How to Read Football Formations

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Football isn't a game that just involves tackling your opponents or running into the end zone for that important touchdown. Football is a game that involves a surprising amount of subterfuge and strategy. It is very difficult to have a player work his way through a line of defenders without first blocking them or tricking them into thinking you are doing one type of maneuver when you are really doing another. That is why you need to learn to read football formations, whether you are on offense or defense.

Things You'll Need

  • Football
  • Strategy
  • Football Players

Read Offensive Football Formations

  • Pay attention to what number of specific offensive linemen are on the field. This will give you the first indication of the kind of play that is about to happen. If there are four receivers on the field, it is almost guaranteed that it is going to be a passing play. If there are two receivers and two running backs, it could be a passing play or a running play.

  • Consider the number of downs as well as the distance required to receive a first down. If it is second and long, or if it is third down with 5 yards to go, it's likely that the offense is going to try a passing play to help increase the odds of getting a first down.

  • Watch to see if the offense takes up an "I" formation. The I formation refers to the a formation that has a single line of players running perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, right at the center of the line. This formation almost always ends up as a running play. Its purpose is to make it difficult to see which of the running backs actually receives the ball.

  • Check if the quarterback is in the shotgun. Shotgun refers to the position that has the quarterback standing roughly 5 yards back from the line of scrimmage, forming a pocket which gives him a little extra time to coordinate a passing play.

Read Defensive Football Formations

  • Look to see how many players are on the line of scrimmage. If there are four players on the line with three a little bit behind, then the defense is set in the 4-3, a standard defensive position, and one in which they have a good chance of stopping most plays.

  • Locate the positions of the cornerbacks and safeties. The cornerbacks and the safeties are the players tasked with defending against the pass, so if they are farther back on the field, they are expecting the receivers to go long.

  • Look to see if most of the players are on the line of scrimmage. If that is the case, the quarterback can expect the blitz.

Tips & Warnings

  • Relax and just pay close attention to how the other players are behaving. Trick plays are always a possibility so just trust your instincts and go where the ball goes.
  • Always wear pads and a helmet when playing tackle football. It is very easy to break a bone or worse if you're not adequately protected. You might also consider playing two-hand touch or flag football to keep things safer.

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