Posted by Steve T

              The NFL scouting combine is just on the horizon.  Teams and fans are starting to figure out exactly what went wrong with their 2016 team, and which players can come in and address those issues.  It’s officially draft season.  An important, and frequently overlooked aspect when targeting players you want your team to acquire, is exactly what scheme that team runs.  Not every player fits in every scheme, and not all schemes can utilize certain players.  To help us navigate through the fun, yet arduous task of pinpointing the players we want, I thought it would be a great time to take a look at the NFL's traditional 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in this edition of Football 101.

                The NFL is an ever changing game.  As coaches fight to adapt to the move their opponents just made, each decision is countered, then that move is countered, so on and so forth.  The fluidity of the schemes come at a pace that is sometimes astonishing.  A plan that worked last week, might not work this week.  Heck, a play that worked last half, probably won’t work this half.  Although hybrid defenses are more prevalent in this era of football, all teams have a core 3-4 or 4-3 base scheme.  As the game spreads out, roughly 40% of the defensive snaps will be in this base defense.  As we analyze defensive lineman entering the NFL draft, understanding their roles and responsibilities beforehand is a must.

 

The 3-4 Defense

3-4 base defensive formation explained

 

The 3-4 defense has three down linemen, and 4 linebackers.  The three down lineman are typically all two gap players, meaning they are each responsible for the gaps to their left and right.  All of these players line up directly over the lineman in front of them. 

 

 vince wilfork 3-4 defense

 

The 0 Tech, or the nose tackle lines up directly over the center.  Traditional 0 tech’s need to be massive and powerful.  At the snap of the ball, he’s usually taking on the center, but also a guard at the same time.  The 0 tech has a simple job, take up as much space as possible, and push the bad guys as far backwards as possible.  The most dominate, and recognizable NT of the past decade is Vince Vilfork.  Just look at him and you can see the mass and power the man possesses.  Being a 0 tech is dirty work, and these players don’t get rewarded with stats, they just go to the dirty areas and let the other guy’s clean things up.

 

 deforest bruckner 3-4 defense

 

The 5 tech, or 3-4 defensive ends, typically play directly in front of the offensive tackles.  They are responsible for the gap between the OG and the OT, as well as the gap outside the OT and between the TE if there is one.  These guys are typically taller and longer than the other defensive lineman, generally around 300 pounds with length.  Cowboys fans will remember the big Igor Olshansky in the late 2000’s as their teams starting 5 tech.  When asked to describe what it takes to play the position, the monster Ukrainian said, “Must be strong like bull.”  He wasn’t kidding.  These guys need to be able to take on the big tackles and guards in the NFL, read the play, then get off the block to bring down the ball carriers.   These guys generally have more stats than the NT, as most starting 5 techs put up a handful of sacks per year.  Their main job however, is defending the run.  The 3-4 pass rushing responsibilities are left up to the linebackers behind them.  Prototype 5 techs in today’s NFL include, Cameron Hayward, Corey Luiget, and Mike Daniels.  If you look back at last year’s NFL draft we had a prototype 5 tech go at pick number seven, Deforest Buckner out of Oregon.  You can see the length the guy has with his 6 foot 7 and 295 pound frame.

 whitney mercilus 3-4 defense

 

The 3-4 OLBs are the guys responsible for the pass rush.  Different coaches have different terms for this player, but for the sake of simplicity we will use the term that 3-4 defensive coach Wade Phillips calls his, jack.  The jack linebacker is typically a stand up player.  He lines up outside of the outside shoulder of the last guy on the line of scrimmage.  He is responsible for setting the edge on his side, and forcing a ball carrier back to the middle.  Because of this, these guys must be quick reacting and intelligent.  These players take slightly less abuse in the running game, so they can sacrifice a little bit of body mass and strength, and have a lighter faster frame.  The most famous 3-4 “Jack” linebacker of today’s game is Demarcus Ware.  Others include all pro linebacker Brian Orakpo, as well as breakout star Whitney Mercilus.  As you can see, the prototype 3-4 OLBS weigh a bit less, around 260 pounds, compared to your hand in the dirt pass rushers of the 4-3, JPP 279 lbs., Everson Griffith 275 lbs., and Cameron Jordan 287 lbs.

 

                Now that we have a basic understanding of each player’s responsibility is in the defense, let’s look at which teams employ this as their base defense.  As we move on throughout the draft season and study the defensive line pool, we can decide right away which teams will be target certain prospects, and which teams will not even look at the tape due to lack of scheme fit.  Also note, there are tons and tons of variations of the 3-4 defense, but this 2 gap system described is the 3-4 defense at is core base.

