Dear Flag Football Ninja,

I coach 14 -17 year old 7-on-7 flag football team. I need help on teaching my kids how to stop the drag route pass to the sidelines. Teams are b

- Carloseating us using a WR taking two steps up the field then turn IN full speed tours the sidelines and my kids are always two steps behind the WR. I bought the ninja playbook and they don’t mention it on they defense. Any tips would help…Thank You 



image001Thanks for your purchase of the Ninja Package – you join an elite group that has wisely put its trust in the Ninja.  It sounds like you’re describing a short “In Route” that resembles a quick slant because the cut is coming at 2-3 yards rather than the typical 5-7 or deeper.  As a coach, it’s important for you to understand that, particularly at this level, defense cannot stop every play.  In fact, with a strong offense that has practiced timing and routes, it can be a difficult task to shut down the dinks and dumps.

You need is a strong containment strategy, not a strategy to shut down the shallow in or shallow out routes.  The problem is, that if you shift your defensive coverage to allow your corners to break up or even pick off those short sideline routes, you will inevitably get bitten by an out-and-up, and you won’t like the outcome.   The other problem with having corners jump the out routes is that it takes them out of just about every other play as well.    If your defender is crashing that route and finds him/herself positioned 3 yards off the line of scrimmage and hugging the sideline, you’ve created a huge channel for a scramble, a designed run, a hook or some other short yardage play.  Don’t forget, the sideline is a player on your defense.

If you’re continually getting beat by this route, it says one of two things:  either you’re playing man-on-man defense, and putting yourself in the position of having to chase after a quick route like this (and probably playing too shallow), or your zone defense has some holes in it, potentially linked to fundamentals like flag pulling  rather than scheme.


First, make sure you’re running a zone, because a man defense is not working.

Second, put a cornerback out in the flats on defense (5 yards off the line and splitting the distance between the sideline and the blockers on the line (or the spot where they would stand if you don’t have blockers).  The play you’ve described always starts with the receiver close to center, so no need to post a defender next to the sideline on the snap.  That cornerback can slowly backpedal after the snap and if someone is crossing through his/her zone, can take a step or two towards the outside.  The goal is to be in a position to pull a flag quickly if the QB dumps the ball off 3 yards deep towards the sideline.  If the throw comes sooner, your defender is in the perfect position.  If it takes time to develop, the defender has gotten a little bit of depth so he/she can sprint FORWARD to make the flag pull.  But it avoids being in the tough spot of chasing down a receiver.

Third, practice flag pulling until every defender on the field is a dependable defensive threat.  Check out the Ultimate Strategy Guide that came with your playbook for tips on flag pulling.  If you can’t count on your defenders to pull flags, get used to losing.

And Fourth, teach swarming to the ball.  The play you’ve described ends in a 4-5 yard gain in the best case scenario IF your defense does its job.  Make sure you have linebackers, safeties and even linemen racing towards the ball.  It sounds simple, but can be the difference between a winning season and packing up and heading home.

No Mistakes, No Mercy.




I recently purchased a playbook and I’m trying to figure out how best to use the play ‘Bottle Rocket Deep’ in my 8man league.  Could you provide some tips?

Thanks for your help – Chad.



Bottle Rocket Deep is a team favorite and a great play if you’re ready to take a shot down field.  As depicted, it works especially well against a cover 2 defense (two deep safeties).
flag football

Bottle Rocket Deep – touchdown anyone?

The key will be the right  wide out (z) and left slot man (x).  They need to pull the safeties off with them.  But in the end, this play works or not based on how well the QB can pull it off.  W goes in motion and on snap, should work on getting deep.  QB needs to look off the left safety and then look to the z man, who should be curling behind the corner back but in front of the safety (12-14 yards).  QB can roll out if he needs to.  When QB locks his eyes on Z, the safety will come up, totally oblivious to W, who has quietly made his way down field and gotten behind the safety.  By the time QB releases and the safety realizes he has a man behind him, it’s too late. 6 in the books.

