Stupid sports questions that you should know but don't.

[li]Why does the punt returner always seem to be in the right place to catch a punt? Does he signal a “fair catch” if he knows he’s not going to make any progress? Is the fair catch rule in place to prevent injury?[/li][li]What are defensive play calls based on? What is “man coverage”?[/li][li]What is an “option”, an “audible”, and a “screen”?[/li][li]What is that thing referees wear on their right hands? It’s not a whistle… the whistle is on their left hands.[/li][/ol]

    • The punt returner will generally have enough time to get in the right place to make the catch while the balls in the air. And yeah, the fair catch is a way of saying, “I’m not going anywhere once I catch the ball, so please don’t hit me.”

2 - Not really sure what the defense keys on to call plays. I do know that “man coverage” is short for “man-to-man coverage” as in one defender per one offensive player in the secondary, as opposed to “zone coverage” in which defenders cover areas rather than players.

3 - “Option” is more of a college play, as far as I know, where the quarterback is running with the ball and he has the option of keeping on running, or pitching it to his running back. An “audible” is when the quarterback (or defensive captain on the other side of the ball) basically changes the original play that’s been called. Eg. running play is called but the QB reads a blitz and he “audibles” a “screen” play … which is when you throw the ball out to the sidelines to a receiver while other players (offensive line, usually) positions themselves to block for him. I’m sure there’s a better explanation for the screen play, but that’s it in a nutshell.

4 - No effing clue.

The punt returner is way the hell behind the line of scrimmage, with plenty of time to adjust his position to catch the ball. Sometimes, he’ll signal “fair catch” even with no intent of trying to catch the ball hoping to slow the coverage team to prevent them downing the ball inside the 20 yard line. An actual fair catch is intended to prevent injury/fumbles. Also think there is an oddball rule out there that allows a free kick from the spot of a fair catch. Don’t recall seeing anyone do that, though.

Defensive play calls will include counters to offensive adjustments as well as “stunts”, ie, when a lineman or linebacker takes an unusual, and hopefully unanticipated route upfield to disrupt a play. Man coverage is where a defender is responsible for covering a particular receiver anywhere on the field. Zone coverage is when the defender is assigned to cover only a particular area of the field.

An option is where the player has a choice. With a quarterback, the option could be to hand the ball off to a running back, or keep the ball, or throw the ball downfield.

An audible is changing the play at the line of scrimmage. For example, if the QB comes to the line, and sees the defense is bringing a blitz, and the play called in the huddle probably won’t work against that blitz, the QB can change to a different play that has a better chance of working.

A screen is a short forward pass, usually behind the line of scrimmage, to a receiver or back, protected by blockers, usually linemen, who “pull”–ie, run from their normal position to the area where the ball is going so they can block after the catch.

I think the referee thing is a counter, to keep track of downs, but I’m not sure.

  1. He moves into the right spot – he starts in the center of the field (from left to right), so it’s not a far sprint to where the ball is going. Yes, and yes – with a fair catch rule, a defender with good timing could remove a punt returner’s head on most plays.

  2. In the simplest version, it’s based on if the defensive coordinator thinks the play will be a pass or a run – but there are also dozens of variables – how much pressure to place on the QB vs. how much downfield coverage, etc. Man coverage is when defenders are assigned specific players to cover. The opposite of this is zone coverage, where defenders are given areas of the field to protect.

  3. Option: An play in which the QB can either pass, run, or toss the ball to a running back. Not used much in the NFL.
    Audible: When the QB changes the play at the line.
    Screen: In general, it’s when the QB throws a pass along the line of scrimmage. The pass doesn’t gain much yardage, but it can open up the receiver to make a big play.

  4. If I’m not mistaken, refs use that to keep track of the down.

  1. The first part takes some practice to see and track the ball, and sometimes they can lose it in the sun, but otherwise they just treat it like a really high pass. The answer is yes to the other two questions.

  2. Defensive calls are based on what the defensive coordinator thinks will give the best result against what he expects the offensive play will be. “Man coverage” is when each defensive back and linebacker is responsible for covering a single, particular offensive receiver (this includes tight ends and running backs), as opposed to zone coverage, where each of them covers an area. There can be mixtures of both.

