How to Beat a Zone Defense (Video)!

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Insights from John Mills-Hearne

John Mills-Hearne is the coach of Whoopdiddy!, who won the competitive leagues in FXA twice in the last year.  He’s played on X-rated aka Weapons XR where he won both the B and C IFFL league. 

Some insights to building a flag football team.

Firstly – you are probably going to recruit friends, family and co-workers to join your team. Its going to be a rough first two seasons, but a time will come when you will have to decide where you want to take your team. If your goal is to have fun no matter the outcome the decisions are easy. However, if you want to be competitive and elite then you are going to have to cut your friends, your family and co-workers. Yes it is awkward, but it’s your job and necessary if you want to win.

My team is competitive, we are not elite and I do not recruit players. In essence we are a fine balance of competitive with friends.

The reason I do not recruit is because I believe that unity and vision is the foundation of my team. Everyone on the team has some connection, all of us have played with someone on the team before. None of us are stars, there are teams with NFL, D1-D3 and HS resume players – that isn’t us. My #1 receiver did not play any organized sports, I played HS catholic soccer, my QB – HS catholic football, one of my starting OL – HS catholic bench warming baseball. We are more than just a team, we are a family.

We all seek the same goal, we all understand our roles and that no one is bigger than the team including myself.

Structure, consistency and responsibility are critical.

All players know the route tree, all players know the defense formations and audibles. We have offensive and defensive field captains who will make the calls on the field, we have offensive and defensive captains on the sideline who are in charge of personnel (subbing in WR and DL).

We do not play the blame game. Which is the unraveling of many great teams, teams that have focused on recruiting the best available players, have a great team that can destroy any team when in sync, but when their backs are against the ropes its a whole different ball game. They start calling each other out and the lesser more put together team pulls through.

Offense/Defense philosophy – patience, no need to go for the big play, wait for mistakes. Play smart, watch the clock, do not be afraid to punt or kick a field goal. 50% of all games are decided by a kick.

Leadership – Make the call and stick by it. Choose respected players to lead. Know your limitations. Don’t play favorites. Every decision ask yourself, is this in the best interest of the team. There will be a time you need to bench yourself!

1. What do you think was the biggest key to your success? Why were you able to win 2 titles in 3 years?
Good core of 5 or 6 players. We played better on Sunday because everyone was there and not playing 8 man which make our match ups better.

2. Is there something about your team that makes you unique?
I don’t think so other than 5 of us have been playing together for 10 years or more.

3. If you could give only one piece of advice to yourself when you were first starting the team, what would it be?
Don’t give the jerseys to the players collect them every game. Lol Chemistry is more important than talent. If you have chemistry you will attract talent. People want to play with teams that are good and get along.

4. What kind of offense and defense do you run and why?
Basic defenses but try to mix it up. Play zone when they think we are in man and vice versa. Basic defenses but do different things from the same look.

5. How did you do in the most recent tournament?
The start to this year’s tournament started off well with a big
win over the Nomads but was followed up with a disappointing loss to
D4. The loss to D4, who Blinco’s would ultimately meet in the finals,
seemed to motivate the Blinco’s squad. After going 2-1 on Saturday,
Sunday was set up for the 4 game run to the title.

First up for Blinco’s on Sunday were the Leathernecks. This game
was a hard fought, tough win for Blinco’s over an athletic Leathernecks
squad. The 5 man A champions, Juda were up next for Blinco’s. Juda
won the 5 man A title 30 minutes before they met D4 and then
Blinco’s. Juda was a little worn down and had some nagging injuries to
key players which proved too much to overcome. Blinco’s moved on to
the finals against D4 who beat the Blinco’s on Saturday.

Blinco’s returned the favor by defeating D4 on Sunday to set up
the “if” game or final game for the 5 man over 35 title. Blinco’s jumped
out to an early 2 TD lead in the final game on the running of
quarterback of Tim Kilpatrick and the play making skills of Leslie Epps,
Cornelius White and Jason Leon. Blinco’s held a 23-12 lead with clock
winding down. Kenny Harris, long time center and LB for Blinco’s,
sealed the game with a catch and then a key block on successive plays
for a game ending first down. Blinco’s and D4 both compete in the 5
man A division as well but both came up short this year in that division
with Blinco’s finishing 2nd, 4th, and 7th respectively the last 3 years.

