Arena football and NFL More Alike than Perception


Michael Pallas | September 23rd, 2019 

When you watch the NFL and then turn on arena football, the games appear to be vastly different. However, based on how the NFL game is played today, they’re not as different as they appear to be.

When people watch arena football, it looks like a gimmicky version of outdoor football. A wide receiver is allowed to be in motion toward the offensive line, the defense is typically man-to-man across the board, no kneel-downs on kickoffs, and there are no intricate defensive rush packages like we see in the outdoor game. However, the passing games are much closer than people think, and it has to do with the dimensions of the field in indoor football.


The size of an arena football field is the same size as an NHL hockey rink. The field of play is 50 yards, each end zone is approximately eight yards, and the width is 85 feet. Here are the formation rules, as per the AFL website:

• Four (4) offensive players are required to line up on the line of scrimmage.
• Three (3) defensive players must be down lineman, in a three or four-point stance.
• One linebacker (the Mac LB) may rush on either side of the center. The alignment is two or more yards off of the line of scrimmage, and no stunting or twisting is permitted.
• Regarding offensive motion, one player receiver may progress forward prior to the snap.


In the indoor game, one of the three offensive linemen must declare himself as an eligible receiver before the snap. Also, one of the linebackers is only allowed to move from sideline to sideline five yards ahead of the line of scrimmage before a pass attempt or handoff, unless there’s a pump fake.

Despite all of the quirky rules, it still is very much like the NFL game, because of how the NFL has evolved. The passing game in the NFL has evolved into a quick and rhythm passing game. Two-and-a-half seconds or less is the mantra. Get the ball out quickly. This is where arena football and the NFL are similar.

Whether it’s the top level of arena football (AFL) or a lower-level league (like the Indoor Football League), the quarterbacks in the league have two things in common that are necessary to win. They all have to make decisions quickly, and they must be pinpoint accurate.

When it comes to accuracy, the windows are smaller in arena football simply because of the dimensions of the field. So a quarterback must be very accurate to succeed in any arena league. As far as timing is concerned, unlike an NFL quarterback, one in arena football doesn’t have the luxury sitting back in the pocket and scanning the field. While 2.5 seconds or less is the mantra in the NFL, that may be too much time to wait for an arena football quarterback more often than not.


The reason arena football quarterbacks don’t necessarily translate to the NFL is that there are more moving parts to an NFL defense because there’s more room. So, that would limit the movement from an arena league to the NFL in terms of playing.

Don’t completely discount the movement of offensive coaches from the AFL to the NFL, though. Arena football is much closer to the NFL than college is, and we look at college coaches with the potential to land NFL jobs. It’s time to start thinking outside the box and beyond just what appeals to our eye and what we’re accustomed to watching.

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