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How to Defend An All-Star Receiver

On October 2, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

Hey Ninja-
I play in a 4on4 league and the qb can’t run and has 5 seconds to get rid of the ball. Defense cant rush at all. How should my team defend a tall, agile receiver with short, agile defenders?
Thanks,    J.

Ninja Speaks:


Defending the Tall Receiver

Jump Ball! Defending the tall receiver.

Figuring out how to contain a talented receiver is key when matching up agianst some of the better teams in your league.  In your league, with no rush, hurrying the qb – one of the primary methods of playing tight defense is gone.  So your focus needs to be squarely on the matchup.  4on4 doesn’t lend itself to a zone defense, but without a rush, you should have a floater defender.  You say your defenders are short and agile.  If you’re worried about one receiver, try matching up with a tight man coverage.  Have your defender line up about five yards deep on the inside shoulder of the star receiver.  It is harder for the recevier to break outside and catch a ball than break inside, so make him go that direction.   The reciever’s height will benefit him more on the long balls than it will on short deliveries.  So cover tight underneath, and let your extra defender play deep and spy the star receiver in case he breaks through.

At the end of the day, when your players square off, a tall receiver will be able to go up and get a well thrown ball over the top of a shorter defender.   But rarely is the throw and catch perfect in flag football.  Having the extra defender to back will give much needed added protection.  But remember, this leaves your other two defenders isolated in man-man coverage. 



From Javier:

I play in a 4 on 4 league. We are having a big problem figuring out what kind of defense to play. In our league you can either chose to have a rusher (who has to start 7 yards back and there is no impeding the rusher) or chose not to rush and QB gets 5 sec. We have some height on our team with decent speed and one short really fast player. Any suggestions on what defense to play? (I purchased your play book and strategy guide and its great)

 Ninja Says:

Javier, this is a question that many teams struggle with, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  The reason is that the solution lies in the personnel you have available.   It is always good to pressure the opposing QB because it will cause them to hurry their throws and this leads to broken plays and interceptions.  But there are two significant dangers, especially in 4man football with sending pressure:

4man flag football

To Rush or To Cover?

1.  First is the vulnerability in your cover defense.  4on4 flag football demands man-on-man coverage, and if you are sending one, that leaves 3.  A zone defense simply won’t work.  So if you have 3 athletes who can provide lock-down defense, then definitely send the 4th.  If you are likely to get beat, you may be better served holding your rusher back to help in coverage.

2. Second, depending on league rules, you may be opening yourself up to a running gain by the QB himself if he can elude your rusher.  Many 4man leagues are passing leagues where this is not a danger, but in any format of flag football where the QB can run, the caliber of rusher simply cannot be ignored.

So as a point of team strategy, you will have to weigh the pros and cons of sending a strong rush when cover support is limited.  Also consider whether or not your league imposes a “virtual” snap count, that requires the QB to get rid of the ball after 10 seconds (for instance).   How much do those extra seconds buy?

Before you made a decision on your strategy, take a hard look around at your players and try to decide if they can match up on the receivers.  This could change game to game, so stay nimble.




Hey Ninja, I have a couple of questions for you. In our city league in Florida, we play by the FRPA rules that allow for the use of a two QB system in 7 on 7. The rule allows the main QB to make a forward pass to the other QB on the field who can then make another forward pass down field, without a penalty, as long as the first pass was behind the line of scrimmage. We are one of the few teams that play a more traditional football with one QB, RB, TE and WR.

My first question is how can you defend this? And second, does you offensive play book have any plays that feature a dual QB system and do you think its a good idea if you have three guys, who played H.S. football as QB’s, and then line then up in the RB and WR spots? This way I can cause major match up problems because the guy I throw the ball to might either run or can pass the ball to another receiver, down field, as long as my first pass is behind the line of scrimmage.

Coach J


Ninja Speaks

Coach J,

Thanks for the questions.  While not the dominant format, what you describe is the format adopted by some leagues, especially indoor leagues.  In most cases, its an added distraction for teams that otherwise need to focus on fundamentals, but sometimes veteran teams have figured out how to use the double pass strategically and the results can be impressive.