Expert tips from Coach Paul Runyon

Paul Runyon has been a part of a long running Championship team from 2005-2007 in several leagues.

In all the years of playing football, a few things have become paramount to any good team.  First, you need a core group of guys that trust each other.  That trust comes from knowing what the guy next to you, behind you or in front of you is doing. We had that.  We had a group of guys who were selfless.  We made sure there were no divas on our team.

Our league was the Fredericksburg Flag Football League which fell under the Virginia Flag Football League and the rules of 8 X 8 All eligible.  Our offense was a hybrid conventional/spread formation consisting of Center, 2 Tackles, QB, 3 Receivers and a running back.  Our QB played for the Florida St. Seminoles in college (Flag).  Our scheme was to attack defenses where they were most vulnerable, right down the middle.  Since everyone is eligible for a pass, the QB would attack the middle to set up the deep routes.  He was shifty and smart.

It all starts with a solid quick snap.  The snap needs to be crisp and elevated the QB’s chest so his eyes do not have to drop.  This gives him an extra second to survey the field. The tackles would hold their block for about 2 seconds then release up field.  The RB would flare out to the opposite side of the QB.  Depending on the coverage, the QB would hit the quick slants or throw back side to the RB.  Our RB was special, he was what you would call an “ankle breaker”.  He could run one direction full speed and cut 45 degrees in the opposite direction without missing a step.  9 out of ten times he was left uncovered.  All of our receivers were great with their hands.  In fact, everyone on our team had good hands.  The reason we had the tackles release is, we now send out 7 receivers against 6 DB’s  Most teams would rush 2 defensive lineman.  Normally one on one, the receiver has the advantage, but when you have more receivers than defensive backs, the math speaks for itself and someone will be open.

Our defense wasn’t as special as our offense, but we did have a couple good defensive line rushers.  Any defense starts with your line.  Your rushers need to have a good combination of size, speed and smarts.  Just like pitching in baseball, you have to have a change up.  If you rush the same way every play, the offense will exploit it.  We used stunts, delayed blitz and even the bull-rush to keep the QB guessing.  Your LB’s have to be the best flag pullers on your team.  most plays happen in the middle of the field and your LB core is usually the first one there.  Speaking of flag-pulling, this is undoubtedly the most important fundamental aspects of the game.  If you can’t pull the flags, then you will allow big plays.  The coverage was a 2-4-2 with the middle LB mixing in the blitz.  Sometimes we would line up 2-4-2 and then run the safety down and do a 2-5-1 or 3-4-1.

My advice for any new team or player is to keep it simple.  You don’t need 47 plays and 23 formations.  Start with 4 basic formations.  2 for short yardage gains and 2 for long yardage.  Most leagues have 20 yd first down sticks, so use all 4 plays.  Do the math, 4 x 5=20.  I like 3 X 7=21.  You don’t need 20+ yd throws to win.  The most important communication will need to be between your OL and your QB.  They need to know where the QB is going to be to block efficiently.

Give 100% every play and make sure to have fun.  Attitude is infectious.

Coach Miller’s Redzone Philosophy

Coach Craig Miller is coach of the 5-time Florida state champion, Apocalypse Football. He’s also won 5 IFFF World Cups, the USFTL National Championship and 2 USFTL National Runner Ups.

Redzone Philosophy for Apocalypse - many teams struggle in the redzone. We did. There should be 2 phases in the redzone: 1) get close and 2) score. Phase 1 starts with two 90% plays that will gain 5 to 10 yards with 90% success. These are quick passes of 3 yards that often break for 5 to 10 yards. We have about 12 sure-fire plays that we call the “S-series”. One time I got frustrated with my QB for not calling enough of these plays and he agreed to run 9 of these plays in a row. By the time he got to the 9th play, we had scored 4 Touchdowns! (We have incredible speed and broken field runners) I also recommend these plays on first-and 20 and second and long. Get close then get the first down.

