Like other sports games by Bob Whitehead, 4th & Inches was hailed upon release, combining the action of previous titles with the new feature of strategic play calling. For the first time in a computer football game, players could choose from a number of plays. The player initially designated a formation, and then selected one of five plays based on the formation. These plays included a great number of offensive strategies, including draws, curls, sweeps and long bombs, among others. Defensive tactics equally were varied, with the player being able to choose a defensive formation based on what they thought the opponent would attempt.
The game required the player to select a position to control before the play began while on offense, but were not able to switch control during the action. Because there was a limited area of the field in view at any one time, it occasionally prevented the player from seeing important parts of the play develop. Rather than scrolling smoothly when the player being controlled would reach the edge of the screen, as modern football simulations do, it re-drew the visible section of the field entirely, placing the controlled player in a new position on the screen. While on defense, the player being controlled could not be changed either, but would be automatically selected as the player closest to the offensive ball carrier on each screen redraw.