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What is a football touchback?

A “touchback” is when, on a punt or a kick-off, you kick the football through your opponent’s end zone or into it without your opponent able to run it out. The football is then placed at your opponent’s 20-yard line which is where your opponent’s offense takes over.

Pinning your opponent deep.

When punting, it is typically not your team’s objective to have the resulting play be a touchback. Rather, your goal is to locate the punt within your opponent’s 0 – 20 yard lines in order to “pin them deep.”

Pinning them deep means that you successfully “down” the football within your opponent’s 20 yard line, keeping them from running the football beyond their own 20 yard line or from downing the football in the end zone and registering the touchback, thus having the football automatically moved out to the 20-yard line for their offense.

The deeper you pin your opponents to their end zone, the more difficult you’ll make it for their offense due to the limited room they’ll have to work in. And, if able to tackle your opponent in the end zone your team will receive two points for a “Safety” and then also receive the ball back on a kick-off.

Downing the football on the receiving team.

Downing the football is as simple as having any player on the field gain control of the football and declaring that the ball is down. But, there are different criteria to be met depending on if you’re the receiving team or the team that just punted the football away.

If on the receiving team, for you to declare that the football is down you must first be in the end zone and then “take a knee”. To take a knee in the end zone simply kneel down on one knee. You are then declared down by the referees and a touchback is rewarded, moving the football out to your 20-yard line.

What is a football touchback?

However, if you are outside of the end zone when you first touch the football, you are not allowed to run into the end zone and then kneel down. If you do so, the punt team will be rewarded a Safety (giving them 2 points) and the subsequent kick-off.

If you receive the football outside of the end zone and you take a knee (typically used by a player who isn’t comfortable with running with the football … a blocker for example) you must be touched by a player on the punt team to be declared down.

The difficult part of this is that it’s the referee’s discretion as to whether or not you’ve given the punt team a reasonable amount of time to recognize that you’re downing the football. If you haven’t, you’re eligible to be tackled and won’t be in a good position to take the hit, easily resulting in a fumble.

If you did give enough time to be recognized as downing the football, and are still tackled rather than touched by the punting team, a un-sportsmanship penalty can be called.

If you or any of your teammates touch the football when receiving the punt, either intentionally or unintentionally, and the football is loose on the field it is a live ball. Attempt to drop onto the ball as it is considered a fumble.

Downing the football on the punting team.

When punting the football, your objective is to down the football within your opponent’s 20-yard line. This type of punt requires a highly skilled Punter as any punt into the end zone often results in a touchback, while the deeper the punt the more likely the punt team will have a chance to pin the return team deep.

One method to pinning the return team deep is to punt the football so that it bounces out-of-bounds approximately five yards from the opponent’s goal line. That 5-yard corner area is referred to as the ‘Coffin Corner’, as there is often very little the return team can do to when the football is punted there.

When successful, punting to the Coffin Corner puts your opponent in a bad position for their next offensive set. However, if you miss the corner and the football bounces into the end zone, a touchback will be called. In this instance the return team has accomplished the opposite result from what you had envisioned, being awarded possession of the ball at their 20-yard-line. This makes their offensive set a lot easier to handle.

If the football should remain in the field of play you or one of your teammates must reach the football and touch it prior to your opponent. When on the punt team, as soon as you touch the football it is considered down at that spot. It is there that your opponent will take over on offense.