Miami Dolphins 4-3 Defense Pt. 1

  

Please Note: Part 2 of the Miami 4-3 Defense is Available, Click Here For It

Dear Readers,

Following the 80’s rage on the 3-4 and 46 defenses, offenses found ways to protect the passer and attack the opponent through the air with the spread of the “west coast offense” in the early to mid 90’s. In order to defeat opponents that used this offense which threw short, high percentage passes first in order to open up the running game, the Over 4-3 (or Miami 4-3) defense came about. This will begin a 3 part series on the defense, starting with the 1996 Miami Dolphins Defense. This part of the series will include a few posts.
Before getting into great detail, an understanding of the base look is required. The Miami Dolphins 4-3 Defense looked like this:

So what do we have?

In “Base”, from left to right, we have a 9 technique End, 3 tech Tackle, a 1 Tech Tackle, and a 5 tech End. Compare this to “Base 7″, which moves the former 9 tech in base to a 7 technique, and the Sam goes from a 50 tech (or 5 tech as their playbook calls it), to a stack position on top of the end. The subtle change from a 9 tech to a 7 tech and a stack End/Sam combo changes the gap responsibility of these two players. Instead of playing the “D Gap to Alley”, the End must control the “C Gap to Alley”. What does that mean?

Playing inside shade on the tight end (7 tech) means the defensive end likely has to switch his down hand and back leg from the inside to the outside (hand/leg closest to the tight end). Also, stealing this detail from someone at http://www.coachhuey.com (name yourself and I’ll give ya credit), the inside foot thus being up in the 7 technique puts the defensive end in a better position to hold their ground if the tight end was to down block on the end.

This technique could be rather tricky for a defensive end who likes to play on the edge at the 9 technique. The 9 technique is supposed to own the outside half of the offensive EMOLOS (usually the tight end). A lot of teams will put a smaller defensive end here with speed. A player like this can quickly rush the passer, maintain outside leverage on an outside fast flow run (like Stretch), and close the distance on a fullback and tight end down block, while also putting the end in a good position to wrong arm any kickout block, forcing the play to the outside. Furthermore, this player is not used to the double team by big linemen, if anyone for that matter. Compare this to the 7 technique end, who is not playing in space, must take on a down block or double team, must split or hold the double team at the LOS, and must not get reached by a tackle. Quite a different ball game.
(Sidenote: Please understand that I’m not saying the 9 tech in this defense is in a great position to take on a kick out, its just something he doesn’t have to do in a 7 tech very often.)
And this is all for the defensive end! Now imagine the difference for the Sam linebacker. The SAM linebacker, when playing in “Base” with a 9 technique End, owns the C gap. The Sam has to play an offensive tackle and scrape to the alley on any outside play. That means he has to close the window in the C Gap, and once the offensive play bounces outside with little to no likely hood of a cut back into that gap, he must be ready to help the end by approaching the ball carrier from the inside out. Again, contrast this against “Base 7″, which means the Sam now takes the responsibilities of the former 9 technique defensive end. The sam now has to wrong arm kickouts, cannot get reached, and likely make a play in space.

So… why?

More exactly, why have two base defenses that changes the whole fabric of your perimeter defense to the strong side?

There are some advantages to running both schemes. These are just a few, if you can think of more, leave a comment, I will name a few since its nearly 3 AM. One (1), better pass rush lane off the edge. Two (2) lets say you know you have a playmaker at defensive end who knows how to play in space, but gets burnt out quickly or tends to be a little bit to aggressive. A great switch up to this is “Base 7″. You take out that 9 technique end and put in a slightly undersized 3 technique, or a larger end on your roster who can take on the double teams but may not have the athletism or attributes to play on the edge consistently. He can help you protect your Mike linebacker though, which takes us to number three (3). The Mike is free to roam to the playside in “Base 7″. Okay, yes he still has to take on any junk your DL allows through (which, if they’re worth their weight in salt, won’t happen as they make a pile or they’ll split the double team and make the play themselves), and take on the A Gap. In “Base”, the Sam can take on blockers in space, which can be an advantage if their line is poor or your Sam has a great block dominating ability. Also, unlike with the 7 technique, the Sam won’t face a double team at linebacker depth, which could mean its easier to defend the C gap. And finally, the 4th advantage of running both schemes, (4) if we get power to the strong side of the formation, the offense will be in a bind versus a 7 technique, compared to a 9 technique which they are salivating for.

