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Ralphy Boy
07-06-2005, 01:10 PM
link (http://chiefs.foxsports.scout.com/2/393069.html?refid=400)
Part 1: The 3-4 vs. the 4-3 Defense


With more talented players Cunningham has options.

By Mike Campbell Warpaint Illustrated Columnist
Date: Jul 6, 2005

When Chiefs fans heard the news that Gunther Cunningham may use a 3-4 defense on certain passing downs it raised more than a few eyebrows. For many, just a whisper of the 3-4 conjured up memories of the 1997 Falcon defense and the glory days of dominant Chiefs defenders.

Other fans have been left wondering what this means to Chiefs 4-3 defense. Does Kansas City have the personnel to run the 3-4 as their base defense? What are the differences between the two and which one is conventionally better?

I hope to answer all of those questions in this two part article. In part one we will discuss the basics of defense, defensive gaps, and the defensive line. In part two we will discuss the linebackers, the differences in basic philosophy, and the over all strength of the two schemes.

<Defense 101
Before we delve too deep in to each defense lets take the time to discuss some of the basics. The names 3-4 and 4-3 refer to the alignment of the players who make up the front seven of the defense. The front seven consists of the linebackers and defensive linemen while the defensive backs (2 cornerbacks and 2 safeties) make up the portion of the defense referred to as the secondary.

On the front seven of a 3-4 scheme you have a nose tackle and two defensive ends on the line of scrimmage with four linebackers that can line up in a variety places. Conversely in a 4-3 you have two defensive tackles and two defensive ends on the line of scrimmage with three linebackers playing two to five yards off of the line of scrimmage.

The roles of the secondary are interchangeable between the two defensive fronts and they use their own set of terms to designate coverage (cover two, cover one, man-to-man, etc). However, let me also make it clear that the two halves of the defense are not independent of one another. In fact whatever the front seven is asked to do in a play call will usually effect the type of coverage that is called in secondary as well (this is especially true for the safeties).

Alignment and Gaps Assignment
When it comes to aligning a defense each player on the front seven will align himself with an offensive lineman, a tight end, or a gap between two players. Those defenders will also line up in various positions or “shades” that put them straight over a gap, a player, or either shoulder of a player. When coaches are drawing up game plans and designing defenses this is a very critical part of their strategy.

There is a standard system for counting shades and gaps, it starts with the offensive center and works its way out past the tight ends in both directions. The first alignment is the “zero technique” which is over the nose of the center and from there either shoulder of the center is a “one technique”. The gap between the center and guards is called the “A gap” and then the inside shoulder of each guard is called the “inside two” or “two in”. Nose up on the guards is a “two technique” and the alignment on their outside shoulders is the “three technique”. The “B gap” is between the guards and the offensive tackles while the inside shoulders of the tackles are called the “inside 4” or “4 in”. A regular “4 technique” is nose up on the offensive and the outside shoulder is the “5 technique”. The “C gap” is between the tackle and tight end and the alignments on the tight end are “7” for his inside shoulder, a “6 technique” for head up, and a “9 technique” for his outside shoulder. Outside of the tight end is the “D gap” and lining up outside of the “D gap” is an “8 technique”.

I know of three different ways this is taught throughout high schools and colleges but the method I discussed above by far is the most prevalent. Some coaches use a modified version and they don’t skip numbering where gaps are present. So in that case the “A gap” would also be called a “2” technique and the inside shoulder of the guard would be considered a “3 technique”.

Differences in Personnel - The Defensive Line
Outside of alignment, the most glaring difference between the 4-3 and 3-4 is the type of personnel involved. The biggest change that takes place from one defense to the other is along the defensive line.

As stated above the 4-3 defense uses two defensive tackles and the capabilities of those two players can vary from defense to defense. Most teams use a combination of skill sets on the interior of the defensive line. One defensive tackle usually plays a “3 technique” and his job is to shoot a single gap and disrupt things in the backfield. This player is usually a 300lb pass rusher with quick feet and good explosion. The Chiefs happen to use two of these “3 technique” type players in the starting lineup at the same time with Ryan Sims and Lional Dalton. When Warren Sapp played for Tampa Bay he was also this kind of player.

