Basic Rules

Australians seeing the game for the first time often feel confused as Gridiron is a highly technical game. At a glance it looks like an incomprehensible mass of players dressed in armour, engaged in a stop-start game. It is anything but, and once you have the simplest grasp of the rules and the roles of the players, you will quickly find yourself becoming just as excited and involved as any American fan.

The Important Stuff….How to win the game!

To win the game, one team must score the most points. To score points, a team must kick the ball over the cross bar of the goal post or carry the football across the opposing team’s goal line. Scoring is as follows:

TOUCHDOWN – 6 points

The offensive team must cross their opponent’s goal line while in possession of the ball.

CONVERSION – 1 point (Kick) or 2 points (Pass or Run)

After a touchdown the offense has another chance to score from the 3-yard line. They can place kick the ball through the goal post or they can pass or run over the goal line.

FIELD GOAL – 3 points

The offensive team may place kick the ball from anywhere on the field behind the line of scrimmage. The ball must go between the goal posts and over the uprights.

SAFETY – 2 points

The defensive team tackles an offensive ball carrier in their own end zone.


The aim of the offense is to score points. To do that they must maintain possession of the ball. The offense gets 4 chances(called “DOWNS”) to progress the ball 10 yards forward. If they do, they will start at the first down again, and have another four more downs to move the ball forward 10 yards. This continues until they score or fail to move the ball the required 10 yards and turn the football over to their opponents.

Before each down, the offense goes into a huddle – a team meeting on the field. The Quarterback tells the team the play for that down. The team is told all the details for that play, including who gets the ball, whether it’s a run or a pass, when the ball will be snapped, and to what side of the line the play will occur.

There are a variety of player combinations (called “FORMATIONS”) that the offense can use to move the football down the field, and Coaches will vary the formation depending on the defense, the Down and field position. A basic Formation includes –

    • five players (two “TACKLES”, two “GUARDS”, and one “CENTRE”) who run in front of the ball carrier prevent the defense from tacking him, or drop back a step and form a wall to protect the Quarterback on passing plays.
    • three players who are eligible to catch a pass. The Receiver closest to the Offensive Linemen is called the “TIGHT END” while the two closest to the sideline are called “WIDE RECEIVERS”.
    • two players who are the work horses of the team. The “FULLBACK” is like a freight train, able to move straight ahead and carry most of the opposing team at the same time. The “TAILBACK” is the speedster on the team who takes the ball wide on running plays.
    • he is the Field General and the starting point for the majority of plays. He will take the ball from the Centre, and either hand it to a Running Back or pass it downfield to a Receiver.


The defense must stop the offense from getting the needed 10 yards for a first down and from scoring. The defense has two basic assignments, to tackle the runner and to break up the plays. A tackle is made when the ball carrier’s knee touches the ground, in the grasp and hold of a defender, or his forward progress is stopped and he is unable to move.

As with the offense, the defense can use a variety of formations to achieve their goals. The defense is made up of “DEFENSIVE LINEMEN”, “LINEBACKERS”, and “DEFENSIVE BACKS”, all of them trying to tackles the offensive ball carrier and give their team a chance to score.

Simply put, the defenders work to cover the offense while the offense tries to beat the defensive coverage.