Understanding the various tactics involved in the sport might be the toughest part for a football newbie to grasp. A team's game plan will depend not only on the strengths and weaknesses of its own players but on the opposing team's shortcomings as well. Confine your preliminary discussions to the most basic offensive and defensive strategies.
By now you've explained that the goal of the offense is to rack up as many points as possible by running or passing the ball down the field.
Let's examine passing plays first. Basically, you have a forward pass (which is thrown to a player upfield) or a lateral (which is pitched to a player parallel to or slightly behind the quarterback.) The receivers are given a specific route, or pattern, to run on the field. Some of the most popular routes are the slant (the receiver takes a few quick steps then cuts diagonally across the field), go (the player runs as fast and deep as possible), and post (the receiver sprints 10 to 15 yards and then turns and runs back toward the center of the field).
A game plan heavy on passing uses up less time on the clock because the clock is stopped every time there's an incomplete pass or the player with the ball runs out of bounds. That's why you'll see the passing game used more toward the end of the game when a team is behind and time is running out. It's also a riskier approach because it lends itself to more turnovers.
The defense also has different strategies and formations that are primarily based on what they think the offense will do on any single possession. For instance, when they think the other team is going to throw the ball, they might call a blitz, in which extra players rush the quarterback in order to disrupt the pass or, better yet, tackle the QB behind the line of scrimmage (called a "sack") for a loss of yards. When they expect their opponents to run the ball, they may employ a 4-3 defense, so named because it involves positioning four defensive linemen on the line and three linebackers behind them.
Turn to the next page for lots more information about the game of football and how to explain it to your wife or girlfriend.