Category Archives: 3-4 defense

3-4 Cover 2 Man Under Defense

In the era of the spread offense it has become essential to employ a defense that can maximize numbers in the box and still provide excellent pass coverage. Offenses are using the entire field and defenses must be able to defend from sideline to sideline and still have enough players in the box to stop the run. Our base defense was a 4-2-5 this past season, but we played a 3-4 cover two man look versus pure spread teams (Air Raid / Tony Franklin System).

In our classification we see mostly 21/22 personnel but when we play teams that are mainly 10/11 personnel we utilized our 3-4 cover 2 man defense. The following paragraphs will detail the reads, alignment and assignment of each position in our two man package.
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Demolishing Weakside Iso with the 4-3 Over Front

Often considered the longtime nemesis of the 4-3 over front is the weakside iso play. Because of the “large” gap between the outside linebacker and the inside linebacker, the play has some success.

The key to defending the weakside iso play with the 4-3 over front is the personnel matchup.

Many coaches, including myself for a while, always set the “Sam” to the tight end, regardless of whether or not they are in the 4-3 over front or under front. The Will played on the “weakside”.

The Will for many is an undersized player. Because of this, when he’s set over an open guard, he’s usually got a matchup problem, especially with a tough guard or fullback. This tends to happen on Weaskside Iso plays.

This article should give you an overview on how to stop the this often gut-wrenching play by thinking of your 4-3 defense a little differently in terms of identifying roles of your players and setting your strength. Continue reading

The Popularity of the 3-4 Defense: What’s Old is New

Guest Blog Post

This is a guest blog post by Cameron Soran, a lawyer. While not a coach, I think you’ll find he has a strong football mind and understands a lot about the game.

“There’s a lot of ways to play football,” Chip Kelly told  room full of reporters. “Trends go one way and the other. … if you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else.” While ostensibly Kelly was discussing offenses, his insight equally applies to the opposite side of the ball. More and more it seems, NFL and college teams are moving to 3-4 defense (or 3-3-5) defenses over the 4-3 counterparts. To some, this might signal that the 3-man front is somehow a superior defensive system. But recent trends in football are just that: trends. While the 3-4 defense offers certain advantages, it is by no means superior. To explain some of the reasons for the recent change, and to understand the numerous different flavors of 3-4, I think, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, that “a page of history is worth a pound of logic.”  Continue reading

Dick LeBeau’s Mike/Will Cross Fire Zone Blitz

Dick LeBeau is an innovator, and most in coaching circles understand that. He changed the way coaches blitz with the fire zone blitz. Well, his Mike/Will Linebacker Cross Blitz is arguably one of the two most famous zone blitzes used today, only preceded by the NCAA blitz.

What makes LeBeau’s Mike Will Linebacker cross fire zone blitz so nasty is it really can hurt tight A gap runs and off tackle power and counter plays. With two of the inside linebackers exchanging responsibilities, it is hard for many teams to use these types of plays unless their players execute it at a high level, aka they make that play their bread and butter and they really practice it a lot. Continue reading

Tips for Understanding Defensive Line Techniques

I find this as a common question, that really a lot of coaches can’t answer. What are the popular defensive line techniques, and why are they called that?

Well, great question. First of all, let’s find the “genius” (please notice the quotes…) of the system. Continue reading

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense

Football’s 3-4 defense has become a very popular defense in the last couple of years thanks to teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oregon Ducks. It affords teams the luxury of disguising who will be their fourth rusher. However, most 3-4 teams have to have at least one two gap linemen. In the world of high school football, a lot of teams do not have the size on the defensive line to play a 3-4 the way college and pro teams play their 3-4. However, if you slant your defensive line strong and weak, you can play a single gap 3-4 that allows teams to use a 3-4 scheme with smaller linemen. Football’s one gap 3-4 defense allows teams to use 3-4 principles, regardless of personnel.

The alignment of football’s one gap 3-4 defense allows the defensive linemen to use their speed and quickness because they are lined up in a 4 technique, which discourages double teams. The alignment of the 3-4 is shown below:

Football's One Gap 3-4 Defense Alignment

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense Alignment

In this defense there are two basic coverages that are teamed up with a reduction. In cover 6, there is a weak – side post snap reduction (defensive line slants strong and the Bandit blitzes the C gap.) In cover 3 there is a strong – side post snap reduction (defensive line slants weak and the Sam blitzes the C gap.) The safeties make force calls to their side to determine who the force player is. The outside linebacker who is reducing will spill the ball to the appropriate force player.

