What 1st & 10 Means In Football

What 1st & 10 Means In Football

American football is an incredibly daunting sport for new fans because it combines athleticism and complex strategy. Don’t be afraid! This blog functions as a decoder ring to unlock one of the most basic concepts: 1st&10. By understanding this phrase that seems so simple, you will gain a greater appreciation for the strategic chess match being played out on the field.

What 1st & 10 Means In Football

Down and Distance: The Building Blocks

But first, let’s talk about downs and distance before we go into 1st & 10.

Each play in football is called a “down.” Downs are four attempts in which the offense has to move the ball a certain distance, or else the team with the ball changes. It’s like having four chances at completing a task.

Therefore, the term “distance” refers to the number of yards the offense must gain for another try at first down. If they earn a first down, that means they have been given “a fresh set of four downs” to keep moving further downfield. The typical standard distance necessary for obtaining a subsequent first down is ten yards.

Let’s imagine this situation: The offense starts their drive at their 20-yard line (written as “20-yard line”). They run a play, but it does not go very far and ends up at the 23-yard line after all. This is announced as “3rd and 7” – third down because it’s their third attempt, and 7 because they still need 7 yards (10 yards needed for a first down, minus the 3 yards they gained) to get a first down.

Demystifying 1st & 10: A Fresh Start and a Goal

Now let us dissect that ever-popular “1st & 10”:

  • 1st” signals that this is just one out of four straight chances where offenses can gain some yards towards achieving another (first) ‘down.’ A kickoff, punt, turnover, or TD (which restarts the down and distance at the opponent’s 20-yard line) all result in putting a team’s offense on their first down.
  • “10” represents the required yardage for the offense to secure another first down. This is often required distance, but penalties can push them further back, while long-play success may place them closer to the goal line.

Tying it all together, “1st & 10,” therefore implies that this signifies a new set of downs for the offense where they have to make ten yards before their drive will end. This seemingly simple football concept serves as the foundation for all other offensive strategies.

The Battle Begins: Offensive and Defensive Strategies on 1st Down

This means that there are four occasions when an offense should gain ten yards, which will allow it to have its “first down.” Possessing these fresh sets of downs enables them to keep possession and go ahead with their march towards scoring more points. This is where the strategic chess match unfolds:

Offensive Goals on First Down:

  • Momentum Building: A good first down helps set the tone for a drive. A successful run play can push the line of scrimmage forward, creating breathing room for subsequent plays. Short, efficient passes can get the offense in rhythm and keep the defense guessing.
  • Setting Up Future Plays: You can also use first-down plays to set up later drives. Play-action fakes, in which the quarterback pretends to hand off before throwing frozen linebackers, allow for deeper throws downfield.

Defensive Objectives on First Down:

  • Halting the Momentum: The defense attempts to stop the offensive onslaught right from the start. Stopping a run play on first down puts the offense in a bad spot, making it harder to get a first down and putting pressure on their quarterback.
  • Forcing a Takeaway: A well-timed blitz or perfect timing by the defense on first down can lead to an interception or fumble, giving them immediate possession and potentially changing the momentum of the game.

First Down is all about play-calling. There are numerous plays that offensive coordinators can use depending on different goals, such as distance, down, field position, and how many defenders are covering. This concept will expose you to the intricate aspects involved in football play calls.

Beyond “1st & 10”: Clearing Up Terminology Misconceptions

Although “1st & 10” is the most common case, there are exceptions like these:

  • Myth: Every First Play Starts with “1st & 10.”
  • Reality: Penalties can lead to changes in downs and distances. For example, if it was third down and there was a defensive holding call, then that would become 1st & 10 (unless the penalty pushed them further up the field).
  • Other Starting Points: Touchdowns and turnovers result in a new drive starting at the opponent’s twenty-yard line, mostly at 1st & 10. Also, fumbles recovered by defense, successful onside kicks, and fair catches inside opponents’ territory often lead to drive starts in different down-and-distance situations.

To understand game flow better as well as comprehend why teams make certain strategic decisions during games, one must know these details about downs and distances.


The seemingly simple phrase “1st & 10” carries significant weight in the world of football. By understanding the offensive and defensive strategies employed on these crucial downs, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the tactical chess match unfolding on the field.

Next time you are watching a game, pay attention to the first down plays. Look at offensive formationsdefensive adjustments, and what happens as a result. With this new information, you will discover an entirely different level of strategy and excitement in the beautiful game of football.

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