Defending Against the Double Pass:

Continue reading »


Choosing the Right Quarterback

On March 28, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

We have 3 potential QBs: One, call him option A is fast / fairly accurate, option B is slow, VERY accurate and very good at reads, and option C is a decent passer/runner but lacks decision / leadership skills. We tried all of us through out the season, do you think that sticking with one QB is better throughout the season to develop some chemistry between the players?

Picking the Right Quarterback – Based on the description above, the Ninja will discuss and analyze the quarterback options

The “Run and Gun” – a fast QB with decent accuracy
Run and Gun is fast and can deliver a decent pass. He’s often looking for a running lane, but can deliver the ball through the air. He struggles with accuracy on longer balls.

Pros: Mobility can be a huge asset on the field, particularly if league rules allow running.

Continue reading »


Check out this video of a ninja quaterback hitting crazy trick shots – follow this link to the watch the video on YouTube.


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Many have looked for a way to catch more footballs and elevate their game.  Receiver gloves are a great way to do that.   Manyof the football gear companies (Nike, Reebok, Under Armour, etc) have some version that they sell, but Cutters, a relatively young company, has specialized in this market  and focused on little else.  Inspired by indsutrial glass-handler gloves, the C-Tack revolutionary tactification process integrates the grip into the material Unique look, feel, grip and durability C-Tack’s tackiness is easily restored by wiping the palms with a damp towel and then wiping dry and machine or hand washing in cold water Neoprene on knuckles Ideal for receivers, running backs and defensive backs Ensure the ultimate in gripability Perform well in all weather conditions Machine washable and dryable Meets NF/NCAA specifications.

The Good: The C-TACK Receiver Gloves are among the stickiest on the market (still legal for NCAA college and other league play).  Even better, they keep their tackiness longer than many of the competitor gloves on the market. They are not particularly fragile (machine washable), and come in a few different options.

The Bad: Cutters has struggled in their “cool factor” for a while both in design and color options.  The solid gray with white piping scheme was intended to comply with NCAA rules.  They continue to evolve on this front, and we are big fans of the new black on black.

Rating   4.5 of 5 Stars - GREAT
Slightly dinged for appearance, we think these are about the best gloves on the market for durability and stick factor.  (And the Ninja always appreciates the black on black…).  Get your pair today.

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The Out-And-Up


Shatter the Zone

If run correctly, the out-and-up can shatter the zone defense.  Whether you’re facing a cover 2 (two deep defenders) or some variation, like a three deep, box or diamond coverage scheme, you can open it wide up with this play.  What’s the catch?  You have to run it right.   We look at the out and up against a cover 2 defense.  This is a 7on7 look, but the same thing can be run in 5man, 6man, 7man and 8man football.  Line up twins to the side where the ball will go (here its right).  The wideout (outside receiver, Z) should line up about 10-12 yards from the sideline.  He is the decoy.  Some sort of fake communication to draw attention to the wideout can be used (receiver tapping his head or the QB making eye contact and calling a fake hot route).  The slot receiver (inside receiver, Y) should line up halfway between the ball and the wideout.   On the snap, the wideout will head straight for the center of the field.  The purpose is to draw the deep right defender into the middle of the field.  This will be particularly effective if the QB locks his eyes on the Z receiver.   The Y receiver will line up with his inside foot forward.  On snap, the Y receiver will take two steps and plant his inside foot on the second step.  About 2-3 yards off the line, the Y receiver will cut hard to the sideline.   He will not change course until he is 1-2 yards from the sideline (very important).  As soon as he reaches the edge of the field, the  Y receiver breaks deep.  The other routes are safety valves.  If it’s run right, the Y receiver will break open soon after the cut.  The QB should hit him quickly, or let it unfold and hit him deep.  The defense may not even notice the Y receiver until the ball is being launched over their heads.

Beat Man

The same play will work against man coverage.  The routes need to stay crisp.  The Y receiver should run about 3/4 speed until he reaches the sideline, then turn it on.  If the Y receiver has not signaled the fake, he should be able to break away and get separation down the sideline. If the defender is playing off the Y receiver, consider making the first cut 5-7 yards deep.