  3. “Option” means the person will the ball can chose one of two or three options in what to do with the ball, either keep it himself or hand off/toss it to another. “Audible” is when the QB changes the call play after the offense is lined up, based on what he sees the defense doing, such as changing from a pass play to a run play. “Screen” is a type of short pass where a number of offensive blockers are already in front of the receiver when the pass is thrown; usually these are offensive linemen who have let pass rushers past them.

  4. That’s probably their down marker. A loop gets moved from finger to finger to note what the down is.

Punt returner starts back about where he thinks the punt will land - and has about 4 seconds to judge where the ball is going and go to get it. In high school and college, you’ll see them misjudge more often. By calling for a fair catch, you give up a chance at return, in trade for not getting hit while you catch it - it’s made with the coverage team bearing down, to avoid fumbles. Essentially.

[li]What are defensive play calls based on? What is “man coverage”?[/li][/quote]

Tendencies that the offense has used over the past, seen through scouting and observation at the game. IE - It’s 3rd and 1, they have two tight ends, a fullback, and a honkin big runningback, then you assume that it’ll be a run.
Man coverage means that each pass defender has an offensive receiver and tries to stick to them like glue, compared to zone coverage where the pass defenders work an area of the field.

[li]What is an “option”, an “audible”, and a “screen”?[/li][/quote]

Options are plays where there is a choice of who will take the ball. The quarterback will read a specific defender, to see what he’s doing, then make a choice that makes the defender have picked the wrong thing. A typical option is the QB running wide, with the RB behind and beside him. If the first tackler comes for the QB, he pitches it. If he cuts off the pitch, the QB takes the yardage - Georgia Tech is the best example of this you’ll see.
An audible is changing the playcall at the line based on what you see from the other team. Don’t run up the middle when everybody is there, call off the deep coverage when it looks like a run is called, etc.
A screen is a pass to a player behind the line who uses others to block for him at the catch. The offensive line holds the blocks for a instant, “gets beat”, then moves out to block for the receiver.

[li]What is that thing referees wear on their right hands? It’s not a whistle… the whistle is on their left hands.[/li][/quote]

Down indicator. Just so everybody is on the same page. (The umpire will generally have a second on his other hand to remember where the ball is spotted laterally between the hashes for putting it back in place)

  1. The punt returner knows roughly where the punt is going to come down before the play starts…about 40-45 yards past the line of scrimmage, more if the punter has the wind at his back, less if the line of scrimmage is closer to midfield. He’ll start out in the center of the field, and move as needed.

  2. Yes, the thingy on the ref’s hand is to keep count of the down. The finger that it’s looped around tells him which down is about to start. You’ll occasionally see a tight shot of a referee (usually after he announces a penalty) in which you’ll see him adjust the strap.

One thing about the option-- it’s a play designed with the QB running in mind. This makes it different than the NFL, where a QB also has “the option” of running, passing or handing off the ball-- the difference in the NFL is, the QB usually does all of this within the pocket, and only runs if it’s a “busted” pass play, i.e. he’s flushed from the pocket by the pass rush and has no receivers down field.

Aside: “play-action” is a faked handoff to a running back. It’s a bit higher risk in that the QB can fumble the ball and/or waste time in the pocket doing so, but if done well it can fake out the defense long enough for him to pass to an open receiver. BTW, this is one of the reasons why NFL teams run so many draw plays-- I had to explain to my GF why it wasn’t always a dumb idea to run for 2-3 yards up the middle; if you never run the ball, the defense will always play the pass, but running it up the middle keeps the defense honest, forces them to keep their line tighter (opening up plays on the sidelines), and makes the play-action that much more effective.

Anyway, back to the option: in college, you’ll see a QB run as an actual running back, or run a running back route in tandem/parallel with an actual running back, reserving the right to either pass (before the line of scrimmage), keep the ball and run as an RB, or hand off/toss to the RB running with him.

The reason you don’t see the “pure” option in the NFL is largely because NFL QBs are valuable things in the line of fire from very big men. You run the option in the NFL, you’re guaranteed to get your QB banged up if not actually killed on the field. In college, that sucks, but you play a backup; in the NFL, you just lost millions of dollars invested in your star player.

That said, we’re seeing a lot of the “wildcat” offense in the NFL these days-- while it isn’t an option play in the technical sense, it shares some things in common with it, primarily in routinely making the QB a more active player other than a pocket passer.

