Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics


Quick 3-4 Defense Primer

Building a roster that is able to utilize a 3-4 defense is a tough thing, especially if you are a team transitioning from a 4-3 defense (such as the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins for the 2010 NFL Season). There is a greater reliance on size along the line of scrimmage, more emphasis on fast, athletic linebackers who have enough size to shed blockers, and the secondary has to have the ability to play effective man coverage to take away the deep pass.

One big difference is how the approach to the 3-4 defense is handled in terms of gap control. There is basically two options, one gap or two gap. With one gap, each player is individually in charge with being assigned a single gap to play through. For example, if you are a nose tackle, you may be lined up over the shoulders of the center and the guard, so you are in charge of that single gap. With a two gap system (See the New England Patriots), the nose tackle would be head up on the center and in charge of controlling the gap to the left and to the right of the center.

Defensive Ends
The Strongside DE is in charge of containment and often has to not only have enough speed to get to the outside on pitches but have enough strength to overcome potential double teams from the right tackle and tight end. Size is a necessity here due to being double teamed in the run game. The weakside defensive end also has to set containment in the running game on his side and will often need size and agility to get past the left tackle on passing plays.

– Ty Warren (New England Patriots) – 6’5 300 [Weakside DE]
– Richard Seymour (New England Patriots) – 6’6 310 [Strongside DE]
– Marcus Spears (Dallas Cowboys) – 6’4 309 [Strongside DE]
– Marcellus Wiley (Buffalo Bills) – 6’4 275 [Strongside DE] 2000 Season
– Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills) – 6’4 262 [Strongside DE]

Nose Tackle
The biggest guys along the defensive line. They certainly need strength as they will often be double teamed throughout the game, but they also need to flash agility to force the interior center and guard to stay with them by penetrating gaps when a pass play is called.

– Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’1 325
– Vince Wilfork (New England Patriots) – 6’2 325
– Jamal Williams (San Diego Chargers/Denver Broncos) – 6’3 348
– Ted Washington (San Francisco 49ers/Buffalo Bills/New England Patriots) – 6’5 365

Inside Linebackers
The toughest job is this role, as these two linebackers need to effectively have the speed and agility to hit the gaps when blitzing, drop back in coverage over the middle of the field, and need strength to shed blockers when coming up to stop the inside running game.

– James Farrior (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’2 243
– Jerod Mayo (New England Patriots) – 6’1 242
– Tedy Bruschi (New England Patriots) – 6’1 247
– Harry Carson (New York Giants) – 6’2 237
– Randy Gradishar (Denver Broncos) – 6’3 233
– Sam Mills (New Orleans Saints) – 5’9 229
– Vaughan Johnson (New Orleans Saints) – 6’3 235

Outside Linebackers
The strongside linebacker is the man often in charge of helping cover the tight end on passing plays and is usually the largest linebacker in order to stop the outside run game. He will often have to deal with the tight end or right guard on pulling plays as well, so his strength and size are important. The weakside linebacker needs enough speed and size to play the run but more importantly, they are usually the team’s best blitzer at linebacker. They need the speed to get around the edge and the agility and strength to beat the running back if their blitz gets picked up.

– LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’2 265 [Strongside LB]
– Willie McGinest (New England Patriots) – 6’5 270 [Strongside LB]
– Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants) – 6’3 237 [Strongside LB]
– Greg Lloyd (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’2 228 [Strongside LB]
– Pat Swilling (New Orleans Saints) – 6’3 245 [Strongside LB]

– Kevin Greene (Los Angeles Rams/Pittsburgh Steelers/Carolina Panthers) – 6’3 247 [Weakside LB]
– Carl Banks (New York Giants) – 6’4 235 [Weakside LB]
– Cornelius Bennett (Buffalo Bills) – 6’2 237 [Weakside LB]
– DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys) – 6’4 262 [Weakside LB]
– James Harrison (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’0 242 [Weakside LB]
– Rickey Jackson (New Orleans Saints) – 6’2 243 [Weakside LB]
– Mike Vrabel (New England Patriots/Kansas City Chiefs) – 6’4 261 [Weakside LB]
– Elvis Dumervil (Denver Broncos) – 5’11 248 [Weakside LB]

The cornerbacks need the ability to play man coverage both short and down the field. They need to have the size and aggressiveness to be willing to tackle the receiver on short passes and the running back on sweeps and pitches to the outside. The free safeties need to have the speed to play deep down the middle of the field, while being aggressive enough to help on outside runs. The strong safeties need to have the size to deliver a hit on receivers in the middle of the field, the speed to help cover deep, and the aggressiveness to come up and stop the run on plays up the middle.

– Ryan Clark (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 5’11 205 [Free Safety]
– Mark Kelso (Buffalo Bills) – 5’11 181 [Free Safety]

– Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 5’10 207 [Strong Safety]
– Brian Dawkins (Denver Broncos) – 6’0 210 [Strong Safety]
– Rodney Harrison (New England Patriots) – 6’1 220 [Strong Safety]
– Carnell Lake (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’1 210 [Strong Safety]

– Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 5’11 205 [Cornerback]
– Champ Bailey (Denver Broncos) – 6’0 192 [Cornerback]
– Ty Law (New England Patriots/Denver Broncos) – 5’11 200 [Cornerback]
– Asante Samuel (New England Patriots) – 5’10 185 [Cornerback]
– Terence Newman (Dallas Cowboys) – 5’11 191 [Cornerback]
– Otis Smith (New York Jets/New England Patriots) – 5’11 198 [Cornerback]
– Eric Davis (San Francisco 49ers/Carolina Panthers) – 5’11 185 [Cornerback]


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