The second flavor of defensive tackle in a 4-3 tends to play more over the center in a 0 to 2 technique (many times this is the right defensive tackle). This defensive tackle is often a heavier more powerful player that will usually draw a double team from the center and guard. He is responsible for controlling one or both of the “A gaps” depending on where he is lined up. Some of the more successful 4-3 defenses in recent history have deployed two of these players in the middle of their defense at the same time. The Baltimore Ravens with Tony Saragusa and Sam Adams would be one example while the Chicago Bears with Keith Traylor and Ted Washington would be another.

In a 3-4 defense the defensive tackle position is called the nose tackle or nose guard (This name refers to his alignment over the nose of the center). This player has to be an immoveable object so you generally look for a guy who is at least 330lbs with great lower body strength. He is basically the same kind of player as the second defensive tackle we discussed above but he plays a more important role than his counterpart in the 4-3.

Unlike the defensive tackle of the 4-3, the nose tackle is the anchor of the 3-4. Any team that plans on running the 3-4 as their base defense needs to have a player that can play that position at a high level. The elite nose tackles should be able to fire out of a four point stance and take the center in to the backfield. It is imperative that he constantly draw a double team from the guard and center because should he fail to do so his inside linebackers will pay the price.

The Defensive ends are also very different between the two schemes. The defensive ends that play in a 4-3 tend to average 265 to 280lbs and are 6’3” to 6’7” tall. They must also posses a quick initial burst of speed as they are the primary player designated to rush the quarterback. Most of the time you find them lining up in a “5 technique” though it is not uncommon for them to shade to a “9 technique” should a tight end come to their side.

Though the 4-3 defensive end is the teams best pass rusher he also has an important responsibility on rushing downs. Unless there happens to be a line stunt called he has contain responsibilities on the “C” gap. This means he cannot be sucked inside on run support because it is his job to prevent the offense from turning the corner and getting up field on sweeps and bootlegs.

Since the 4-3 defensive end is based on speed and explosion rather than bulk and power, you don’t see too many of them make a successful transition to the 3-4, at least not as a defensive end. For example, when the Atlanta Falcons switched to a 3-4 two years ago their previous standout defensive end Patrick Kerney became a liability because he wasn’t stout enough to hold up against the run (Most right defensive ends would be best suited to handle duties as an outside linebacker in a 3-4).

In a 3-4 defense the defensive end is almost exclusively lined up at a “4 technique” or “5 technique”. Personnel wise they are usually classified as “tweeners” because in a 4-3 they could handle duties at either the “3 technique” or left defensive end.

It should also be noted that not all 4-3 “3 technique” defensive tackles translate well in to 3-4 defensive ends. The Oakland Raiders discovered this in 2004 when their attempt at playing Warren Sapp at right defensive end failed miserably. Though he is one of the greatest “3 technique” defensive tackles of all time he is not built to go head to head with offensive tackles.

Most of the time the players that are recruited to play defensive end in a 3-4 are 6’3” to 6’5” tall and a chiseled 300 pounds. Kansas City’s John Browning, Miami’s Kevin Carter, and San Diego’s Igor Olshansky are prime examples of the kind of player that usually plays this position.

In a 3-4 the defensive end has similar responsibilities to the nose tackle. Like his interior line-mate, the defensive end has to occupy blockers so the linebackers can roam free and make plays. They don’t need to be sack artists or even rack up many tackles. All they need to do is make sure they are getting in the way of offensive linemen. Sadly, the defensive end of the 3-4 has the least glamorous job on defense because whenever they do their job well it winds up being the linebackers who get all of the credit.

Generally speaking most 3-4 defensive ends are not capable of playing the same position in a 4-3 because they lack the initial burst as a pass rusher. When you do see them in a 4-3 they are usually at left defensive end (or defensive tackle) and considered a two down player which means they are usually replaced by pass rush specialists on third downs.

On Thursday Mike Campbell will feature Part 2 of the differences between the 3-4 and the 4-3 defense.