 

Teams that currently use the “3-4” defense (defensive coordinator in parentheses)

AFC EAST

New England Patriots (Matt Patricia)

New York Jets (Kacey Rogers)

NFC EAST

Washington Redskins (Greg Manusky)

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens (Dean Pees)

Pittsburg Steelers (Keith Butler)

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears (Vic Fangio)

Green Bay Packers (Dom Capers)

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans (Romeo Crenell)

Indianapolis Colts (Ted Monachino)

Tennessee Titans (Dick Lebeau)

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints (Dennis Allen)

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos (Joe Woods)

Kansas City Chiefs (Bob Sutton)

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals (James Bettcher)

Los Angeles Rams (Wade Phillips)

San Francisco 49ers (Jim O Neil)

 

 

The “4-3” Defense

4-3 base defensive formation explained

                The 4-3 defense features 4 down lineman and 3 linebackers.  The 4 down lineman all line up at various spots and some are responsible for one gap, while others are responsible for 2.  There are many variations of the base 4-3 that you will see throughout a football game, but right now we are only concerned with the basic principles of the standard 4-3.

 

We will start inside with the 1 tech.  The 1 tech plays over the inside shoulder of one of the guards.  Similar to the 0 tech, he’s more than likely going to see a double team on nearly every play.  These guys are the unsung heroes of a 4-3 defense.  Their job is to eat up space, and give the other guys on the line a one on one matchup to make plays on the ball.  The 1 tech is known as the “run stopping” DT, not so much for tackling runners, but because he frees up everyone else on the line to make the stops.  A good example of a 1 tech in today’s NFL is the LA Rams Michael Brockers.  While Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and the rest of the ferocious Rams defensive line wreak havoc on opponents, Brockers eats double teams and pushes the pile back.

 geno atkins 4-3 defense

 

Next to the 1 tech, is the 3 tech.  The 3 tech lines up on the other guards outside shoulder, right over the “B gap.”  This guy generally has one job, get through that gap using his speed, and make a play in the backfield.  Of all the defensive tackles in the NFL these guys are the best athletes, and these are the star players coming up the middle.  The height of a 3 tech can change from player to player, as long as they are big and most importantly quick, they can play the 3.  Because of the need for quickness at the position, they are generally the lighter of the interior lineman.  Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins are the two premier 3 techs in the NFL.  Each about 6 foot 1 and weighing roughly 290 pounds, we can get a feel for the kind of guys we see at the position. 

 michael bennett 4-3 defense

The 6 and 7 techs are generally used on the left side of the defensive line, though in most cases it’s a 7 tech.  7 techs line up in the gap between the tackle and tight end if there is one.  Of the two defensive ends, this one is more of the power guy.  As NFL RT’s are typically road graders, the 7 techs must battle with the big lineman to defeat the run.  Unlike in the 3-4, the defensive ends supply the pass rush in this defense, so although they are typically the bigger and more powerful of the two DE’s, these guys are also expected to get to the QB in the passing game. Seattle’s Michael Bennett is todays premier LDE in the game.  As you watch him play on Sundays, he jumps off the screen in the running game, all while still getting to the quarterback 45 times in his eight year career.

 vic beasley 4-3 defense

Lastly, we come to the pass rush specialists of the 4-3 defense, the 9 tech.  These are your sack masters in the defense, the guys who get paid the big bucks to get after the QB’s.  These guys line up wide on passing downs, they line up wider than the widest man on the line of scrimmage.  They often end up being the smallest guys on the line because of the pure speed they play with.  Although the best rushers are on the field on almost every down, they typically only line up in the 9 tech on passing downs.  Otherwise they can be found playing in the 6 or 7 technique and usually on the right side.  The premier 4-3 edge rusher in today’s game is Vic Beasley.  The 2016 NFL sack champion plays roughly 60% of the snaps for super bowl runner up Atlanta, and on virtually all of them he has one goal, sack the QB.  It is important to note, depending on what formation the offense is in, the DE’s will typically be in a 6 or a 7 technique on normal down and distances, with the RDE moving out to the 9 on passing downs.

 

Teams that currently use the “4-3” defense (defensive coordinator in parentheses)

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills (Leslie Frazier)

Miami Dolphins (Matt Burke)

NFC EAST

New York Giants (Steve Spagnuolo)

Dallas Cowboys (Rod Marinelli)

Philadelphia Eagles (Jim Schwartz

AFC NORTH

Cincinnati Bengals (Paul Guenther)

Cleveland Browns (Greg Williams)

NFC NORTH

Detroit Lions (Teryl Austin)

Minnesota Vikings (George Edwards)

AFC SOUTH

Jacksonville Jaguars (Todd Wash)

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons (Richard Smith)

Carolina Panthers (Steve Wilks)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Mike Smith)

AFC WEST

Los Angeles Chargers (Gus Bradley)

Oakland Raiders (Ken Norton JR)

NFC WEST

Seattle Seahawks (Kris Richard

 

defensive lineman positions and techs

  This is a chart of all the techs we just covered and where they line up in relation to the offense.  Now that everyone has a basic understanding of what the defensive lineman are trying to accomplish in the base defenses, we can really dial in on what we are looking at, and looking for as we scout our 2017 NFL draft prospects.  Happy draft season!

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