Performance with a purpose is the key in every level of football, the ultimate team sport, when breaking down an opponent’s blueprint. A team’s base structures are like chromosomes. These chromosomes are duplicated several times, and can be divided in a numerical measurement process called down and distance.
Let me start with the basics and bring you forward. There are four downs or plays given to the offense, in which they have the opportunity to advance the ball ten yards. Each down is named; First, Second, Third and Fourth. A down begins when the ball is snapped from the LOS (line of scrimmage). If the offense is unable to advance ten yards in three downs, generally the offense will punt on third down, or if fourth and inches they could go for the remaining distance on the fourth and final down. For the offense, the goal is to maintain the possession of the ball. The ten yards is controlled and measured by “yard sticks” or referred to as the Sticks or Yard Maker. This measurement tool has poles attached at both ends of a 10 yard chain. After the ball surpasses the 10 yards, the term First Down is used, the yard sticks are advanced downfield and movement is established or continued until a score (TD or Field Goal), the offense punts the ball away (depending on field position), or a turnover occurs (Interception or fumble). Once the 10 yards is achieved it is called a First Down, and thus begins another possession or series.
Down and distance is a very important structure of the game of football. While the offense works to deceive the defense, the defense works to stop the offense with pressure tactics. Let’s breakdown terminology of each down or structure.
First and ten; First down and ten yards to another first down, the beginning of a new possession. Second and Five; Progress was made on first down, leaving the offense with five yards to gain until another first down is achieved. Similarly, second and ten, third and two with several other scenarios. Third and short, is an offensive dream down. With the defense guessing run or pass, third and short allows the offense the options to their complete playbook. Third and long; Third down is the most strategic down at all levels of football. Offenses don’t have a lot of options on third and long, where defenses usually bring pressure with blitz packages and man coverage. Fourth and one, or fourth and inches to achieve a first down is an exciting down. Offenses only attempt fourth and inches when extremely desperate, the game is on the line, or wants to send a statement to the opposing team, their own organization and players.
This brief break down just skims the top of understanding down and distance. This part of the game of football is the biggest and most strategic structure and the key to understanding the game lies deep inside down and distance.