Last month I launched into a discussion of my philosophy on defense. We began the series of articles by talking about coverages. I explained that I prefer the zone blitzing attack and love the versatility of Cover 3. I also said that it was important to mix up coverages. Today we are going to talk about the front seven.
There is a reason we started by talking about coverage and the secondary first. I believe in creating chaos in the backfield but it must be of the organized and responsible variety. Having the deep and intermediate portions of the field taken care of, allows us to be more creative and versatile up front.
Defensively it all starts up front. I am a 3-4 guy. Being a longtime Ravens fan and looking up to Bill Parcells as an idol the 3-4 is simply engrained in my personality. I believe in creatively getting after the quarterback and bouncing the run outside filling, the gaps to the running back’s peril.
There are basics to the 3-4 and the 4-3 and I want athletes that can do a bit of both. Ideally we mix up our fronts, stunts and techniques with a versatile front seven. So 3-4 4-3 does not bind us to the basics. Lets go over the basics though. Everything builds off them.
For the most part the most basic requirement of a defensive lineman in this defense is the ability to two gap. This means the defender is responsible for stuffing both gaps. He must be tall and long. His priority is to knock the offensive lineman straight back (creating a new line of scrimmage in the backfield) and be a big old space eater. He needs to be tall enough to see over the offensive lineman, and long enough to keep him off of him.
The defensive linemen are not the primary playmakers. The linemen are essentially the lead blockers to the linebackers- the head hunters of a 3-4 defense. The lineman free up the linebackers to run to the football. Both teams have 11 players but the 3-4 makes five offensive players block 3 super sized beasts. When done effectively this is a huge advantage for the defense.
With the 3-4 & Hybrid fronts it is much easier to hide who is pass rushing and who is not. The blitz can come from any where. With 4 down linemen it is easier for the offensive line to know who to block.
The key to stopping the run in the 3-4 is a dominant nose guard. The interior linebackers are lined up over the guards with no defensive lineman in front of them. If the nose guard can not be dominant in the A gaps ( Gaps between center and guards) the linebackers will be fighting off guards all day long and will be ineffective.
Stopping the run is the base need for every defense. It is where everything starts still in todays pass-happy league. The key to stopping the run is to fill the gaps forcing the runner to bounce outside. Linebackers must make plays in the backfield. The defense must always have a player or players responsible for outside contain and the cutback.
Moving to the graduate level of organized chaos let us get after the passer. Through smart stunts and well timed blitzes we can give the quarterback a beating.
A stunt is a special move for the defensive lineman. It is like receivers’ routes; it tells him where to go. The object of any stunt is to free up a blitzer’s path to the football.
An offensive lineman is taught not to let a defender cross his face. Stunts are often used to get the offensive lineman out of position. An uncovered offensive lineman must help a teammate. Stunting can create confusion for the offensive line. A second of hesitation, means a second paused. This is all a blitzer needs to come through his gap flying untouched.
The 3-4 is designed for the outside linebackers to be the star pass rushers. Two elite pass rushers on the outside can definitely lead to a dominant defense. That being said it is not the only way to pressure the passer.
Every team is different, every quarterback is different, and so you must attack each team differently. A quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger I like to flush him to to the side he throws worst to. Knowing that he is going to roll out anyway; use and overload blitz- get him rolling out and roll your coverage with him- forcing him to A.) throw into coverage B.) throw dangerously across field or C.) get pummeled.
Against a stationary quarterback like Tom Brady you have to play it completely differently. If you throw an overload blitz at “Tom Terrific” he won’t roll out he will diagnose it and burn you for it before you can snap your fingers. Because Brady sees downfield so well, sending extra pass rush is often a recipe for your defensive back’s burnt toast.
You need to pressure Brady with a 4-5 man rush. The New York Giants have 2 rings because of their ability to pressure the Patriots passer without sending many extra blitzers.
This is where stunting comes into play. Using stunts like a super stick ( Crashing DE or OLB all the way into the A gap); can get midline pressure on a midline passer like Brady. Another option is to drop your nose guard into a fire zone and blitzing 1 or two interior linebackers.
Hybrid defenses sound much more complicated than they actually are. Here are two simple ways to achieve a hybrid front.
1.) If you are in a typical 3-4 if you shift your defensive line to the strong side and shift your linebackers to the weak side you can now be a 4-3 front. The weak side outside linebacker plays now with his hand in the ground as a defensive end.
2.) If you have a mixture of types of defensive linemen you can play both 4-3 principles and 3-4 principles. It all hinges on having a great DT like a Haloti Ngata a Vince Wilfork or a Gino Atkins. If you have a guy who can do both he is your marker. On one side of him play 4-3 principles on the other 3-4 principles and alignment. Maybe on the strong side you want to two gap and on the weak side you want to be aggressive and have your guys penetrate into the backfield.
Thats enough football for you all to digest right now. The important thing to remember is that defense is FUN. You have to know assignment and where to align. You have to be able to read your keys and react quickly. Defense is simply aggression with a purpose and a plan.