Help with 7on7 Zone Defense: Linebacker Tips

21 06 2010

Hey I play middle linebacker in a 7 0n 7 flag football league in Florida. I was wondering if there is any techniques you could provide me with. Our team plays zone defense about 99% of the time. also occasionally we will go from having 3 linebackers/ 1 safety to having 2 linebackers/2 safeties so if you could also give me some tips on outside linebacker as well i would really appreciate it. Thanks  – D.J.

7on7 Flag Football Strategies

Make Sure to Spy a Quick QB


“With its prey transfixed on its brightly colored tail, the fire lizard strikes from the flank.”

– Observations of a Predator

One of the best strategies for a dynamic and effective defense is to keep the quarterback and the offense guessing.  As soon as they have pinned down your defensive formation, any quarterback with moderate talent can pick you apart.

You should develop two or three formations that the team is comfortable with – these would probably include a 3 linebacker set to stop the middle threat, a cover-2 formation with two safeties deep, and maybe even a prevent look with the deep field split up into thirds.  You can jump between the formations depending on the situation – 4th and long, you don’t want just one safety back.

But with just two or three formations, you can still give the offense dozens of different looks.  If you’re going to send two or three rushers, consider sending the safety and dropping a lineman, or blitzing a cornerback and filling his spot from the inside.  If your league allows blocking on the line, confusing the offensive linemen will translate directly into better pressure on the quarterback which means more rushed throws and more big plays.

There is no reason your defense needs to be set when the ball is snapped.  You can have guys shifting all over the filed. Backers showing blitz, safeties playing up off the line.  If you have decent athletes, they should be able to settle into their zones by the time the play develops.

One tip to keep in mind for an outside backer (depending on the rushing and scrambling rules of your league), is to make sure someone is covering the QB.  This is where it’s important to know your opponent – on some teams the QB scrambling is their primary weapon.  If you’re relying only on your rushers, and a quick QB gets outside, the defense will give up at least a 10, sometimes a 20 or more yard gain.

The Highland Tiger

7on7 Zone Defense Formation

The formation: Two defensive linemen, two backers, two cornerbacks and one deep safety.

The Rushers: As mentioned above, switching up the rushing will prove much more effective than just sending two guys up the middle.  Also, match the rushers to the offense.  Sometimes you don’t want your biggest guys on the line, sometimes you want your fastest.  Depending on the offense, the line or spying linebacker may be the place for your best athletes (this topic is discussed in more detail in the Defensive Handbook, packaged with all playbooks).

The Cornerbacks:  The corners will start out spread wide and only about 5-7 yards off the line.  They will defend against the quick out or flare into the flats.  But as the play progresses, they are going to drop deep and each cover 1/3 of the deep field.

The Linebackers: In addition to alternating their rush with the rushers, the backers will cover the short and short middle of the field.  Each one should pickup the QB rolling to his side.  They also cover releasing linemen (if eligible).  These guys have to work well together because if one steps up to cover a rolling QB, the other needs to pick up any holes behind him.  Also, as the cornerbacks drift deep, the linebackers will have to cover the flats.

Safety:  Safety should start about 10-15 yards deep in the middle of the field. He will have deep crosses or anything else behind the backers.  But keep in mind, on a long bomb down the sideline, the cornerbacks may be in a footrace, so the safety should get over and help.

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)

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.

I’ve Got Flag Football Plays. Now What?

20 11 2009

Question from Coach:

Thank you for your response! I just bought the 7on7 flag football playbooks from You mentioned that I should pick out five or six flag football plays to start off with.  What plays you would suggest. My flag football team has players ranging from fifth grade to twelfth grade, about 13-14 boys. I was also wondering where I could find some good drills to use for practice. Thanks for the help!
Deterimined to win.


“Without a sound strategy, an army corrodes; its warriors flutter like moths drawn to the flame.”

– Elder of Tsan


Having purchased the Ninja Package, you have already made a wise decision.  With it are over 100 plays that you now have at your fingertips, ready to deploy against an unwary opponent.  But you are right: keep it simple.  For your first game with plays, limit it to a handful.  First assess your team’s strengths (as always, depending on league rules).  But leave the Tricky Playbook out of the equation for now.  You want short passes and quick plays to work on your fundamentals and develop a rhythm on the field.

For your first game, assuming your league lets you run the ball, and you have the personnel to do it, try loading up with 4 passing plays and two running plays.   Try, “Ins and Outs”, “Hitching Post”. “Bullz Eye”, “Banana Split” and “Counter” and “Quick Pitch.”
Hitching Post Flag Football Passing Play

Hitching Post is a great place to start. It is a timing play with four different levels of routes that develop as the play progresses.  The quarterback’s first look is to the hitch (that’s the short curl by the green “Y” receiver.  He should run full speed for about 3-5 steps and then slam on the brakes and spin in towards the QB.  If run perfectly, the football leaves the hands of the QB before the receiver makes his cut, so by the time the defender knows what’s happening, it’s too late, and you’ve made a completion.  After the hitch, the QB’s  next receiver looks are: the releasing center in the left flat (the area 5-10 yards from the line of scrimmage on either side of the field), the left wideout (the receiver lined up farthest right or left of the quaterback, in this case the orange “X” receiver), and finally, the QB can always go up top if the right wideout is able to break free on the deep post route (straight and then angle towards the center of the field). Remember, like many of these plays, success will depend on practice.