Personally, I’m all for it-- it makes football more interesting to have more variety of offensive plays.

Wasn’t there a thread on here last year about the original intent of the fair catch rule? It had something to do with being allowed to kick a field goal from a tee on the next play or something.

O/T, but had to say it: my GF is a big college football fan, while I’ve always been an NFL fan. I’ve taken to watching more college football, and the only kind thing I can say about it is the playcalling is far more inventive, whereas the NFL is more conservative.

Other than that, I can’t stand college football. Half the time one team on the field is there simply to lose (you don’t see a lot of 50-7 games in the NFL, not even with the Detroit Lions on the field). The other half of the time, you get two teams that, no matter how good they are, are still inescapably amateurs. You’ll see plays in college that would NEVER work in the NFL simply because NFL players are faster/stronger/bigger/smarter. The result is that watching even a major college football game, i.e. between two highly-ranked teams, you’ll see plays that come off as incredibly sloppy yet somehow managed to get ten or twenty yards, or score.

All it does is frustrate me, and makes me yell at the TV over why these kids can’t learn how to play the stupid game. Then I realize that it’s because they’re just kids.

One more point: I think it’s a sound axiom that your appreciation of college sports is directly proportional to the success of the teams playing at your alma mater. I.e., if you didn’t go to college, or went to a college with minor Division 3 teams, or the like, you’re going to care a lot less about college sports than if you went to a Division 1 school routinely fielding championship-competitive teams in multiple sports.

I’m not saying this means college football fans aren’t true fans, but IME I see a a lot of people who “love” college sports in comparison to the professional leagues only because they actually attended a college with competitive sports.

Since I didn’t go to one of those schools, I don’t get the appeal of watching amateurs play. But to each their own!

In hockey, if a player takes a minor penalty (2 minutes) and the other team scores a power play goal after one minute has elapsed, meaning his penalty is over, do two minutes go onto his record? Or just one.

I’ve been watching hockey since 1987 and I still don’t definitively know that answer.

For the purpose of stats, yes, the entire penalty time is assessed. Same thing if a penalty occurs inside of two minutes in the game.

Not so sound for me. I did my undergrad work at a Division 3 school. Did do a semester of graduate work at an SEC school, but didn’t get a degree there. I’m a huge college football fan, mostly SEC, but in a pinch, would likely watch Bugtussle State against Nowheresville Community College.

Correct. The original purpose of the fair catch was to set up a free kick, which could be used either to score a field goal or to gain field position. The modern purpose, of course, is to avoid getting clobbered by the punt coverage team–and in 99.9+ % of cases the receiving team takes possession with a scrimmage play, which in modern football is more advantageous.

But in pro football they still have the option for a free kick, and use it sometimes at the end of a half. The FK option was written out of college football in 1951.

True, though it’s incredibly infrequent, as you need to (a) have it happen at the end of a half, and (b) have the punt be caught within range of a field goal – which, unless the punt was shanked, would probably only occur if the punting team was very deep in its own end of the field. I don’t think I’m aware of more than a handful of free kicks used in this way in the 30 or so years I’ve followed the NFL.

And, I’m pretty certain that such a kick would need to be held on the ground, rather than on a tee, though it comes with the benefit of no defensive rush, and no need for a snap – the kick would be made from the point of the fair catch.

Can I ask a couple questions?

  1. What’s the big deal about the two-minute warning? I understand that the clock stops and there are no more challenges, but why is there always a rush to get one last play in before the warning?

  2. How does an on-side punt work? I know it’s meant to make it easier to get the ball back, but how?

The two-minute warning is largely a product of television. It makes sure that there’ll be one more commercial break at the end of each half (a period in which there may be a lot of action, and possibly few other opportunities to put in a break).

There isn’t always a rush to get one last play in. If a team’s ahead, they’re happy to let the clock run down to the warning. If a team’s behind, they know that the warning will act as a free time-out for them. So, if they finish a play at 2:15, while they don’t have to run another play before the clock stops at 2:00, if they hurry up, they can get in one more play before the automatic clock stoppage.

There’s no such thing as an onside punt. When you punt the ball, you automatically give possession up to the other team.