For more devastating plays, visit

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So you’ve rounded up some buddies, some of them have rounded up their buddies and you have enough players to field a flag or touch football team. You’ve thought of a clever team name and registered for the league.  Congratulations, the easy part is over.  Now you have a team to run. Sound easy? Maybe not easy as you’d think, especially when the coach is a player.  Here are some tips to stay competitive and avoid turning a group of friends into enemies in the meantime.

Player Coach

Do We Need a Coach?

“I’m playing for fun with some friends, do we really need a coach?” It’s a common question, but the answer is: you most likely already have a coach (you may not use that title, but handling scheduling, calling plays, and rotating players  makes you coach).  A good, competitive team will need leadership and organization.  Also, in many informal settings (rec leagues, weekend football, etc) you will have no-shows and scheduling conflicts.  For this reason, it is good to have more players on the team than will play on the field each down.  BUT, this also means having more players than spots.  When games become important (playoffs or championships), don’t be surprised if all 14 players show up for the first time all season.  For the unprepared coach, this can be a real problem.  Flexibility on the field is hugely important to respond to different challenges mid-stream, and without a defined leader calling those shots, you will find there are suddenly several coaches on the field, each with strong, differing opinions.

Coaching Style and Structure

Communication is key.  Whatever strategy you use, communicate it to the team as early as possible.  This goes for planning, plays, practices, rotations, schedule and everything else.  Usually the guy who ends up coaching is one of the better athletes on the team.  Often he’s the QB.  In some ways that makes coaching easier – its a natural leadership position, play-calling and organization flow well and the concern about playing yourself more than others disappears (for offensive plays).  If you are not the QB, it will be difficult to be the sole coach for all the same reasons.  If this is the case, consider creating a “coaching committee” of 2-4 players, including the QB.  That way play-calling, structure and organization still comes from a singular point.  You may want to form a committee like this anyway to avoid some of the interpersonal and ego-related issues that can surface.  Taking a player out of a game is far easier if it comes from two or three “coaches” than it is coming from one player-coach.  Of course, it can be more complex making calls from the field, and if disputes arise in the committee, there is no final word.

The more organization the coach(es) have the better.  Having set plays and strategies improves performance and can help with putting people in positions and making rotations. A set rotation may be preferable to replacing players on the fly to ensure better distribution of play time as well as distribution of skill.  Also finding player strengths is important – if one guy is especially effective on defense, you may be able to keep him engaged and interested without adding him to an already full offensive rotation, all without sacrificing talent.

Fun and Winning: a Delicate Balance

This dilemma affects most every (unpaid) coach, from the Dad youth football coach to the junior high team coach, and especially the player coach.  And there is definitely no one-size-fits-all solution.  The balance between winning and fun will be different for each player on the team.  There are players that would rather sit on the sidelines the entire season if it meant winning, while others would play without keeping score, just for love of the game.  The first step for the player coach is to determine where your team comes out on the question.  Are you in the lowest division in the coed football-for charity league? If so, chances are that fun is the reason to be playing.  Do you have a slate of ex-college players, who want to practice just so the championship is within reach? Probably a winning-mentality.   Most people voluntarily engaged in competitive sports probably enjoy winning, but you have to find out at what cost.  Early in the season, you will have more leeway. Once playoffs arrive, you’re playing for keeps.  But even along the way, winning games can be very important.  Consider starting some of the non-playmakers so when the crucial final 2 minutes arrives, you’re not compelled to play a weak lineup.  Also, making a “Red Team” lineup in addition to the regular rotations allows you to fall back on a pre-established system and quickly get your best team on the field when you need it. Oops, the “here-to-have-fun” guy just gave up a 60 yard touchdown and you need to score in 46 seconds: bring out the Red Team. At the end of the day, people need to have fun to keep playing on your team, but if well managed, the mix between adequate involvement and being part of a winning team, should work for the whole group.

Big Picture

A parting thought: remember why you’re playing.  It’s not the superbowl, you don’t have professional athlete insurance on your legs, your game is (probably) not televised.  Is it worth losing friends, offending people and hurting feelings just for the sake of the win? If you have a hard time answering this question, first, take a deep breath and re-consider your life purpose, and then, surround yourself with like-minded players and go win the championship.

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