As far as drills, check the Ultimate Strategy Guide you received with your purchase of theNinja Package to consider which of the fundamentals your team most needs to work on. Is it catching? Pursuing the ball and defender? Position?  For catching, a great football drill is to have a line of receivers facing the coach.  The first man in the line has to chop his feet and move towards his coach (at about jog speed).  The coach then throws the ball at the approaching player (a basketball-style chest pass is a good close-quarters delivery that sends the ball out quickly and can be aimed high, low or to either side.   Make the receivers watch the ball into their hands. A drop and they do pushups.

Another good catching drill is to have the receiver lie on his back with the coach standing over him. Coach has a football and drops it at receiver.  You can try variations on this depending on the receiver’s skill – have him close his eyes until you have let go; have him start with his hands palms down on the ground; try exerting a little force downwards on the ball.  The point of both of these flag football drills is to work on hand-eye coordination and to get the guys comfortable with catching whatever is thrown at them.

Footwork is also hugely important. Practice. Practice Practice.

I hope this helps.  Keep the Ninja informed of your progress with updates, pictures and messages.

How Do I Build a Youth Flag Football Team From the Ground Up?

13 11 2009


Nathan Lipscomb writes:

I am beginning to coach a 7-7 flag football team for a small Christian school. We don’t have a lot of natural talent to pull from, and they don’t have much background in flagfootball. We started last year and lost every game to teams who had been playing together for a long time. Where do I start with these guys to build an efficient unit.


The Ninja Speaks:

The Scramble

Fundamentals First

“From among the huddled and fearful children I will pick my few and mold my warriors.” – Blademaster of Red Mountain


Already you have taken important steps. You have formed the team, you have played and the players have experienced loss. These are important. But now it is time to take them to the next level of flag football.

To answer you fully, I will make assumptions. I will assume this is a junior high or middle school team and that you have repeat players for a couple of years at a time (rather than a new slate every season). I assume also, that you hold practices, but probably no more than 2-3 per week, and that you play weekly games (up to 8 or 10 in the regular season). Please correct any of the above.

Here are simple steps to start building a solid team:

1. Instill pride and a sense of ownership in the players. If the players don’t want it, it won’t happen. If the guys are going to be successful, this has to be their team. You are a rudder, not the sail and not the wind. A rudder is useless on a still ship. Consider a pre-season team event (an inspirational football movie, for instance) and periodic (weekly if possible) team dinners or other off-the-field activities. Don’t let them use the excuse that they can’t be successful because they are new to the game and their school is just a “small Christian school”. They most likely want to be part of a real team as much as anyone. It is largely your job to show them that the game is important, the team is important and that they can build strength together. Make each flag footbaall game feel like an NFL playoff game. Target leaders in the group, preferably leaders on and off the field, and encourage them to lead this effort.

2. Fundamentals. Stepping on the field in a game is a privilege. First, the players need to earn their stripes. Hammer the fundamentals into the players. Throwing. Catching. Running. Flag pulling. Do drills again and again. Try to make them fun or competitive drills, but (with a fresh season) before you go anywhere near plays, get them used to running around and trying the different aspects of the game. Make sure every person who is going to catch a pass knows what a route is and how to run a good one. Eyes on the ball when you catch. You’d be amazed at how much better a defense plays when everyone swarms the ball, and you don’t give up nearly as many big plays when one guy misses the flag – this is just a matter of practice and discipline, not a talent issue. These are the basics. If you’re shaky on these yourself, review the Ninja’s Ultimate Strategy Guide again.

3. Keep it simple. Especially if they don’t have much of a background in the sport or a lot of innate talent, don’t overwhelm them with scores of plays and schemes and jargon. For the first game in a season with new players, you don’t need more than 4-6 plays. You can always flip the plays and get different looks, but a team like yours with a few well-rehearsed plays will do significantly better than the same team with two dozen plays. The same thing goes for defense. Find one or two simple formations and then you can spend time giving the players reps and practicing drills so when game time arrives, they are not so frazzled by which play they are running and where they have to be.

4. Targeted Attacks A quarterback with John Elway’s arm always helps, but it sounds like the long ball may not be your best weapon. Instead, hone your short, timing routes. If run correctly, these can be absolutely devastating. The next time you watch an NFL game, pay special attention to how open the receivers are when they catch a pass. With a few exceptions, the routes they run often create just a few feet of space for the QB to deliver the ball. If your quarterback can time some hitch routes or quick slants or outs, you’ll start building momentum and rhythm that can take the team far.

