. I also want to point out with end zone. End zone. What do you notice, David? The d disappeared. Right. So we often drop the d when it comes between two other consonants and I listened to a whole bunch of examples online of people saying this phrase. No one says the d consonant. So this is a case where we would definitely drop that
D, just connect the n right on to the z. End zone.
So, what exactly is the end zone? Well, the end zone is the ten yards that extends past the rest of the field to play a football. American football field is a hundred yards long.
And then on each end, there’s an additional ten yard area and that’s the area that you have to get into. That’s the end zone. That’s the area that you have to get into in order to score a touchdown.
Okay. So you can either run into the end zone, or you can catch a ball in the end zone, make sure your feet are inside that end zone line.
In order to get your points.
So I’ve received the kickoff but I haven’t scored yet. I’ve run down, I’ve gotten tackled, and it’s time to start playing again. What happens?
Right. So you are going to try to go down the field in a series of downs. So ‘down’ is a way to say a number of plays. Um, a down is the start of action and then the action ends on that play. So this is a big difference from what the rest of the world calls football. In American football, there’s this constant starting and stopping. There are individual plays, whereas international soccer, is marked by this constant flow of play. And so it’s a big difference.
So in American football, you have this series of downs, you get four downs, or four plays, to try to get ten yards. If you can make it ten yards you get a fresh set of downs, meaning that you get four more downs, and now go that next ten yards.
You start over.
And you go from however far you made it. So let’s say you didn’t just make ten yards, which you made 25 yards, then my next try is from that spot, and you get four tries, or four downs…
To try to move ten yards again. Now, if you don’t… If you don’t get it, what happens?
So if you get to your fourth down.
>> Mm-hmm. Last try.
And you feel like you’re too far away to make it that additional yardage to get to that 10 yard mark, you can choose to either punt the ball, meaning you’re going to give the ball back to the other team. Or if you’re close enough to the end zone, you might try to kick a field goal.
Ok let’s first talk about the punting. So that’s when you don’t think you’re close enough to make a field goal, but you want to punt it, which means kick to get it as far away as you can for the other team. So you’re not just giving them the ball, you’re like: okay I’m going to give it to you but I’m going to knock it as far away as I can from where you want to be.
You want to back the other team up as far as you can. And punting is different than a kickoff, right? Because in a kickoff, you’re…you place the ball on a little tiny tripod.
Just like in golf. And for a punt, you drop it from your hand and kick it.
Right, so you’re actually kicking the ball out of the air after you’ve dropped it.
Okay. Now would there be two different players who would do those two different kinds of kicks?
Yeah. They’re almost, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it be the same person.
So specialized, isn’t it?
You’re going to kick this way, we’re going to call you that.
Exactly. The punter and the kicker. So, actually, yeah. You never say kicker for the person who punts, that’s the punter.
So that’s, that’s the one case where you’re at your last try but you can’t make a field goal. Now if you think: I might be close enough to make a field goal. That’s only three points, but it’s better than none and what is a field goal?
So if field goal is when, again, this is the ball being kicked off the ground, someone holds it for you in this case, it’s not on a tee.
Someone holds the ball and you try to kick it through the uprights. So the uprights are those big giant u-shaped things at the end of each end zone.
Goal post, another word.
Goal posts. And what you try to do is kick the ball between them.
So if you’re able to kick the ball between those goal posts, you get three points.
Okay. Half a touchdown.
And then if you score a touchdown or you score a field goal, then the next play is you’re kicking it off to the other team. Exactly. It’s their turn to try to score.
You got it.
So we talked about downs as individual plays but another football vocabulary word is a ‘drive’, and a drive is a series of downs. So after you receive a kickoff, and you go down the field, and you are having a series of plays, that entire possession, the whole time that you have the ball, that’s called a drive.
Okay. So it’s from the time you receive the kickoff to the time you either score a point or have to punt.
Right. Or the other team gets the ball.
>> Right. We’ll talk about in a second.
>> Yes. We will.
Okay. So that’s a drive and I just want to point out with a d or a consonant cluster, it’s really common to pronounce that as JR. So rather than ddd– drive, its jjj– drive, drive. Wouldn’t you say that’s the more common pronunciation?
Yeah so let’s talk about the different ways that you can advance the ball. So the most basic way and I think sort of the oldest way… The way that the game kind of was invented was most of the time, teams ran the ball. So a running play is when the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, who then runs and tries to get as far as he can go. So within that is another vocabulary word which is handoff.
So the quarterback is going to hand off the ball to the running back, and that’s actually a pretty tricky time. It’s an easy time for the ball to be dropped, and if you’re handing the ball off, or anytime you’re running with the ball, if the ball falls to the ground, anybody can get the ball, the other team can get the ball, that’s called a fumble. A fumble is when the ball is on the ground and it’s loose, and that’s often times when you see a huge pileup of everybody because the ball is up for grabs.
So the handoff is different than a throw because I’m literally not letting go of it until you have gained possession. Right. It’s your direct possession to mine, there’s no oxygen there.
So the other way to advance the ball forward is by throwing it, and that’s when the quarterback drops back, meaning goes back a couple feet after getting the ball, and is going to throw the ball downfield.
If the ball is caught by one of his players, that’s a completion, or a complete pass, completed pass, and if it’s not, if the player drops it, that’s called an incomplete pass. Meaning that you tried to throw it but the ball hit the ground instead of being caught.
And there’s another thing that can happen when you throw the ball which is that the other team might catch it. They might jump in front of you and instead of your player catching the ball, the other team catches a ball that’s called an interception.
