Victory from a Ninja Understudy

29 03 2010
The Ninja System Strikes Again

Thanks for the Plays and Tips, Ninja.

Yo Ninja,

After playing together for a few seasons without a trophy, we started implementing the Ninja system. Now it’s a train that can’t be stopped. Thanks for the discipline and strategy we needed to take our first Chip! The Ridewood Frost beat the Teaneck Spartans 28-20 to capture the Atlantic Coast Football League Winter XI Touch Championship. -Anthony (Quarterback)

What To Do With Weaker Players

29 03 2010

My flag football team purchased your 8on8 set and it’s absolutely been very helpful.
Flag Football
However, we have a dilemma that we’ve been trying to solve for a few games:

This season, some of our team’s veteran guys were replaced by more inexperienced and less physically-capable players. So now our team now has about 2-3 guys that we are having problems trying to decide where to play.

We want this to be a positive experience for everyone, so we do not want to bench any of our players or put them only on special teams, but we really do not know where to place these guys. Any ideas?

This is an 8v8 league, and we run separate offensive and defensive personnel. We run a pretty standard cover-2 zone on defense. I was thinking maybe putting these guys as WR (we normally have 4 WR), as this would still leave 2 veteran WRs. We’ve tried OL, DL, and CBs, but they’ve almost been liabilities in these positions.

Thanks for your help!

The Ninja Speaks


The problem you bring up of having a disconnect between the talent/experience/intensity of a couple of players and the rest of the team is all too common on a flag football team, and unfortunately, unlike some sports, even with teams as big as 8on8, there is really no place to “hide” a player, much less 2-3. On the one hand, as you mentioned, you want to make the game a fun, positive experience for all involved, because it’s “just flag football”, right? The other side of the coin is the intense desire to compete and win no matter the venue, and your players probably span the spectrum from “just being out to have fun” to “win at all costs”.   I have seen this before, and unfortunately, there are hard decisions ahead of you. A good first step would be to take a step back and try to determine which direction most of the team seems to be pulling. Does the overall vibe of the team (these 2-3 players excluded) lean towards serious competitive gameplay or towards just having fun. If it’s the latter, then you can take a deep breath and just accept the fact that you’re going to give it your best, but playing time and field equality is more important than winning, even if you yourself are inclined otherwise.

BUT, if you feel that the team really is built to win except for a couple of guys who are dead weight, but you don’t want to be a total jerk by having cuts from your rec league team, things get more dicey. Here are some thoughts:

1. Definitely slip one of them in at wide receiver. If you have 4, that’s a good spot. Make a point to start them in that position, but then encourage a healthy rotation after the first quarter. The fact is, they only become a serious liability if the QB throws them the ball (and they drop it, tip it up, etc.). Part of this will be on the QB. If these guys are truly that dangerous out there, don’t throw them the ball unless necessary. You could split the game, rotating two of them through one receiver slot, trading possessions. You may lose a superstar at that position, but immediately you’ve given two of them assignments. If you can pull off a spread set formation with 2 blockers and 5 receivers, you can definitely afford to have a weaker route runner out there.

2. While I agree that just having them on special teams is only a short step above cutting them, make sure that they are emphasized on special teams. That at least keeps them involved multiple times a game. Can any of them kick? Tasking one of them as kicker actually brings them into the game quite a bit.

3. Rusher on defense is also a good position. If you pair one of them with a very strong rusher, you should still be able to pressure the QB. Again, rotate through these guys to minimize the negative impact.   If you do this a lot, it doesn’t look as much like you’re singling out a weaker player when no one else is rotating.  I would recommend against putting these players in your deep cover two or even at the corners or backer unless they earn the position.  Stopping a good team’s passing game is difficult enough without worrying about your guys being out of position and giving up big plays.

Hard Decisions, Continued
Back to the hard decisions theme… Simply put, you will not be the team you want to be (or used to be) if you’re saddled with inferior players AND you feel that it’s necessary to give them substantial playing time.  The game is just too demanding to have weak players on the field every game. Sometimes it’s good to have numbers to avoid being caught short handed on guys for a game, but often it’s the less desirable players who are the most consistent.  You probably cannot change that much this season, but you may think long and hard about your team ethos and what next season looks like.  It may be worth reevaluating then.  I have direct experience with having to cut a player between seasons.  It was an extremely difficult thing to do, but his attitude and gameplay were dragging the team down.  Our team was much better for having done it.
Alternatively, you can keep these players involved on the team and just make the hard decisions as they come up.  If it’s fourth and long and you need a big play, put your best team out there. If you’re under 2 minutes with a tie game and a playoff berth depends on a victory, put your best team in.  To do this you need one guy (or a couple) who is clearly calling the shots. When playoff games arrive (and every single member from the roster has suddenly found a way to clear the calendar), you have to make tough choices.  Most times a weaker player knows he is weaker and playing some role on a dominant team is good enough.   If you don’t want to address it so brashly, consider reducing the playing time of the weaker players. Let them make the decision of whether getting a few snaps is worth the trade off of a Saturday morning. This is sort of an economist’s approach; address it practically, and if they choose not to continue, that is their most effective way to voice their discontent. (Of course personal relationships must be considered as well).