Within 10 yards of the endzone, switch to your extra point plays. You should have 2 sets: from 10 yards and from 5 yards. The best endzone plays are front line/backline plays. I also like using a fake reverse and double pass to buy a little time for my backline guy to zoom across the field slanting or posting to the backline behind 2 frontline curls. (A backline drag takes too long from 10 yards out.) Throw high touch pass to backline. Or hit easy frontline guy when defender abandons him. Frontline guys MUST NOT run around and try to get open!!! Stay covered with toes 3 inches inside goal line. Get these plays to work at 75% and always go for 2-pointextra-point conversions.

Tips from Coach Craig Miller

Some “secret” tips from Coach Craig Miller of the 5-time Florida state champion, Apocalypse Football. He’s also won 5 IFFF World Cups, the USFTL National Championship and 2 USFTL National Runner Ups.

  • Breaking down a zone – you need 2 receivers that will run clearing routes really hard even though there is almost no chance they will ever get the ball. You need 2 receivers that will run 5-yard hook routes, get covered and not run around trying to get open. This is next to impossible because the average football player is selfish, wants glory and wants the ball. But, if you can find these 4 players, the Wide Receiver running a cross-field slant-up and slant at 15 yards will be wide open, every time. The hard part is getting your guys to buy into a team concept and be unselfish. This play splits a zone the easy way: vertically with a big fat seam at 15 yards. Crossing guy must get across field really fast.
  • We also found many teams have difficulty in the redzone and with extra point trys. Defensive schemes are another area of concern.
  • The most important item is unselfishness and players who never give up and love their teammates. You must let bad attitudes find another team. Gradually the excellent players will all want to play with you because they want to win and not fight with their own team.

If you can just do item 1, you will become a champion after you install our redzone scheme and a few disguised Dees.

Tips on playing a zone

Excerpt from the Headache Offense complete package:

In man, they need to cover the receiver and keep their eye on him instead of the QB or the ball. In zone they read the QB and try and anticipate where the ball is going to go and go for plays on the ball.

The main thing about learning to play zone is practicing as a group. They just need to know approx where their zone is and to practice anticipating the ball. Also, as soon as the ball is in the air everyone should immediately swarm to the ball. Since everyone is watching the QB they should all be right in the area of the ball by the time the receiver catches it (if the zone player fails to make a play on it). Does that make sense? It’s all anticipation and reaction, as quick as possible. Do coach the outside corners to be aware of a possible lateral after the catch. If there’s no receiver in the area for a lateral he swarms like everyone else. If there is he should still come to teh ball but anticipate the lateral, stay in the pitching lane and try and intercept the pitch. It’s easy for him to get lulled after a while though and the one time they do lateral it he’s asleep on the job and gets beaten for a big gain.

The deep safeties keep everything in front of them and should not cross the receiver to make a play on the ball unless he is 110% sure without a shadow of a doubt he is going to pick it off. There is no excuse for him to ever be underneath a receiver when the receiver catches the ball, and he should always be deep enough to get to a receiver who has caught the ball and make the tackle. The outside corners need to know that they should always be outside of the most outside receiver. There should NEVER be any receiver between him and the sideline! He has outside contain, he keeps everything inside of him. On option plays he has the pitch always and he has to always be aware of the lateral. If there is a receiver running an out route he should anticipate the ball and start getting in position to make a play (unless there is a receiver that is more threatening to the outside).

The corners should be deeper than the two inside zone defenders. They should be more concerned about the deep out and the corner route than the 5 yard out-route or trying to intercept a 5 yard button hook. The outside routes take longer to get the ball to so he will have time while the ball is in the air to come up and make a play on the receiver. But 5 yard outside routes are hard to complete, easy to tackle and prevent YAC, and aren’t that damaging to a defense. It’s okay to let them have those 5 yard plays as long as you can keep them to just 5 yards. The corner should be more concerned about being in position on a deep out or corner pattern because it is hard for the safety to cover them. The only real catch to that is the swing pass to the running back. If they are killing you with that you may need to have your corner come up closer to the line.