Today’s lesson is the first in a three-part series on the concept of forward progress. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the impact forward progress has on scoring touchdowns.
If you have been watching preseason football, or have been a casual football watcher in the past, you may have noticed that the next play doesn’t always start where the ball carrier hit the ground, but sometimes further downfield. Under the rules of football, the player with the football (the runner) is given credit for all of the yards he gains under his own power before he is tackled. Therefore, if the runner starts from the 30-yard line and is tackled at the 40-yard line, the runner has gained ten yards and his team begins its next play at the 40-yard line (where the ball is “spotted” by the officials). Simple, right?
However, if he reaches the 40 and a defender pushes him backward so that he lands on the ground at the 38-yard line, the ball is still spotted at the 40-yard line. This is because of the rule of forward progress. The officials determine the furthest point at which the ball advanced when the runner was stopped (or, where the ball goes out of bounds on a fumble). This is called the point of forward progress and becomes the “dead-ball spot.” The officials also need to determine forward progress when an airborne receiver is hit by a defender and knocked backward to the ground.
Notice that I said the runner gets credit for yards he gained under his own power. This idea is key for determining the point of forward progress. If the runner gets to the 40 and then backtracks to the 35 to avoid a tackle, the 40-yard line is no longer the point of forward progress. This is because the runner chose to retreat those five yards and did so under his own power. Therefore, if the runner is tackled at the 37-yard line after backtracking, the dead-ball spot is the 37-yard line, not the 40.
Below are two examples of forward progress rulings. The first involves a catch, and the receiver was awarded a first down after replay. In the second, the official signals that the receiver stepped out of bounds short of the first down line. However, since the contact by the defender made him go out, he should also be given the first down.
As you may expect, coaches often use challenges to question the point of forward progress. Of course, a coach won’t typically use a review for that purpose unless the play resulted in a first down, a long gain, or a touchdown. Touchdowns are where forward progress gets really interesting, so, naturally, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about it!