An onside kick-off is a different thing entirely. And, technically, every kick-off is an onside kick-off. Once a kick-off travels 10 yards, the kicking team is legally allowed to recover it (as well as the receiving team, though they can recover it before it travels 10 yards, as well). That’s why, even on a deep kick-off, it’s important for the receiving team to catch the ball right away – there’s members of the kicking team running down there, and it’d be legal for them to recover it.

Anyway, a team tries an “onside kick” when they’re behind, but have just scored, and it’s late in the game. If the kicking team recovers the onside kick, they have possession of the ball once again (and can thus try to score once again immediately, rather than giving the ball back to the other team, and hoping that their defense can give the ball back to their offense).

Usually, on an onside kick, rather than kicking the ball “deep” (as he would on a normal kick-off), the kicker tries to kick the ball just past 10 yards, so that his teammates have a reasonable chance to recover it before a member of the receiving team can.

Most kickers these days, on an onside kick, try to pop the ball into the air along one side of the field, while several teammates run under it, trying to catch it out of the air before a member of the other team can do the same.

You will occasionally see a team try an onside kick in other situations, mostly if they think they can catch the receiving team off-guard. It’s not done often, because, if it doesn’t work, you’ve just given the other team excellent field position (likely on the order of 30 to 40 yards better than they would have gotten on a regular kickoff).

It’s a free time out, it let’s you stop the clock without using one of your time outs which give you lots more options with time management.

There’s no such thing as an onside punt. On onside kick on a kick off has to travel 10 yards and then it’s a live ball; either team can recover it. On a punt the ball must touch a member of the receiving team before the kicking team can recover, so there’s no way to do a reliable onside punt.

Short answer is they are based on the situation.

Defensive play calls are based on many factors which vary throughout the game and with the score. If a team is ahead in the game they will make different calls than if they are behind, maybe. They want to stop the other team from scoring of course but they do that by attacking the offenses weak points, covering their own deficiencies, trying to goad the offense into a specific type of play. Too many factors to fit into a short post.

If a team is killing them with deep passes they may call some blitzes to get some pressure on the QB and force him to throw or run before the receivers can get downfield or they may drop everyone into coverage and try to take away the QB’s options. If a team is hitting a lot of short passes they may drop a linebacker or two into coverage after faking a blitz to disrupt some passing lanes or go for an interception. An offense may be having success running to one side and the defense is forced to keep the strong safety up to help defend or they may send a linebacker on a blitz to try and “blow up a gap” and defuse the run play in or near the backfield.

A lot of what defensive co-ordinators do is try and disguise what they’re doing to lead the offense into making a mistake that will cause a turnover either by the defense taking the ball or running out of downs.

I believe the punt must cross the line a scrimmage to automatically give possession to the receiving team. So, if you punt on 2nd down and it’s blocked behind the line, and you recover the block, you keep possession. However, if you punt on 2nd down, you’re probably a fool.

Once punted ball crosses the line of scrimmage, possession changes and the kicking team cannot recover the ball unless the receiving team touches it first and loses it.

If the ball crosses the line, changing possession, and the kicking team touches it first, then the receiving team can take possession at the spot of the touch. So, if the kicking team touches it first, but the ball is just rolling on the ground, the receiving team may attempt to pick it up and run with it if it wants to. If the receiving team does this and then fumbles the ball, and the kicking team picks up the fumble, well, no worries because the receiving team can always negate anything that happens after the kicking team made the first touch. The ball will be spotted at the first touch by the kicking team.

As mentioned, an “onside” kick just means trying to kick the ball just barely over the 10 yard minimum before the kicking team can legally touch the ball first. The receiving team may touch the ball at any time, even if the kick-off goes less than 10 yards.

Kickers on onside kicks do attempt to get the ball into the air so the kicking team can try to run under it and catch it. However, instead of kicking straight into up into the air off the tee, kickers try to drill the ball into the ground right off the kicking tee so it bounces up into the air.

They do this because the receiving team can call for a “fair catch” on any kick … unless the ball touches the ground first. As discussed, if the receiving team calls for a fair catch, the kicking team must back off and allow the fair catch attempt. If the ball touches the ground first, no fair catch is allowed, and the kicking team can plow into the receiving team at will in an effort to get the ball.