Understanding Defensive Formations

In Defense by vIQtoryLeave a Comment

Similar to how the offense lines up in different varieties of formations, defenses have formations as well. As the offense will line up in the “I-formation” or the “Wing-T”, defensive formation contain numbers which typically identify the defensive lineman and the linebackers.

The number system is universally known to identify defenses. Here is the breakdown:

1st Number = Defensive Lineman
2nd Number = Linebackers

The number not shown or mentioned is the defensive backs. It’s assumed the defensive backs will complete the number of players on the field. For example:

A 4-3 defense will have a total of 7 defensive lineman and linebackers on the field (4 defensive lineman + 3 linebackers). Because there’s 11 players on the field at one time, it’s understood there must be 4 defensive backs on the field (7 defensive lineman/linebackers + 4 defensive backs).

4-3 Defense

To start, let’s take a look at the 4-3 defense, one of the most basic defensive sets. The 4-3 defense includes:

4 Defensive Lineman
– 2 Interior Defensive Tackles
– 2 Exterior Defensive Ends

3 Linebackers
– 1 Middle Linebacker
– 2 Outside Linebackers

4-3 defense

The 4-3 is also one of the more balanced defensive sets, as it allows teams to be aggressive to the run, as well as have enough defenders to effectively play the pass.

3-4 Defense

The 3-4 defense, similar to the 4-3 defense, has 7 players that are located within the frame of the 5 offensive lineman.

3 Defensive Lineman
– 1 Nose Tackle
– 2 Defensive Ends

4 Linebackers
– 2 Inside Linebackers
– 2 Outside Linebackers

3-4 defense

The 3-4 defense is unique because it has less guys at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage, but is extremely effective for slanting and confusing defenses.

3-3 Stack

Similar to the 3-4 defense, the 3-3 stack has become a popular formation to counter against the spread passing attack. Where it lacks in lineman at the point of attack, it makes up in the pass game by adding an extra defender to the mix.

3 Defensive Lineman
– 1 Nose Tackle
– 2 Defensive Ends

3 Linebackers
– 1 Middle Linebacker
– 2 Outside Linebackers

3-3 Stack

The 3-3 stack is relatively new as the spread offense has emerged. Teams can be aggressive from the defensive back and linebacker position, utilizing more speed on the field.

5-2 Defense

The 5-2 defense is the first defense on our list that tips the balance of run/pass support. 7 players still remain in the frame of the defense, however there are more players (5) on the line of scrimmage. Let’s break it down:

5 Defensive Lineman
– 1 Nose Guard
– 2 Defensive Tackles
– 2 Defensive Ends

2 Linebackers
– 2 Inside Linebackers

5-2 defense

The 5-2 is a great run stopping formation to enable linebackers to get free and make plays. It does however, limit the pass defense to only 6 passing defenders.

6-2 Defense

The 6-2 formation is often seen in goal line sets, where the team is heavily anticipating run. Let’s break down the 6-2 defense:

Defensive Lineman
– 2 Nose Tackles ( one on each side of the center)
– 2 Interior Defensive Lineman
– 2 Exterior Defensive Lineman

– 2 Interior Linebackers

6-2 defense

Teams will also have their defensive lineman line up in 4 point stances, getting as low as they possible can to create a pile.

What Defensive Scheme Should I Run?

There is no perfect scheme. Each coach has his own philosophy on which scheme works the best, for the players that they have. Built into the scheme is a plethora of blitzes, coverages and ways to counter act the offense’s game plan.

The personnel and scheme that you should run, should fit the players you have on your roster. For instance, if your team has 3 big, strong, defensive lineman with a small linebacker core, it might be beneficial to run a 3-4. This way the big lineman can put up a fight against the offensive lineman, while having more players to drop back into pass coverage.

Each scheme should be predicated on the players within the scheme and the coach’s comfort teaching techniques/reads.

Learn more about defense and how coaches are using these formations to roll coverages, blitz the quarterback and disrupt blocking schemes at our blog!

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