What is the Definition of The Flat in American Football?

The flat in American football refers to a specific area on the field where unique offensive and defensive strategies come into play. Positioned just outside the hash marks, it extends ten yards into the defensive backfield from the line of scrimmage and to the out-of-bounds lines. This part of the field is crucial for various passing routes and defensive coverage decisions, and understanding its significance can provide valuable insights into the game’s complexity.

Offensive routes, such as flat routes, are designed to exploit this area, typically involving wide receivers, tight ends, or running backs breaking quickly toward the sidelines. These quick plays can neutralize defensive attacks and create opportunities to gain yards. Meanwhile, defensive players must strategize to cover the flat effectively, thwarting potential offensive moves. Familiarity with the flat’s dynamics can enhance the understanding of American football at both professional and amateur levels.

Key Takeaways

  • The flat is a critical area on the field for offensive and defensive strategies in American football.
  • Offensive players utilize flat routes, while defensive players aim to cover the flat effectively.
  • An in-depth understanding of the flat’s significance contributes to the complexity and appreciation of American football.

The Flat in American Football


The flat in American football is a specific area of the field that holds significance in both offensive and defensive strategies. This region extends ten yards into the defensive backfield from the line of scrimmage and stretches from the hash marks to the out-of-bounds lines, covering a distance of about 15 yards.


The primary purpose of the flat is to set up several passing and running strategies. Offenses often design specific plays, including flat routes, to exploit this area of the field. These routes typically involve receivers quickly moving towards the sidelines, creating opportunities for short, quick passes. Running backs can also take advantage of this area during screen plays or swing passes.

Defensively, linebackers and defensive backs cover the flat to counter these offensive strategies. They monitor receivers operating in this area, ensuring that opposing offenses do not gain easy yards through completions in the flat.

In summary, the flat in American football plays a crucial role in both offensive and defensive game plans. Teams devise strategies targeting this zone of the field to generate quick, short yardage plays or to neutralize similar tactics from the opposition.

Strategies Involving the Flat

Offensive Strategies

One of the primary offensive strategies involving the flat is to exploit the open space in this area of the field. One way to achieve this is by using flat routes, which typically target a receiver who is running sharp angles, or relatively flat, upfield. These routes can create mismatches and opportunities for successful completions of passes.

Another offensive strategy is the screen pass, which is designed to catch the defense off guard. The quarterback throws a quick, short pass to a running back or wide receiver positioned in the flat, with other offensive players providing blocking assistance. The success of this play relies on the element of surprise and the ability to create space for the receiver to make a run after the catch.

Defensive Strategies

Defenses can counter these offensive strategies by employing various techniques to neutralize the effectiveness of flat routes and screen passes. One such method is zone coverage, which assigns defenders to specific areas of the field, rather than having them follow individual receivers. When a defender is responsible for covering the flat, they can react quickly to any offensive plays targeting that area.

Another defensive approach is to use man-to-man coverage with defensive backs or linebackers covering the intended targets of flat passes. This strategy can be effective in limiting the space available to receivers and reducing the likelihood of successful pass completions.

In addition, defensive players can implement techniques such as jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt their routes, anticipating the quarterback’s intentions, and rapidly closing in on the receiver after the catch to minimize yardage gains.

By staying alert and employing a combination of defensive strategies, a football team can effectively protect the flat and counter offensive plays targeting this area of the field.

Roles of Different Positions

Quarterbacks and the Flat

Quarterbacks play a crucial role in exploiting the flat in American football. Their primary job is to control the play, either by handing the ball off to a running back or passing it to a running back, tight end, or wide receiver. When targeting the flat, the quarterback must make accurate short throws, allowing their teammates to quickly gain yards and potentially neutralize a strong defensive attack.

Running Backs and the Flat

Running backs are key players in the flat as they are responsible for moving the ball down the field, either by running with it or catching passes from the quarterback. In plays targeting the flat, running backs can use their speed and agility to create space and evade defenders. Their versatility makes them a valuable asset, as they can contribute to both the passing and rushing game while navigating the flat.

Wide Receivers and the Flat

Wide receivers also play a significant role in utilizing the flat to their advantage. Their main job is to catch passes from the quarterback and gain yards down the field. In the flat, wide receivers can quickly create separation from defenders, making it easier for the quarterback to complete short passes. This strategy forces the defense to cover more ground, potentially opening up opportunities for longer passes or runs.

Linebackers and the Flat

Linebackers are key defensive players responsible for covering the flat and stopping offensive advances. Their primary focus is to prevent running backs and wide receivers from gaining yards after catching passes in the flat. Linebackers need to display quick reaction times and excellent tackling skills to shut down offensive plays aimed at exploiting the flat. By effectively covering the flat, linebackers can force the offense to consider alternative strategies.

Famous Plays and Moments in the Flat

American football is filled with memorable plays and moments. Some of the most impressive have taken place in the flat, famed for its strategic significance on the field.

One well-executed play in the flat occurred during a Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons in 2017. The Patriots’ running back, James White, caught a pass from quarterback Tom Brady in the flat and rushed for a touchdown. This critical play contributed to the Patriots’ comeback win from a 28-3 deficit, capping off one of the most remarkable Super Bowl game comebacks in history.

Another notable play involving the flat happened during the 2015 NFL season when New York Giants wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., caught a short pass in the flat from quarterback Eli Manning and turned it into an electrifying 72-yard touchdown. This play showcased Beckham Jr.’s speed, agility, and ability to make defenders miss as he weaved through the opposing team before reaching the end zone.

The flat has also been the setting for some incredible defensive plays, such as when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis intercepted a pass intended for the wide receiver in the flat during the 2000 Super Bowl. This play turned the momentum of the game, leading the Ravens to a decisive victory over the New York Giants.

In addition to these individual plays, teams such as the Seattle Seahawks have made the flat a central part of their offensive strategy. Known for their emphasis on quick slants, the Seahawks often exploit the defense in the flat to create opportunities for big gains through short, quick passes to their wide receivers.

The flat, an essential area of the field in American football, has produced numerous unforgettable plays, moments, and game-changing efforts. As the sport continues to evolve, this strategic zone will likely remain a key component for teams looking to achieve success.