I'm trying to understand football and some of its basic stats, and I'm not clear on the difference between these three.

Rushing yards:

A statistic in football that records the total number of yards gained by a single player as the result of a rushing play (or plays), in which the player carries the football (as opposed to receiving a pass).

Passing yards:

A statistic that measures the amount of yards gained by an offensive team on completed passes. Passing yards are measured for a given completion as the number of yards from the original line of scrimmage and the point that the player was tackled, forced out of bounds, or entered the end zone for a touchdown.

Receiving yards:

This is a statistic used in football defined as the number of yards gained by a receiver on a passing play. Included in the calculation of this statistic is the distance the ball was passed and any additional yardage the player gained after the reception.

What is a rushing play? How does a player get a ball other than by having it passed to them, excluding interceptions? If the ball always starts in a QB's hands, how can it possibly end up in anyone else's other than by a pass?

Honestly all three of these sound like "yards gained in a play by passing the ball to someone and having them run with it."

My understanding is that despite the phrasing in these definitions, these stats can apply to single players or to teams as a whole, but even so I don't see the distinction between them. They all seem to measure yards gained by a player who received the ball and ran with it.

  • What source are you using for your definitions? My instant answer is "get better definitions", but that will depend a bit on whether they're any sort of official definitions or not.
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 20:54
  • Sportingcharts.com, and I'm about to edit the question to include receiving yards. Here and here are the definitions for the current two. To my astonishment I couldn't really find (from cursory searching) plentiful sources for explanation. I thought, given how popular this is, there would be many results, but there are not. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 20:59
  • 2
    Yeah, that's just a rubbish definition. Passing yards certainly is counted for individual players - see e.g. here where passing yards are counted for both Joe Flacco and Ryan Mallett, rather than just "Ravens" as a whole.
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 21:12

2 Answers 2


That is just a bad definition of "passing yards" - as can be seen from (for example) this boxscore, passing yards are most definitely counted for individual players (Flacco and Mallett for the Ravens in this case), rather than just for the team as a whole.

As you've noted, finding a formal definition of this is a bit tricky. The best I can do at the moment is the "Passing & Sacks (Offensive)" section of the NFL Guide for Statisticians; this has multiple references to "the passer" being credited for pass attempts, rather than "the team" or any other language.

The other half of your question is somewhat easier to answer:

How does a player get a ball other than by having it passed to them, excluding interceptions?

In this context, a pass refers solely to a forward pass (with all the restrictions that go with that - most notably, it must be from behind the line of scrimmage). Handoffs, backward passes (including laterals) and the snap from the center are not counted as a pass. One very important difference here is what happens if the ball is not caught cleanly by the recipient - on a forward pass, it is an incomplete pass and the play is dead, but on a handoff, backward pass or snap, the ball is live and can be recovered by either side.


Passing/Receving = throwing the ball forward in any way behind the line of scrimmage. This means underhand side arm or whatever and can be as little as an inch forward. An example is that some jet sweeps are taken where the receiver gets the ball from a QB in shotgun/pistol and just pops the ball forward a couple inches. This is a pass. It is also passing yards if a receiver catches a pass and hands it to another player. So if the jet sweep WR gets the ball popped to them and runs 9 yards that is 9 receiving yards and then if they lateral it backwards to another runner for 10 yards that is an additional 10 receiving yards.

Rushing = throwing the ball sideways (without an initial forward pass), backwards or directly handing the ball to someone.

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