3-4 Defense In Football – Complete Guide

By vIQtory

The 3-4 defense is one of football’s most popular defensive sets. High school and NFL teams will use the 3-4 defense to stop high-powered spread offenses. But what exactly is the 3-4 defense, and how do coaches use it?

The 3-4 defense in football contains three defensive linemen, four linebackers, and four defensive backs.

In this article, we will show you exactly what the 3-4 defense is in football and why it’s so popular.

Our Top Coaching Course
Best Courses For Coaches

Best Courses For Coaches

  • 7 positional courses
  • Coach any position on the field
  • Exclusive access to our staff to help answer your questions
Most Popular For Fans
Best Course For Fans

Best Course For Fans

  • Instantly improve your football IQ
  • Grow your football knowledge & outsmart your friends and colleagues
  • A complete breakdown of rules, offensive and defensive concepts
Best Course For Spouses
Girlfriends Guide To Football

Girlfriends Guide To Football

  • Best course for beginners to learn football
  • Engage with your spouse during and after the game
  • No more boring Sundays, everyone can enjoy football!

3-4 Defense In Football

3-4 defense

Football coaches use the 3-4 defense to emphasize speed and running instead of using bigger players to clog gaps.

The 3-4 defense is one of the more dynamic schemes in football because defensive coordinators can have their three defensive linemen play specific gaps or slants.

Slanting and misdirection cause offensive linemen to become confused, leading to linebackers making tackles in the backfield.

Fast, skilled defensive linemen often anchor 3-4 schemes. This helps them penetrate the line of scrimmage and be efficient in their run fits.

Defensive Lineman In The 3-4 Scheme

In a 3-4 scheme, the inside defensive lineman is usually called the ‘nose tackle’ or ‘nose guard.’ The nose tackle is supposed to be bigger and more powerful than the other lineman.

The Nose will try to occupy the center and do a technique called 2-gapping. 2-gapping is when the Nose punches the center, responsible for two gaps, often both A gaps.

3-3 stack defense

This means that the center must be able to discard and throw around the opponent’s center can control both gaps. A dominant nose takes the stress off of the interior linebackers.

The outside two defensive linemen are called “defensive ends.” They don’t always have to be big and athletic, but they need to ensure they can get their hands on their opponent or slant to the proper gap as quickly as possible.

These defensive ends are often in a 3-point stance and will play with their hand on the ground in a 3-point stance. The defensive end is often smaller than the Nose and must beat both the guard and the tackle in a pass rush situation.

Linebackers In The 3-4 Scheme

The inside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme are called the “inside linebackers.” The inside linebackers are usually bigger players with more strength than speed. These players are often tasked with filling the gaps between the center, guard, and tackle (A & B gaps).

The linebackers on the edge of the defensive formation are called ” outside linebackers” or OLBs.

These players are often faster than the inside linebackers because they need to run with tight ends and slot receivers.

These players are often interchangeable to play defensive end. Coaches who want to get to a 4-man line quickly can bring one of their outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage and be in a 4-3 defense.

This is why the personnel is so important in the 3-4 defense, as it allows flexibility within the scheme.

Defensive Backs In The 3-4 Scheme

The defensive backs in a 3-4 scheme are called the “Free Safety” and the “Strong Safety.” Free safeties are responsible for covering deep halves of the field.  This player is often free to be an athlete and cover any defender who comes into their zone.

The other safety is known as a strong safety. Teams will use strong safety as another player to support on-run plays. This player must also be athletic enough to cover receivers in passing concepts.

The other defensive backs are called “Cornerbacks” or “CBs.” They are given the task of guarding the wide receivers.

What Coverages Are Run In The 3-4 Defense?

The 3-4 defense is a great defensive scheme to run zone coverages. Any zone coverage can be run, but some are more applicable.

Zone coverages are used because four linebackers can help with run plays and pass plays. The coaches can get away with more pass pressure and blitzing safeties and drop linebackers into holes to guard against the pass.

Due to the fact that there is one extra linebacker on the field (in comparison to the 4-3), 3-4 teams can be more creative in how they stunt and run blitzes.

Cover 2 in football
In a traditional cover 2, the coach can choose to rush an extra player or drop him in coverage (shown by the DT)

Cover 2 and cover 4 are common passing concepts in the 3-4 defense. For a complete breakdown of Cover 2, check out this article here.

Cover 4 can be run from a match or zone perspective, which is better explained in this video below.

Why Do Teams Run The 3-4 Defense?

Coaches who use the 3-4 defense are often looking to stop a high-powered passing offense or a few power running teams in their area. The 3-4 allows teams to be more athletic than a 4-3 defense.

The 3-4 defense is also very good at disguising coverages and blitzes, as the defensive front can look different on every play.

Coaches who want to show blitz but fall back into zone coverage want this scheme because it’s very flexible and allows them to mix coverages. Power running teams look for gaps and running lanes; the 3-4 disguises where the gaps will come from by using slants and cross blitzes with their linemen.

Want To Learn More In-Depth Football Concepts? Get Our Ultimate Football Guide Here

Keep Learning

Learn more about defensive schemes below.

The Different Looks of the 4-3 Defense

What Is The 3-4 Defense In Football?

4-2-5 Defense Football Coaching Guide

A 3-4 defensive scheme is not for every defense out there, but they have their purposes. The 3-4 is a base defense that many coaches use to stop running and passing.

The 3-4 defense uses 3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs. This scheme is extremely flexible and allows coaches to slant and use stunts to confuse the defense.

Each scheme is run based on the personnel and players that can run the scheme. If a coach doesn’t have the players to run a 3-4 scheme, they will often elect to play a 4-3 or 4-4 scheme.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

About the author

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports. Chris has coached football for 12+ years and continues to coach at the high school level. He continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about this wonderful game of football.