Breaking Down The 3-4 Defense

With the official announcement that Joe Tresey would be leaving the Bearcats as defensive coordinator the wheels have been set in motion for a change in the defensive scheme Bearcat fans have seen be successful the past several seasons.

One thing University of Cincinnati football fans have become accustomed to is great defense.  Mark Dantonio stressed the importance of having a sound defense and Brian Kelly continued that trend during his first two seasons.  But while Kelly is known for his offensive schemes it's the other side of the ball the Bearcats head coach started on.


Now, with defensive coordinator Joe Tresey leaving the program Kelly will look to place his stamp on the defensive side of the football as well with a change in defensive scheme.


Over the past several years the Bearcats have aligned in the 4-3 defensive scheme.  That will soon flip-flop to the 3-4 as sources have told Bearcat Insider this is the new direction the program will be headed towards.


So what does this all mean to the Bearcats football program?  Lets take a look.


The Bearcats have been using a 4-3 defensive alignment but sources have stressed a move to a 3-4 scheme will take place this spring and next season.


The 3-4 defensive scheme is a basic defensive formation used by several teams in college and the NFL.  The formation uses three down lineman and four linebackers in the front seven and got it roots at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1940's.


In the basic scheme a team will place one nose tackle in between two defensive ends with four linebacker's right behind them forming the front seven.  The main function of the defensive line is to protect the outside linebackers and play the run.  Each defensive lineman is responsible for 2 gaps.


The pass rush is generated by the outside linebackers.  On almost every play, one of the outside backers will rush the quarterback.  Linebackers will play from a 2-point stance so they're standing up.


But while at least one backer will rush the quarterback there is also ways to confuse offensives as to who the rusher will be.


To finish out the scheme you have two cornerbacks and two safeties on the field.  The corners are placed on each side of the field lined up to cover the wide receivers.  As where the four lineup will be determined by the type of pass coverage called.


As for the basic assignments in the 3-4 defense here is a small breakdown by position.


3-4 NT: This is the toughest position to fill as the nose tackles is head-up on the offensive center and responsible for defending both "A" gaps in the running game.  This player must have great strength and toughness as he'll face constant double teams and will take a pounding.  Size, mental and physical toughness along with lateral quickness and durability are a must.  If the nose tackles can not hold his ground the defense at times can be very easy to run against between the tackles.


3-4 Outside Linebackers: Bearcat fans better know their outside linebackers as they are the ones who will be the big-time playmakers in this system.  Outside backers in the 3-4 must have great pass rushing abilities and also be able to drop back in coverage.


3-4 Insider Linebackers: In the 3-4 scheme inside linebackers must be stout with the ability to stack and shed an unblocked offensive lineman in the running game.  Much like the guys in front of them, inside backers are there to help the outside backers make plays.


3-4 Defensive Ends: Must be able to play the run as they are responsible for the "B & C" gaps in the running game.  These players for the most part will not be the tweeners that just come off the edge.  They must have good size and be capable of having a strong pass rush.  The main job of the defensive ends is to protect the outside linebackers so they can make plays.


So after looking at each position in the 3-4 defensive schemes, what are the advantages of running it?


In the 3-4 it is harder for offensive linemen to determine their blocking assignments before the snap.


By applying pressure from the 3-4 scheme quarterbacks are placed under great mental pressure.


Many feel it is easier to obtain quality linebackers than quality defensive linemen and thus easier to build a 3-4 defensive team.


Better athletes are placed on the field with the defense being more flexible.


As for the disadvantages they include.


Finding the front four players that make the defense work.


Not as effective against the inside running game as the 4-3.


As for coaches who use the 3-4 defense there have been many.  Bum Phillips was an innovator who turned the 3-4 defense into one of great pressure by using speedy rushers.  Dick Lebeau has made the 3-4 defense something teams fear as he uses it in a zone blitzing scheme.  Bill Parcels and Bill Belichick have both used the 3-4 defense to have great success in the NFL.


So How Do Offenses Battle Back


For most the use of two tight ends has equaled out the rush from the outside backers.  While others look to run the ball up the middle with power or use the fullback or halfback as pass blockers.


One thing about the 3-4 is that many coaches feel they can start using it with little notice as the keys are easy to teach their defensive players.



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