Remember that a team is an organism made up of a dozen or more individuals, and while nobody wants to be the unpopular leader who takes the game too seriously by making cuts or limiting playing time, there are a dozen other guys on the team who are taking the game seriously and making it a priority. By catering to a couple of guys who really deserve to play at a lower level, you may be trading their contentment for the chemistry and strength of the team, not to mention the satisfaction of the other dozen guys who want to win.

How To Utilize My Receivers in our 5on5 Passing League

26 03 2010

Lee (03:18:20) : edit

I am in a league that runs 5-on-5, no center. 98% percent of the time the defense we face is man. QB must be pressured to run. We do run the ball in our league and I have a fast powerful QB who loves to block.

I am hoping to get some plays, passing and running, to take advantage of my teams talent. I have two super quick WR/RB. I also have two huge Randy Moss like WR(6-3, 37′ inch vert).

Can you suggest some plays for me? I am also looking for a program to design plays or a blank playbook templet.

Can you help me out? We are a very good

The Ninja Speaks

Check out the 5man Core 30 Playbook for starters. If your league has no center, run the center release routes from a tight end, slot back or even half back position. You can mix this up with running plays, swings, options or quick hits. With your dominant receivers, work on isolating them and giving them the jump ball, crossing them deep, and, on occasion running them off as decoys for an under play. With a tight man defense, there will be a premium on tight routes and good timing between the QB and the receivers. A well-placed ball thrown to a timing route should be unstoppable.

As for a blank template, this is a gift from the Ninja to you.

How to Defeat Big Linemen and Fend Off a Monster Rush

24 03 2010

Hello Ninja,
My team purchased your Playbook and – Offensive and Defensive strategy guides. We’re wondering if you could help us with how the blocking rules are set up relative to our approach on offense and defense.
I’ve never played in a flag football league that allows contact. In our league, the Offensive Line can block behind the Line of Scrimmage  with hands in the shoulder/chest area.

Flag Football Image: Blocking Big Guys

Flag Football Tips: How to Use Strategy to Beat the Rush

What we’ve seen is that the athletic guys that would have been pretty good
when you can only screen on the OL are getting thrown around. Not really.
But knocked off enough that the DL are getting to our QB in a second or 2.
We played some D-end’s last night that were a lot bigger than our biggest
guys – like maybe 30 to 40 lbs.

On D we aren’t getting much if any pressure with the D-end’s. We are
having to blitz. Our guys are getting close enough to the bigger O lineman
that they are getting tugged around.

This is our first year together – not many have played and ones that have
maybe have a year or 2 Flag Football experience. I’m the old man at 30 – played 6
years in college and right after I graduated so I’m rusty on the field (5
years away from the game).
Ok – enough background. Questions indicated by “=>”.

I read your guides and very much agree to have good/great athlete’s on both
sides of the line.
=>But in a league that allows contact and with big fat OL’s and pretty big
DL’s – how would you set up a team?
I’ve gotten our 2 strongest guys to the OL. I’m faster on my feet
than they are but they out weight me by 20 to 30 lbs so they are closer to
the D end’s we are facing.

We don’t really have any dudes more than 210 lb or so. No giants. So we
can’t even think about putting a giant on the OL to utilize strength/sheer
bulk. We could go quicker on the OL but not bigger is what I’m saying.

=>Given that – how would you optimize who plays on the OL?

=>Can you give us some stuff to do on the OL to give more time?
I think leaving an RB in that can read a blitz or chip a DL before he
runs a delayed route is an idea. Also bringing a WR in motion to help on a
D end getting a lot of pressure. Leaves us with 3 blockers. We can’t
get our center back really quick enough as we are struggling with the snap
so he’s almost a pure route runner.

=>Also – ideas on the DL to defeat bigger OL’s and get to the QB without
blitzing every play?
Since we always have speed but not size – start our DL’s 5 yards away
from the center?
Tell them to take off on a sprint on the outside and see if that big
OL can get out his stance?
We’ve tended to play pretty close to the center so the QB doesn’t
have a huge gap in the middle. I played some DL myself and realized I
should probably start further out.

I saw your idea on the swim move for the WR’s when they are up against bump
and run. Thinking we should get our DL’s to learn that.

Thank you very much for your help/comments. Plan to practice in 2 days and
game next Monday.

Take care,


“It is the patience and wit of the spider that earns him a meal.”
– Ahsi Fire Dancer

The Ninja Speaks

The Ninja will take your questions one at a time.



