Why Is There So Much Math in Football?

Understanding Downs

1st down and 10,  2nd and 5,  3rd and 15 !?!?!!?! 4th and FORGET IT! Why is there so much math in football?  I think the most important concept for us ladies to understand in order to enjoy watching and talking football is DOWNS. Don’t be intimidated if quick math isn’t your strong suit. Downs are easy to understand, and this key will unlock the entire game for you! So, 1st and 10 here we go!

We’ve all heard, “FIRST DOWN!” But, why is that first down so important? And why are there so many first first downs during a game? Shouldn’t there only be one? Or at most, one per team?


The football field is quite large, and the offensive team (the team with the ball) has a huge task to move the football from one end of the field, all the way across the goal line on the other end of the field. Therefore, the progress is broken up into 10 yard increments. The offensive team has 4 DOWNS (or tries) to move the ball forward 10 yards.


If the offensive is successful, they get another 4 tries to move the ball another 10 yards. If they do not succeed, the other team takes over possession of the ball.


This familiar site is the 1st down marker. It marks the exact line the ball must cross in order to achieve a new 1st down (and thus keep possession of the ball).

Because the other team will take over possession of the ball if the offense does not reach the 1st down marker on its 4th try, you usually see the offense PUNT (kick) the ball. The offense will often choose to punt the ball far away on its 4th down try because they do not want to give the other team good field position.  However, sometimes, you will hear “They’re going for it!” This means, the team is taking the risk on 4th down and trying to get the ball past that 1st down marker.

Extra Points:

  • The offense can gain or loose yards in its attempt to march down the field toward the goal.
  • You know a player is “down” or that the play is “dead” when the referee blows the whistle.
  • If a quarterback throws the ball and no one catches it, the ball is returned to the previous line of scrimmage (no gain or loss of yards).
  • If a team is penalized (the referee throws a flag), it can affect a gain or loss of yards.


Category: Football Popular