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