It can certainly help to have quick and athletic players on the line.  Sometimes this will benefit the team more than having your largest guys blocking.  However, if your blockers are getting bowled over and your QB is getting hurried every possession, those men on the line are just taking up space (and not for very long period of time).  Here are a few things to think about as far as your blockers go: (1) Position: First of all, have your QB back up.  Give him a little room. If you’re having trouble snapping, find a new snapper.  It’s an important position.  Make sure the blockers  are in effective blocking positions. It is very difficult in flag football to stop an excellent rusher, especially when you are out of position.  Make sure your blockers are staying low. It is incredible what a difference this can make.  In many cases, it will be enough to turn the tables on an mismatch on the line.  (2) Discipline is important for your blockers usually, when a blocker gets beat, it’s because he gets juked, spun on or pushed out of the way.  If that has to happen, make sure your blockers get beat outside (unless you are rolling right or left). (3) Pyramid: If you are using a center and two blockers, keep them tight and offset the two side blockers into a pyramid shape.  You say you can’t get your center back fast enough, so he becomes a route runner.  Try to force the defense to run through your center, rather than giving them an opportunity to go around him. (With some exceptions) you typically won’t have such a mismatch that the defense is running through your blockers. Recognize that if you stack your blockers tight in a triangle, you are going to get more pressure from the outside.  Enter the next point…

The Quarterback:

You have not mentioned anything about your QB, however, he is likely the key to your success or failure this season.  What are his strengths? Speed? Poise? Great arm? Vision? The way your QB is able to adjust to the rush and the pocket, and whether he can play to his strengths will make a huge difference. With the triangle formation and the rushers taking wide angles, the QB should be able to step up into a real pocket.  But this takes significantly more discipline than you think.  He has to focus his attention on the receivers while “feeling” the rushers.  As soon as he pulls his eyes off of his targets and starts looking for an escape route, the play is basically done.  If your QB has poise, he should be able to step up into the pocket and complete the pass.  If one side of the pocket collapses, he should be able to make that read, step to the side and make the pass.  What if your QB is not a Tony Romo?

Beating the Rush Like a Jedi

As my grandfather used to say: Theres’ is more than one way to skin a cat.  If you are getting pummeled at the line, and have implemented all of the tips above, it’s time to change tactics. First and foremost, you’re going to have to toss the 3 move routes and your visions of the deep bombs (for the most part).  These are some more…creative ways to handle a tough rush: (1) In the huddle, make a rollout call.  Your blocker towards your rolling side has to bite hard to the outside to create an inside gap and force his rusher inside.   If possible, have your QB hesitate for a moment before rolling to make sure the rusher bites.  Then clear out and make a play.  (2) It’s unclear from your post whether you are getting blitzed or only rushed two.  If you are ever consistently faced with more than two rushers, something is open.  As soon as they rush three, you start releasing blockers for the quick 5-10 yard pickup.  If your blockers are quick and athletic, this should be a very legitimate option for your team.  (3) You mentioned bringing a WR to block.  Depending on your leagues rules, you can do better.  Send one of your blockers out into twins with the WR, bring him in motion and have him crack down on the outside rusher.  This should give your quarterback a free rollout lane.  You can’t do this every play, or the other team will pick up on it, but as soon as they do, you can start mixing it up.  Finally, there is the yet unmentioned alternative…

The Spread Set

If your team’s strength is speed and agility, it’s time to consider abandoning the three man blocking set.  If your QB has good vision and decent poise, you should have more than enough time with 4 receivers to find openings.  Make sure your QB is back deep and consider using a blocking back.  I will tell you that if run right, the 4 man set is nearly impossible to stop.  Again, you have got to run concise, sharp routes. Most of them will be quick-hit plays, but this is an option you simply cannot ignore.  Any defense that still brings 3 rushers against a spread set is simply insane.  A decent QB should be able to pick them apart play after play.



Defense is a bit more straightforward, but takes similar discipline and practice.  The key for a successful defense is to keep the blockers and the QB guessing.  If you line up a small rusher over a big blocker and play after play just let them pound it out, guess what…that QB will look like a superstar.  Regardless of whether you want to blitz three or not, you should be walking safeties up to the line, showing blitz from the corners, having backers walk up.   The point is that as a blocker, the first step out of the stance is one of the most important as far as position goes.  If you make it in the wrong direction, you’ve got problems.  Keep mixing it up. Send two guys from the right, then two from the left. Send three, send one and spy the QB with one. Keep the offense guessing.  Remember, if you can get a big blocker to lunge and bite on a fake rusher who drops into coverage, you should have opened a lane to the QB for someone else.

The Wide Blitz

Starting far outside is a fine idea, but if you do it every time, the QB will roll away or step inside.  Try starting far outside and pulling back into coverage while your linebacker blitzes. Next time actually blitz from out there.   Try to keep right handed QBs running to their left and vice versa.

Rusher Moves

You ask whether your D linemen should implement the swim move.  Absolutely.  You played college ball, you know that those defensive linemen should be pulling out every move possible to get separation and get around the blockers.  If they are quick and athletic, they should be using their best jukes and fakes to miss the mezamorph blockers miss. Jab, spin, rip, swim.  Keep separation and keep fighting to the QB.   It’s not over when the rusher and blocker make contact.  Make your guys play to the whistle.

Observe and React

Watch the offense.  Do they routinely release a lineman into the flat? Then that’s your alley to the QB.  Is the center slow to get his head up? Flood the middle. The more you can pickup and adjust, the better you will do. Make it a habit for your rushers to report back what they’re seeing and then exploit the weakness.

Use the tips and strategy above, and before you know it, your quick athletic rushers will be making big plays and your offense will be marching down the field.