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Thread: Tenets of the Faith: AKA, the 3-4 defense

  1. #1
    Bleedin' the B&G Array title="Steelman has much to be proud of"> Steelman's Avatar

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    May 2010

    Tenets of the Faith: AKA, the 3-4 defense

    Most fans probably know that the Steelers run a 3-4 defense, popularized by former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's "3-4 Zone Blitz" scheme. There are dozens of ever-evolving terms of the positions, players, and schematics associated with every defense, especially in this modern age of passing. Even the 3-4 defense, originally built to stop the run in the 80's and 90's, had to go through several evolutions to accommodate for the modern propensity and emphasis on passing. Below are a few resources that I've had bookmarked on some of the basics.

    First and foremost, "3-4" refers to three down linemen (hands in the dirt) and four linebackers (standing up).

    The 3–4 defense incorporates three defensive linemen - two defensive ends and one nose tackle, who line up opposite the other team's offensive line. Those three players are responsible for engaging the other team's offensive line, allowing the four linebackers to either rush the quarterback or drop back into coverage, depending on the situation. While the role of the defensive linemen is fairly consistent, the linebackers allow for the flexibility and versatility of the 3-4 scheme, and give defensive coaches nearly limitless options to confuse the other team's players and coaches. Depending on the situation, any number of linebackers can blitz, fake a blitz, "spy" the quarterback or runningback, or cover receivers. In key situations, a rush linebacker may be sent to cover the flat on the opposite side of the blitzing defensive back; this is called a "zone blitz". - Wiki

    Basic look of a 3-4 defense:

    This site is a good overall football 101 resource, but he has some good things to say about defensive alignments:

    In the 3-4 system, the linebackers are expected to make most of the plays. In the 3-4 system, the DTs play a more physical game as they are taking on one or two offensive linemen directly, play after play. Unlike the DTs in the 4-3, the DTs in the 3-4 are responsible for every single gap in the offensive line. Although the DTs get relatively few chances to make tackles or sack the quarterback, anything bad that happens is still ultimately their fault. In the 3-4, you have four linebackers. Two of these guys are inside linebackers, and are expected to weigh roughly 240 pounds and be quite athletic. You also have two outside linebackers. These guys are sometimes called "tweeners," as they are in between the normal size of defensive ends and linebackers. These guys should weigh perhaps 255-265 pounds and also be quite athletic. Because these are linebackers, they tend to be faster than the heavier defensive ends. Their presence makes it much more difficult for the quarterback to roll out, as he will be rolling out directly into the path of one of these linebackers.

    The linebackers of the 3-4 and the role of the "Tweener"

    This is an excellent article that was originally written to cover Michael Sam, but it covers some of the basics of positional differences between the two main defensive schemes and about "Tweeners" in the NFL.
    3-4 OLB Responsibilities

    There are typically slight differences between the weakside outside linebacker (the rush specialist) and the strongside outside linebacker (the run stuffing, pass covering specialist), but for simplicity's sake, let's just talk in general terms.

    Outside linebackers in the 3-4 are typically force players - they set the edge for their defense and either make the tackle, hit the quarterback, or move the action back inside to their cohorts. To do this, it typically requires a player with long arms and a powerful core -- able to take a tackle or tight end head on, engage, and stack/shed or control them at the point of attack to turn the play back inside. Endbackers in a 3-4 have to be strong, physical tacklers with good-to-great short area burst to contain running back runs and/or quarterback scrambles.
    Outside linebackers in the 3-4 are typically force players

    Both 3-4 OLBs should be explosive pass rushers. The best do this with speed, lateral quickness, agility, flexibility, and power. These attributes combine with necessary techniques, whether it be a swim-move, club move, hump move, counter, spin-move, dip, or any combination of the above, to create an effective rusher.

    Additionally, 3-4 stand-up linebackers should have the fluidity and spacial awareness to drop back into either man or zone pass-coverage. The ability to keep one's eyes in on the quarterback while dropping to a landmark or finding, recognizing, and disrupting or breaking up a known route combination sets the great/good apart from the average. This ability is often referred to as "instincts."

    What the hell is a "technique"???

    A defensive lineman's technique is simply where he lines up in a given defense. The "techniques" are numbered from the inside of the line out. The numbers refer to a spot where the center of the defensive lineman's body ends up.
    Good take on "techniques" (Sorry it's a Dawg Pound post...shoot me later.)

    Other resources:

    Obviously Wiki is king:

    Decent breakdown on 3-4 basics:

    Crash course on a college 3-4 scheme:

    Short video from an amateur coach about the 3-4 base defense:

    Detailed thesis-like article on defensive concepts, including several 3-4 variations:

    There is much more that could be said about the 3-4 defense but hopefully these resources provide a basic understanding of the scheme and terminology associated with it. Feel free to add other resources or ask questions! We have many knowledgeable fans here.

  2. #2
    NFL's Dirtiest Player Array title="86WARD has a reputation beyond repute"> 86WARD's Avatar

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    May 2010

    Re: Tenets of the Faith: AKA, the 3-4 defense

    Here's a nice diagram on technique. Nowadays we here so much jibber in the off season leading up to the draft about this guy and that guy and this guy is a good 5 technique...blah, blah, blah...this will show you were the player would be lining up.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dwinsgames View Post
    you are a Kenny Pickett enabler

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