Rules for the defense

The following are rules that apply specifically to defense.

Tagging the ball carrier

Easily the most consistently controvertial issue in an OFL game is the tag, thus understanding a legal tag is critical.

A legal tag must consist of two palms to the body of the ball carrier. Fingertips do not count as 'hands'; nor does a piece of shirt or the ball count as 'body'. Arms also—unless tight against the body—do not count. The ball or hands never count. Our game is predicated on defenders accurately understanding if they've legally tagged the ball carrier.

legal tag area
Legal tag area
legal tag area
Legal tag area when one arm is tight against the body

The defender—once he has made the tag—should then loudly say "Down!". Yelling "Down" before actually tagging a ball-carrier is a penalty. As the play stops when a defender says "Down", phantom or incorrect tagging is a 8-pace penalty and automatic first down.

An offensive player is considered "down" when a defensive player tags with the ball-carrier with two hands fully contacting the body (one hand if the player is on the ground). Touching only clothing (i.e. a small bit of T-shirt or the scrimmage vest), or tagging with fingertips, does not constitute a successful tag. Additionally, the ball does not count as part of the body.

The play may also end if a runner declares himself down by falling to the ground and makes no effort to advance, or has stopped advancing due to injury, or because he believed he was tagged.

Grabbing a ball carrier's clothes to stop him is a penalty. Grabbing clothing to stop a ball carrier or pass rush, or to shed a block is a penalty (8-pace penalty and automatic first down). Knocking a player down via a shoulder is a personal foul (15-pace penalty from the spot of the foul, and automatic first down).

If a defender grabs the ball carrier's clothing in an obvious attempt to prevent a touchdown, a penalty touchdown is automatically awarded.

A QB is down the moment he is tagged, regardless of whether the arm is in motion.

Therefore as a defender, on a tag you should:

  1. Make sure you put some force into the tag. Hard tags are legal, as long as they're not malicious.
  2. Hesitate to consider whether the tag was legal.
  3. Assuming it was, stay at the spot, raise your hand, and loudly announce the down.
  4. Maintain your position until the new neutral zone is set. The defense is responsible for spotting the ball.

Tackling or grabbing clothing is illegal (8-pace penalty from the spot of the foul and automatic first down). NEW: Intentionally preventing a touchdown in the open field via the grabbing of clothing is an automatic penalty-touchdown, worth 7 points to the team in possession.

A QB is down the moment he/she is tagged, regardless if the arm is in motion.

Defenders cannot reach across the neutral zone to tag a quarterback directly under center, even on a blitz. If the quarterback is directly under center The defender must have both feet through the neutral zone before a tag is allowed.

Defenseless players

It is illegal for a defender—while attempting to tag a pass-thrower or punter in the pocket, before, during, or just after the player delivers the ball, to knock the player off his feet onto the ground. Equally, it is illegal for a pass-thrower or punter to fake being knocked off their feet and claim penalty.

Additionally, it illegal to physically interfere with a player attempting to catch a punt or kickoff, unless, in the case of a kickoff, contact is inadvertent and during an obvious attempt to also recover the kick.

Last updated: Nov.02.2018

Pass Rush

Defenses count to "four mississippi" before crossing the line of scrimmage - unless:

  • The ball has left the quarterback's hands via a pass, handoff, kick, or dropped ball.
  • There is any downfield blocking by an offensive player. Downfield blocking by the offense allows the defense to cross the line of scrimmage at will.
  • There is a fumble in the backfield or the snap has been muffed (i.e. the ball hits the ground or is dropped by the quarterback during the hike.)
  • The defense calls a blitz.

In any of these instances the defense can cross the line of scrimmage immediately.

Defenses do not have to rush the quarterback (they may choose to double-team a receiver instead), however they must audibly count to "4 Mississippi" anyway so everyone on the field knows what's going on.

The "4 Mississippi" count can be quick but it must be audible across the whole field.

Intentional grabbing/pulling of clothing is not allowed under any circumstances, even for defensive linemen trying to shed a block. Grabbing is an 8 pace penalty from the spot of the infraction.

Defenders may not line up directly over the center.

Last updated: Sep.15.2017


Defenses are allowed one blitz per four downs. A blitz allows any number of defensive players to charge in without first counting to "4 Mississippi", as long as someone audibly shouts "BLITZ!". The player blitzing does not have to shout, but at least one defensive player on the field must shout it. Blitzing without yelling the word "BLITZ!" is a penalty (8 paces and automatic first down).

Fake or phantom blitzes are legal. Defenses can yell "Blintz!" or "Bits!" or "Shlitz" without actually blitzing (beer references are encouraged) in order to scare the offense into doing something stupid. Additionally, the defense can yell "Blitz" and not rush in, although they then lose their blitz for those four downs. Essentially, uttering the word "blitz" constitutes the use of the blitz play.

Defenses can also have a delayed blitz where they begin counting the Mississippi Count but then blitz mid-count.

An accepted penalty which re-plays the down allows the defense to blitz again.


  • If the quarterback is directly under center (for a direct snap), defenders cannot reach across the line of scrimmage for a tag, even on a blitz. The defender must move his feet across the LOS before tagging.
  • No blitzes are allowed on 2-point conversions or X-Point Plays
  • Crossing the line of scrimmage without a valid count (example: crossing early before counting to 4 Misissippi) is an "illegal blitz" penalty: 8 pace and automatic first down.

Last updated: Jan.08.2017


Defensive players who've been drawn offside by a fake hand-off or (if blitzing) by a phony snap count, or by accident, can retreat back across the line of scrimmage and re-set while the play continues without penalty. If the defense does not re-set, an illegal blitz will be called.

Last updated: Dec.26.2016


Defenses are allowed contact to a receiver in the neutral zone (not 5 paces downfield), using open hands to the body. The neutral zone extends one arm's distance downfield from the previous spot of the ball.

Last updated: Dec.16.2017


Touchbacks are spotted 15 paces from the goal line (at the first cone). Players may take a knee in the end zone.

Last updated: Dec.16.2017

Spotting the ball

The defense is responsible for collecting the ball and the scrimmage marker at the proper spot after the ball carrier has been downed. Purposely delaying this action during a "hurry-up" offensive series will be a delay of game penalty. An un-sportsmanlike conduct penalty will be assessed if the spotting is continually delayed.

Upon the snap, the OFL neutral zone is extended by a player's arm length from where the nose of the ball was after spotting.

Last updated: Dec.16.2017

Defending 2-point conversions and X-point Plays

On 2-point conversions, the defense can run back a fumble or an interception for 2 points (safety).

No blitzes are allowed on 2-point conversions or X-Point Plays. An unsuccess X-Point Play ends the game.

Last updated: Dec.16.2017