One of the most overlooked positions on the flag football field is typically the position of the rusher, yet aside from the quarterback, I would argue this is the most impactful positon that can make or break any team. One of the biggest mistakes I see of many inexperienced teams is putting their worst athlete at rusher. While this may work against a poor statue of a quarterback, against a quarterback who is atleast somewhat mobile not being able to contain or pressure him is a sure fire death sentence.
A defense is only as good as the quality of your rush
If you’ve ever seen a mobile quarterback drag your rusher all around the backfield while the receivers run 4, 5 or 6 procession routes, you can understand the frustration of having to cover for an extreme amount of time. In flag football, you can have the best athletes and the best coverage guys in the field but covering for 3 seconds vs 5-10 seconds is a major difference and virtually impossible to defend against consistently. That wheel-post-dig-seam-out-corner-comeback starts to get old after a couple plays, and fatigue will really start to bring your team down shortly without significant depth. There are different type of rushers and strategies that can be effective against different types of quarterbacks, but in the end, the more time you give a quarterback the harder it is to defend.
Let’s get to the point…
To be an effective flag football rusher you do not have to be the best athlete on the field. While it helps to have good speed, quickness and reaction time, I too often see players with these qualities that do not use them in the correct way. More often than not, the faster the athlete the more aggressive they are, and if you approach the quarterback like you’re running a 40 yard dash, a decent quarterback with a good hip move can get you to overcommit and miss his flags more often than not, giving him a valuable 3-4 more seconds to find an open receiver or take off on a QB run if you’re in a league that allows that. Sure you’ll get a highlight reel sack once in every 20 plays or so, but the opportunity cost is too high and it inevitably will end up costing your team much more than you’ll gain from the occasional sack. Now there are situations where a speed bull rush may be your only option but in general, approaching the quarterback under control with the ability to change direction or react with the QB is a much more viable strategy. Where your speed comes in is to burst the QB down after he’s committed to running away from you to buy more time and you’ll be in position to react. If he was ready to release the football prior to you getting to him, a speed rush wouldn’t have gotten there 95% of the time either.
Another common mistake I see is leaving your feet to jump and try to knock down or block the QB’s throw. Again, you might knock down 1 in 30 passes, but a good flag football QB will spot an over aggressive rusher quickly and will use the pump fake to get you off your feet while they stroll right around you and buy another couple of seconds to find a receiver. The only time I would suggest jumping would be in situations where you can rush 2 people such as 8man games and you both have a clean shot at the QB. Occasionally if my teammate is right on his hip about to pull the flag and it’s clear the QB is about to make a throw, trying to blocking his throwing lane can be effective at either making him double clutch giving your teammate time to come away with the sack or making a poor throw. This does require good coordination though because if you both get caught jumping or if your teammate misses the flag, you’ll be in trouble. Speaking of missed flags, this one is pretty obvious since it’s the rushers primary job, but if he’s a poor flag puller it’ll be a long day for your defense.
These are some basic tips for newer flag football rushers but I’ve seen very experienced guys make the same mistakes time after time as well as these can be hard habits to unlearn. The best rushers have the ability to do all the above, but also improvise when the situation calls for it, mix it up when rushing multiple people (think stunts, twists, etc) and react on their feet when faced with throwback situations and plays designed to confuse the defense, which all just comes from experience. But if you’re just starting out, the above tips should give you a good head start at being effective for your team.