The 4-3 The 4-3 is the most commonly used defense at the upper levels, including the NFL.

At lower levels the 4-3 is not particularly popular because many coaches consider it weak against the run due to the fact there are only four down linemen. At the higher levels, the quality and size of the average down linemen makes this a non factor. In essence, if a team possesses the size, strength, and quickness necessary to run the 4-3 defense, it is a formidable defensive formation. Besides the ever-present four down linemen (2 tackles and 2 ends), there are three linebackers--two to the inside and one at the outside shoulder of the tight end. Two cornerbacks and two safeties are the standard. Equally effective against most all offensive formations, the 4-3 is the default defense of choice for this author. It is easily modified for various offensive sets. The third linebacker (on the tight end) can cover the tight end, blitz, or cover any of the short zones to that side or the hook zone over the middle. The cornerbacks can blitz with the safety(s) assuming the corner's responsibilities. Or a corner can drop back in deep coverage allowing a safety blitz. Because of its high flexibility, an offense will find it difficult to isolate a particular area or defensive player. If the 4-3 has a weakness, it is that the inside linebackers are the primary tacklers for runs between the tackles and they are of course four to five yards off the ball.

The 3-4 The 3-4 is designed to stop the short passing, ball control type offense. Naturally less than ideal against the run due to only three down linemen, this defense offers an extra defensive back for pass coverage. Consisting of a nose guard and two other down linemen, the coach has the task of deciding who the outside two linemen are--ends or tackles. Often one of the linebackers has zone pass coverage responsibilities, in effect employing five defensive backs. This is why the 3-4 is often referred to as the "nickel" defense. Having five defensive backs allows for random blitzing by one or more of these backs in order to maintain a sufficient pass rush. The 3-4 is susceptible to the inside run and is used primarily is situations where an interior run is not expected.

The 5-2 The 5-2 is the standard for many coaches at the high school level and is used somewhat extensively at the collegiate level. In zone pass coverage. cornerbacks three to six yards deep. the free safety or safety to the tight end side has "up" responsibility. Consisting of a nose guard. it is a clear indication that the opposing offenses are getting through the first line of defense. Stunts are a common component of this defensive set. and two defensive ends. safeties 10 to 12 yards. However. four linebackers. An option is to allow one of the safeties to be a "free safety" meaning that this player seldom has specific duties. But this may be modified for varying purposes. The remaining four positions are the two cornerbacks and the two safeties. the down linemen's first responsibilities are running lane specific.The 4-4 The 4-4 is designed to stop the wide running game as well as the short passing game. it can be effective against the pass as well with five pass rushers and two or three linebackers. usually with the some or all of the linemen stunting left or right and the inside linebackers stunting in the opposite direction. it is intended mainly as a run defense. Occasionally. . a defensive end may be called on to pass defend an area such as the flat. and is left to read and react to each play. and move on the snap--not the quarterback¶s vocalizations or other personnel movement. and a safety. In order to run the 4-4 on a regular basis. The default command for linemen is to read and react to the play. Linebackers are four to five yards off the ball. Each corner has deep third duty as well. two cornerbacks. A wide range of possible stunts and blitzes are possible. A coach wants his leading tacklers to be down linemen or linebackers. The 4-4. Usually. By design. The 4-4 uses four down linemen. then the pass. two defensive tackles. the interior down linemen must be players of considerable substance. Down linemen keep the ball in the corner of the eye. while the strong safety has deep third duty. relies on quickness. also known as the "stack" defense. the linebacker's first responsibility is to defend the run. with the defensive end's primary concern being containment. each man responsible for a certain gap or lane. particularly quickness in pursuit. If a defensive back or safety is leading the team in tackles.

Another variation calls for the three linebackers to all shift down to compensate. There is no tomorrow at the goal line. Basically. or the linebacker to that side. The "best" linebacker moves to the middle linebacker position. run second. Similar to the 5-2. The two remaining linebackers return to their normal 5-2 alignment. let's say the offense opened in a Tripps (three receiver) set to the defense's right. or shifts. and the left outside linebacker shifts over as well. Basically. The 6-2 The 6-2 is the standard short yardage defensive formation. leaving all six down linemen free to penetrate and drive into the offensive back field. five yards deep and parallel with the other linebackers. For example.The 5-3 The 5-3 is even more intent on stopping the run and is designed to make use of a strong middle line backer. The middle two linebackers stay back in order to meet the running back as he comes to the line. No need to worry about deep coverages or even medium ones. Obviously. the six down linemen are positioned in the gaps between the offensive linemen with the two inside linebackers playing run first. the middle two linebackers (who . modifications. but the responsibilities are different due to the proximity to the goal line. The Goal Line Defense The goal line defense is similar in appearance to the 6-2. pass second. The cornerbacks and the safety (playing up tight to the line) play pass first. The defensive end to the Tripps side can cover the flat or slat area. all that has happened is the fullback and left wide receiver have been replaced with two new wide outs to the right. The outer two linebackers (or cornerbacks) have the luxury of playing run first with containment responsibilities. the 5-3 simply replaces the free safety spot with a third linebacker which lines up on the outside shoulder of the tight end. So the left cornerback shifts over with the new receiver. It is often implemented to stop the run. may be necessary depending on the actual alignment of the offense. or even be sent on a blitz. If the offense passes the ball. each with deep third responsibilities. particularly if the back leaves his feet and dives for the end zone. The tight end can be covered by the defensive end to that side.

remained back) fall back to the end zone in zone pass coverage occupying the middle. The safety reads the quarterback's eyes and plays the ball. . while the outside two linebackers retreat to cover the corners of the end zone.

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