Interception. One other vocabulary word with throwing the football is ‘spiral’. Football is a really weird shape. You know it’s it’s like tapered on both ends and that can be harder to throw, it can wobble a lot when it’s thrown. So you want it to be a nice spiral which means it just spins this way. So the two points on either end, and it’s spinning like this, and it just makes a nice straight arc to your receiver, hopefully, hopefully not to the other team.
David, what about when the quarterback is going to throw the ball and he doesn’t get a chance to. I’ve seen this happen so many times.
The quarterback drops back and goes backwards, and before he can get rid of the ball, before he can make a pass, he gets tackled back in the backfield. And that’s called a sack.
Anytime that the quarterback loses yardage, goes backwards and is tackled before he can throw is a sack.
So a ‘sack’ is when you actually lose yards, you don’t get to just start again at where you were. If I’m the quarterback, and I get the football and I go back five yards looking for my guy, and someone from the other team comes out of nowhere and sacks me, then we have to start five yards back.
Okay, so the next word we’re going to talk about is huddle. So again, American football is broken up into distinct starts and stops. And so before
Each play, both the offensive team and usually the defensive team will huddle up.
That means that they get really close together before the play starts and they discuss what’s going to happen. The offense is talking about what play they’re going to run so that everybody knows what to do, and the defense is making sure that they have their defensive assignments straightened out so that everybody knows who’s defending which part of the field, or covering which person on the offensive side.
So this never happens with soccer? No huddles in soccer?
Um, sometimes when there’s a free kick. Sometimes a couple of players will sort of huddle up and talk. But for the most part, that happens at halftime than before the game.
Mmm-hmm. Whereas in football, it happens between every play.
So very frequently.
A recent innovation is for teams to do that less and less for offensive teams to huddle up less and less with the idea being that if you just run your next play without a huddle, it’s harder for the defense to keep up.
Because they didn’t get a chance to huddle.
So how are you communicating your play in that case?
The quarterback is often yelling things out or you may, before you come on to the field for that drive, you may script out five plays in a row that you’re going to run, and everybody knows it’s these five no matter the situation, here’s the five plays we’re going to run. So two more vocabulary words that come up and are sort of hard to understand, one is redzone.
So the redzone is the area twenty yards out from your opponent’s end zone. That means that you’re getting close to scoring a touchdown. It’s not actually red on the field but in in commentary, you’ll hear that phrase used, and it’s used because it means that the offense is getting close to scoring a touchdown. So what… What’s important about it is that if the offense gets that close, but can’t score a touchdown, that’s actually kind of a victory for the defense.
You’ll hear it said that the defense held them to a field goal. They were in the redzone but they were held to a field goal. It’s kind of a: yes, you got
Three points scored on you but they didn’t get in the end zone.
Didn’t score a touchdown.
They could have and they didn’t.
You know I’m thinking of one other term. After you score a touchdown, then well, two other terms, then you get a chance for another play to get one more point and that’s called an extra point.
Which basically means you have to score a second touchdown.
>> No, I’m wrong…
>> Well, no, you have to…
That’s a two-point conversion.
That’s a two-point conversion.
So when you score a touchdown, you get six points. Usually, you try to then score what looks like a field goal, but it’s called an extra point, and how far away are you for that?
The NFL just changed it, I think now, you’re ten yards away maybe for a kick.
>> So ten plus the end zone would be twenty yards away.
>> I think that’s right. Yeah.
Okay so after you score a touchdown, you’d get a chance to score again. Either at one point by kicking it through the goal posts, goal posts. Or you can do a two-point conversion, which means you’re going to score another touchdown either by running or by passing into the end zone. Then you get two points for a total of eight.
Yes. And one last term and that is special teams. So we’ve talked a lot about the offense and the defense, but then there are these other plays that are called special teams plays, and those are the kicking plays. And the reason it’s called special teams is because there are usually players who are focused just on those plays. So using the kickoff as an example, the special teams would come on to do the kickoff.
And it’s such a specialized skill that they have, you know, guys that are focused just on doing that.
Which I find crazy. So you have a football team with like a hundred people on it. And some of them literally only come out on the field for like two minutes at a time for a kickoff. That’s all they do, that’s all they know how to do.
15 seconds maybe.
And actually the way it works though is that the people on special teams are the backups to the other players. And it’s actually something that that teams use as a way to see who might evolve into becoming a regular player.
Um, you can kind of earn your stripes by being a solid special teams player. Earn your stripes. Great idiom. Means to prove yourself.
So David you grew up playing soccer. You love soccer.
You’re a huge NFL fan. If you had to choose, you can only watch one for the rest of your life, what are you choosing?
I would have to choose an American football, I guess.
Really? I am shocked. It’s hard because my… The teams that I’m passionate about are here.
I mean international viewers are going to know that major league soccer is just kind of okay.
Yeah, in the US, soccer, professional soccer hasn’t quite taken off the way other sports have yet.
Yeah, it’s made a ton of progress.
Yeah, I mean it’s, it’s a lot more robust than it was. It’s a strong league but it’s nowhere near the strong leagues in Europe and so that’s…
But… You know, I wouldn’t actually choose. I would tell you’re not allowed to make me choose.
Okay. Well, David thank you for explaining some of the rules and vocabulary terms of American football.
Now, make sure you come back next week, Tuesday morning, Eastern Time, because we’re going to sit down again and this time, we’re going to be talking about idioms that are relating to football.
We have so many idioms that come from sports that we use in everyday life, so next week you’re going to get the chance to learn some of those.
David thanks for being here with me.
That’s it guys, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.