I watch both NFL and CFL, so I might be confusing what each league does, but here is what I think I have noticed:

  • sometimes a player gets the ball after the snap, they are blocked, and they are pushed several steps back but officials mark the tackle where the player was grabbed, and not where the tackle ended.

  • contrary to the above, when a tackled player keeps moving forward while falling, it seems like the ball is placed where the fall ended.

This feels incoherent to me. What do the rules say about the placement of the ball after a tackle?

2 Answers 2


The game as a whole is made simpler and more coherent if it is only possible to move forward when attacking, and this requires that it not be possible to move forward when defending. To be attacking, a team must have possession, one way or another. The exception is backward movement made as part of the attack, i.e. the snap and any backward passes or runs: the attacking team sacrifices territory now in order to gain territory in several seconds.

Each attempt at moving the ball forward is called a down. A down ends when the player with the ball is tackled (see further definition later) or leaves the field of play, some kind of score occurs, a pass is incomplete, or the player in possession stops making forward progress. Note that

  • the down ends, the ball is dead, and no further "in play" action can occur from that exact instant, even if it is not known until some time later when precisely the instant was;

  • the ball is placed for the next down based on its position when the down ends, and not for example when a defender first made contact with the attacker or when the attacker first took possession.

In the case of a player moving backwards, the player stops making forward progress because they have begun doing the opposite.

In the case of a player falling forward, a tackle requires that some part besides the hand or foot of the player in possession has touched the ground (or any part of that player or the ball has touched an object or ground outside the field). Since the player is still making forward progress, every inch of territory gained until the down has actually ended must be counted.


The rationale here is that when the defense stops the ball carrier, it is preferable that they do not get any benefit from holding the carrier up (so the play would remain live) and just pushing them backward a huge distance instead of tackling.

This concept is in the rule book as "forward progress"


ARTICLE 1. FORWARD PROGRESS. The Forward Progress of a runner or airborne receiver is the point at which his advance toward his opponent’s goal ends and is the spot at which the ball is declared dead by rule, irrespective of the runner or receiver being pushed or carried backward by an opponent.

Note in the wording that forward progress is only stopped by the opponent. If the ball carrier advances and then on their own decides to retreat (presumably to find a better position elsewhere), then they do not have benefit of forward progress. If they are tackled during the retreat, the ball is marked at that spot. Not the more forward position that was held earlier.

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