ITP Glossary: Field Goal

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Field Goal

A field goal is a scoring play in which an offense attempts to kick the ball through the uprights, scoring three points if successful. In order to be a legal field goal, the kicker must utilize a placekick, where the ball is placed and held on the ground, or a dropkick, where the kicker drops the ball, having it touch the ground before striking it. The kicker may not punt the ball without it touching the ground, as this will qualify as a punt rather than a field goal attempt. If a field goal attempt is short of the uprights and remains in the field of play, it may be returned by the defense, but upon striking an upright or crossing a sideline or the end line, the play is deemed dead. In the event of a missed kick, the ball will be placed at the spot of the kick, unless inside the defense’s 20-yard line, in which case it will be placed at their 20-yard line.

The field goal gives teams an option for scoring on a drive in which they are unable to reach the end zone and score a touchdown. NFL teams set up with standard field goal protection, establishing a nine-man line to block for their holder and kicker. The holder typically locates himself eight yards behind the line of scrimmage to provide ample distance for the kick to gain elevation and clear the line of scrimmage.

Kickers have gotten significantly better over the past 50 years, with accuracy rising from 51.2% in 1960 to 84.5% in 2015. One of the biggest reasons for this is the advent of soccer-style kicking, in which a kicker begins their approach from an angle, rather than running directly onto the ball from behind it. This allows a kicker to create a significant amount of rotational energy that is transferred into the ball by their foot.

Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey demonstrates the modern field goal in this 51-yard attempt against the New England Patriots in 2015:

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Bailey uses prototypical field goal technique, beginning with his angled approach that starts with a small jab-step, and finishes with a classic skip-step through the target. This is representative of the approach that all kickers use today, though there are slight variations between players with parts of this technique.

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Chuck Zodda wrote this entry. Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.

Video courtesy of NFL Gameday.

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