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.



One response

27 05 2010
Cleo Gleason

You’ve done it once more! Great writing!

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