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense: Inside Linebacker Run Fits

We do not assign the Mike and Will a gap to fill, we tell them to read the guard to the near back and attack the play with the appropriate technique.

If they see a drive block, they shock and lock the linemen, locate the football, and then they use a rip move to disengage. If they get a down block, they scrape to the next available gap unless the B gap opens up. If they see a reach block, they will scrape to the next open gap. If they see a pull, they scrape in the direction of the pull and locate the ball carrier and fill inside out. If they see a down block and an isolation block by the fullback, they will take it on with their inside shoulder and spill the football to the safeties / outside linebackers who are folding.

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense: Secondary Force Calls

The strong and free safeties are responsible for making a force call on every play. The calls are backer (buzz/ hold), cloud and sky. These calls designate who will be the force player.

  • Backer = outside linebacker
  • Cloud = corner
  • Sky = safety

The force player in football’s one gap 3-4 defense is responsible to turn the ball back inside and is the pitch player on an option. In cover 6, backer buzz (outside linebacker will buzz the flats) is called by the strong safety if #2 is tight (less than 3 yards from the tackle), and the strong safety has the freedom to make a lock call to the corner if #1 has a split of more than 10 yards. This would put the corner in off – man on #1 and the strong safety will play man on any vertical release by #2 and look to play a robber technique if #2 does not release vertically. Backer hold(outside linebacker holds the seam to the curl to number 3 in the flat) is called if #2 is removed farther than 3 yards. Cloud is called by the free safety on the weak – side of cover 6 and he has the freedom to make a sky/ lock call versus a large split by #1 or by #2 (more than 10 yards). The free safety now becomes the force player and plays off – man on #2 and the weak corner plays off – man on #1. In cover 3, the strong safety makes a sky call and the free safety makes a backer buzz call versus a one – receiver side or a tight #2 (less than three yards from the tackle). Backer hold is called if #2 is removed (more than three yards from the tackle).

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense: Cover 6 (Quarter Quarter Half Coverage)

The first coverage in football’s one gap 3-4 defense that we will discuss is cover 6. This coverage is in the quarters coverage family ( quarter-quarter-half to be exact), that allows the strong safety to engage in the run game and play cloud force on the weak – side. This is a MOFO (middle of the field open) coverage that utilizes cover 4 and cover 2 concepts. The safeties and corners will read the number 2 receiver and pattern match based on his route. If number 2 is vertical the safety and corner sink and match the route of the man in their area. If number 2 goes in or out at the snap, the safety stems his peddle towards the number 1 receiver and the corner matches the route of number 1 without getting out leveraged by number 2. The following video link shows LSU’s palms coverage, which has the same pattern matching concepts as our cover 6.

Below are diagrams of cover 6 against a pro formation and a spread formation:

Football's One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 6

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 6 vs Pro

Football's One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 6 vs Spread

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 6 vs Spread

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense: Cover 3

The last coverage in footballs one gap 3-4 defense that we will discuss is cover 3. This is your traditional cover 3 with sky force to the strength of the formation. This is a MOFC (middle of field closed) coverage that utilizes a post defender (middle third player). This coverage is great against run heavy teams because it makes the football spill to the strong safety. Below are diagrams of cover 3 against a pro formation and a spread formation:

Football's One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 3 vs Pro

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 3 vs pro

Football's One Gap 3-4 Defense vs Spread

Football’s One Gap 3-4 Defense vs Spread

Football’s one gap 3-4 defense is simple and allows your players to play fast and be confident in their assignments. You can always add different wrinkles to make this defense more diverse, but cover 6 and cover 3 are great starting points. A scheme does not make a great defense. Great defenses play fast, fight to the whistle and finish every play. Good luck to all of you this upcoming football season and if I can ever be of help to you please do not hesitate to contact me at zach.davis24[at]

Zach Davis also provided secondary cutups. Click here to see the 3-4 defense secondary cutups.

Guest Football Coaching Blog Post

This is a guest blog post on the X’s and O’s of football by Coach Zach Davis,Co-defensive coordinator at Providence School in Florida. You can follow him on his Twitter Handle, zachdavis24. If you’re interested in guest posting for Strong Football, email CoachCP at editor[at]