4-3 Defense versus the I formation Power Play

This leads to the “Power” or “Power-O” dillemna. Power causes a lot of problems for the 4-3 Over defense, particullary the breed in the mid 90’s. With a 9 technique, the end, while he may force the play to the outside as he spills the fullback, has a lot of area to cover. In order to prevent the offense from hitting the gap between him and the 3 technique tackle, he has to recognize the play immediately and properly blow it up at the right time. If he doesn’t, power will likely be an effective play against this defense.

[Miami "Base" Cover 2 vs I Formation Power Play]

(This picture shows how the 9 technique (Bull in this case) takes on the full back but leaves just enough of a seam for the running back to hit through the hole. Though it would be congested, thanks to the ability of this play to hit surpsingly quickly, the runningback would spring it to the secondary support at the safety level)

The offense will try one of two things with power versus a 7 technique. (1) Let the End go and try to kick out the 7 tech, which out numbers them as he will still spill it to the outside with a wrong arm technique, and there our Sam will wait (because the guard will likely get caught in the trash caused by the fullback and 7 tech). (2) (most likely) They could double the 7 technique with the tight end and tackle, letting your 3 tech take on the guard by himself, (great matchup) or they could double the 3 technique, and the let the tight end take on the 7 technique (if your playing a strong linemen like mentioned earlier, also a great matchup). With the pulling backside guard, the Mike will step briefly to playside A, see the puller and fullback, and make is way to the C/D gap, where the Sam will be spilling the play to the outside. The Mike should have a free run (if your 7 tech holds the Tackle/Tight End double team fairly well) where he could potentially make the tackle, and at worst be in a great position to take on the guard with a rip move working to the ball carrier from the inside out and forcing him to the sideline. Notice in the picture below how much further the ball carrier is forced to go outside, to the hard secondary support, which is the corner who has force or contain. Finally, If my history proves right, that Mike should have been Zach Thomas, who I believe was a rookie and a pro bowl alternate that season even though he was a 5th round pick, and very undersized and relatively slow.

[Miami "Base 7" Cover 2 vs I Formation Power Play]


(Sidenote: For those who are wondering what exactly allows the Mike to forgo his A gap responsibility versus Power Strong Side out of this defense. When the backside guard pulls, the Backside B gap disappears with him. Thus, the Nose (N) or 1 Technique Tackle, who has backside A gap, covers all that space from the center to the weakside tackle. The Will linebacker thus “bumps” his gap forward, as does the Mike. Once the Mike sees the pull, he should make his intentions clear with a call (i.e. pull, bump, slide…) to the Will, or Hawk (H) in Diagram, incase he doesn’t see it. The Will/Hawk will then flow to the playside A gap ready for potential cutback, and Mike will follow backfield and guard flow to the ball, which will take him past a guard/tackle double team on the 3. I leave the blocking line out, but they would be forced to go to the Will/Hawk in this synopsis.)
Okay guys, I hope you enjoyed this first piece explaining the base defenses of the Miami Dolphins and what their differences were, and the reasons behind running both of them. There are more intricacies than what I listed based off coverage or other factors. If you want to discuss, feel free. I’ll comment back. If you have a question about a different aspect of the front, comment.

You Can Read Part 2 Here


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One thought on “Miami Dolphins 4-3 Defense Pt. 1

  1. NashT

    Great post, I agree with everything you said.

    I think another advantage of the 7 tech end is that it is a pretty smooth transition to Cover 3 (If you want to play it) by rolling the weakside safety down. That being said, I like the 9 better for many reasons, but mostly because of how we play our under front.

    The power is something I debate every day. Like you said there are advantages and disadvantages. We used to play a lot of 44-g teams with a 7 and were pretty successful with crashing down on the end and having (our H back) lead up on the SS/OLB. I guess at the end of the day, I'd rather have a 9 tech screaming up and wrong arming the kickout block.

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