5. Great Flag Football Plays. As mentioned before, there don’t have to be many weapons in the arsenal to start with, but make sure they are good. These Flag Football Plays offer a number of options for tearing down your opponent. Use them well.

Those are a few tips to get you started. If you have more questions, the doors to the Ninja’s dojo are always open. Tell your players that they can ask questions themselves as well.

Victory is yours.



Help with my 7-man team!

2 09 2009

Hi. I bought your 7-man package yesterday and wondered what you would suggest. I am coaching 5th/6th graders who have athletic ability but have not played together. How many plays would you suggest I introduce to the team and from what book would you suggest I pick the plays? What defense would you suggest to run? Thank you.

The Ninja Speaks:

You’re off to a good start. For your first game, I would suggest you have no more than 4-6 plays that the team knows very well. You can always add motion or flip the play to add variety, but the opponent will most likely have trouble with even 5 well executed plays. Each successive week add 2-3 plays, while reviewing the existing ones. If you can come up with a creative way to get them to learn the plays off the field, that will help (competitions can be useful in this regard).

On defense, keep it simple. A cover 2 zone defense is a good start. You keep two men deep, one linebacker plays the middle of the field, two men rush (if permitted), and two men play the flats (5-10 yards deep on the flanks). The biggest challenge you will have is to get the players to stay in their zone. Work on this in drills during practice.

You can try man defense if you think you have an athletic edge over the other team, but zone may serve you better for now.

The Ninja hopes you are helped.

Ten Ways to Dominate in Flag Football

20 12 2008

By Max Moyer, special to Sports Illustrated On Campus

Reprinted with permission from the author

Fall is here, and with it the long awaited return of football. But before you stumble blindly into another mediocre flag football experience, check out ten ways to dominate the league this year:

1. The Pitch

If your league calls the ball dead when it hits the ground (and most do), you absolutely must take advantage of the lateral — it can turn a loss of yards into a touchdown. Every play, your players should be thinking pitch.

2. A Powerful Rush

Don’t make the mistake of using “leftover” players as rushers. Instead, use your best athletes to rush — it will pay off. A nasty rush can completely neutralize a quarterback and demoralize the opposing offense.

3. Adjustments

A flexible team is a winning team. Spend time planning so you’re not trying to invent your strategy on the field. Here are some things to develop:

• A plan for an overwhelming rush (releasing blockers, quick passes, pitches).

• A plan for a team that doesn’t rush (QB sneaks, two-move routes).

• A dominant defense (zone or man, blitzes, audibles).

• A plan to handle a fast, shifty QB (extra rushers, etc.).

4. A Good Playbook

Nine times out of ten a good scheme will beat raw athleticism. You need organization and plays. If you’re not inclined (or simply don’t have time) to create an entire playbook, try a site like Flag Football Ninja that sells them cheap.

5. Simple Rotations

If you have a big team, game-time rotation can become utter chaos. Figure out an efficient, organized way to substitute players through. Avoid team politics by spreading the talent around the rotation instead of having your “starters” out first. A backup squad with no playmakers is useless to put out on the field at almost any point in the game.

6. Defense

Defense wins championships. Generally, teams of five or fewer should be playing a man-to-man defense unless the field is small. A zone can work with a bigger team. Every defense will have its weak spots, but giving the quarterback too much time is unacceptable. So send your rushers as often as you can, and use the blitz aggressively to keep the QB on the run. Also, a zone will completely fall apart if your defenders don’t stick to their spots.

7. Timing

This, unfortunately, requires practice. But if your QB can master a handful of routes (or even a couple), throwing just as the receiver cuts, you can build a championship offense. A QB who can pair accuracy and timing can’t be stopped.

8. Rhythm

Everyone wants to huck it deep. While there is much to be said for having some long plays in your arsenal, by and large, you will fare much better with shorter, consistent plays. A relentless short game will wear down the defense much more effectively than a few long plays, and successive completions batter the opponents psyche as well.

9. Experiment Early

Regardless of how good your scheme is entering the season, you will be better if you adjust after each game. Each team has its own chemistry. Building on the concept of flexibility, try as many plays and schemes as you can early in the season, but by playoff time you should have distilled down what works best for your team. After a few weeks of regular season play, you should know what works and what looked better on paper than on the field.

10. Flag Pulling

Nothing is more important in flag football than being able to pull the flag. Again, nothing is more important in flag football than being able to pull the flag. This sounds dumb, but time and time again, short dump passes turn into touchdowns because of missed pulls.

Try the following:

• Don’t wait flat-footed: If you wait for the ball carrier to pass at full speed while you flail and swipe at the flags, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Instead, meet the ball carrier as early as possible, and move with the ball carrier while you pull the flags.

• Get in the way: Most flag leagues do not allow (much) contact. That is why it can be especially helpful to stand in the way of the ball carrier while trying to pull the flag. They can’t bull you over; they have to go around. This slows them down and gives you more time to pull the flag.

• Pursuit: If everyone on your team pursues the play, you will win more games. You’ll have fewer breakaways because if one guy misses the flag, another is right there.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to your own championships.