The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

By Mike Tanier

Once upon a time, defenses lined up almost the same way that offenses did. The offensive line has a center, two guards, and two tackles. Long ago, the defensive line did to.

This was the 1930's and early 1940's, when power running was king and strategies were a little simpler. But times were changing. Offenses were throwing the ball more, and quarterbacks were discovering how easy it was to complete passes right over the middle of the field, just behind the defensive line.

The defenses adjusted. "Centers" like Bill George began taking a few quick steps back before the snap, putting them in better position both to defend short passes and chase running plays toward the sidelines. The era of two-platoon football had arrived, and these players no longer had to line up at center on both offense and defense. Gradually, these defensive specialists started lining up a few yards off the ball, at the position we now call middle linebacker. The 4-3 defense had arrived.

The 4-3 defense was the main formation in the NFL throughout the 1950's and 1960's. But a new breed of running back inspired another switch. In the early 1970's, defenses tied themselves into knots trying to chase down O.J. Simpson and his generation of fast, powerful runners. Defensive linemen at the time were too slow for the job. Defensive coordinators decided that the solution was to put another linebacker on the field. The University of Oklahoma had long used a five-man defensive line on which the two ends were smaller, quicker players who would sometimes take a step or two off the line or drop into coverage. The ends were essentially extra linebackers, so pro teams modified the scheme. Thus, the 3-4 was born.

The two alignments have co-existed ever since. In the 1980's, the Raiders and Giants won Super Bowls with a 3-4 defense (Lawrence Taylor terrorized quarterbacks as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme). But the crushing Bears defense of the mid-1980's was a 4-3, and it inspired many imitators. By the mid-1990's, only a few teams used a 3-4 defense, most notably the Bills and Steelers. But the Patriots have now won three Super Bowls using a version of the 3-4, so the alignment is back in style.

Which leaves casual fans begging the question: what's the difference?

The Base 4-3

In a standard 4-3 defense, the line consists of two tackles and two ends. Where exactly they line up depends on the coach, the play, and the situation. But generally, the tackles take on the opposing guard and center, while the ends attack the opposing tackles and tight end.

What happens at the snap depends on the play and the philosophy of the coach. There are two basic responsibilities for defensive linemen: one-gap and two-gap. When playing one gap, the lineman attacks a space between two blockers. For example, one of the defensive tackles may try to penetrate the line by attacking the space between the right guard and right tackle. The defender is only responsible for what happens in that hole. When playing two-gap, the lineman engages his blocker, reads the play, and takes responsibility for anything that happens to his left or right. The same defender from the last example, playing two-gap, might engage the right guard head on. Once he knows how the play is developing, he'll know whether he has to move to the left or to the right to make a tackle or chase a play.

Whether they're playing one-gap or two-gap, the defensive linemen want to disrupt the blocking scheme and occupy offensive linemen. That frees the three linebackers to make tackles. Like the linemen, linebackers often have gap responsibilities. But when the four defensive linemen have forced all five offensive linemen to block them, the linebackers have it relatively easy: they only have to worry about the fullback and/or tight end getting out to block them, not a 320-pound guard.

On passing plays, the four linemen attempt to sack the quarterback in most situations. Again, the four-on-five mathematics is critical. Ideally, with defensive ends using their speed and tackles using their power, the defensive line will be so effective that all five offensive linemen will be needed to block them, and even then the quarterback will be in jeopardy. The defensive coordinator then has lots of options: he can send a linebacker or two on a blitz, knowing there is no one to block them, or he can commit the linebacker to coverage, knowing that the line will still be able to get pressure.

The one- or two-gap scheme is a gross oversimplification. Linemen can have many other responsibilities. They can slant, moving laterally to engage a blocker to the left or right of the one facing them. They can stunt or twist, wrapping around one another to confuse the blockers. Coordinators can create all sorts of variations from a base 4-3 front, but the goals are generally the same: disrupt blocking patterns, take away running lanes, harass quarterbacks.

In terms of personnel, the ideal 4-3 defensive tackle weighs close to 300 pounds but is quick-footed enough to shoot through a gap at the snap. Ends are lighter and quicker. Right ends, who line up against the offensive left tackle and attack the quarterback from the blind side, are usually the best athletes on the line: 275-pound monsters with incredible quickness and agility who can outflank blockers who are bigger and heavier. The middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme must be as smart as he is athletic; his assignment on any given play may change from pursuing a running back to dropping into zone coverage, depending on what the offense does at the snap. The outside linebackers must be fast enough to chase ballcarriers from one side of the field to the other, and must also be big enough to do battle with an offensive lineman.

The Base 3-4

The key player in a 3-4 scheme is the lone interior lineman, who is usually called the nose guard or nose tackle. He lines up directly across from the center -- on the center's "nose" -- though he may sometimes shade over to the space between the center and one of the guards. He almost always has two-gap responsibility. His job on nearly every play: force two offensive linemen or more to block him.

The defensive ends in a 3-4 alignment have jobs similar to that of the nose tackle: they want to take up space, fill gaps, and occupy blockers. In a 4-3 system, linemen are supposed to occupy blockers, but they are also expected to free themselves to make tackles and sacks. In the 3-4, linemen aren't expect to make many sacks or tackles. Most of the playmaking responsibilities fall upon the linebackers.

The 3-4 system gives the defensive coordinator a variety of options. At the snap, he can blitz any combination of linebackers, and the offense doesn't necessarily know where the rush is coming from. Typically, one or both of the outside linebackers will attack the line of scrimmage, whether to pressure the quarterback or tackle a running back in the backfield. That leaves two inside linebackers to follow the flow of the play, pursue running backs, or drop into pass coverage.

The 3-4 alignment is popular now because it allows defenses to zone blitz effectively. The "zone blitz" is just what it sounds like: some defenders blitz, the rest drop into zone coverage. In a 4-3 system, zone blitzing is tricky: the linebacker or safety who blitzes leaves a zone unoccupied. Another player can take over in the unoccupied zone, but a) that defender is stretched pretty thin, with an extra-large zone to defend, and b) the quarterback can usually see what's happening. Many a smart quarterback has defeated a zone blitz by waiting for a linebacker to attack, then dropping a soft pass into the part of the field that the linebacker usually defends. But with an extra linebacker on the field, the defensive coordinator has more flexibility. The faster linebackers can rotate quickly at the snap of the ball, filling each other's zones.

Say the coach wants both the left outside and middle linebacker to blitz. Normally, that would leave a big space on the left side of the field, one the offense could exploit with a quick slant pass. But in the 3-4 alignment, there's an extra inside linebacker who can quickly slide into that unoccupied zone. The right outside linebacker can move over to cover the middle of the field. The zones are a little wide, and the defenders in coverage have a lot of space to defend, but the quarterback must assemble a jigsaw puzzle to figure out who's where, all the while bracing for the blitz.

The nose guard in a 3-4 system must be huge, strong, and have incredible stamina: he takes on two blockers per play, every play. Ends must also be bigger and more durable than the ends in a 4-3 scheme, though they don't have to be as fast. Pass rush responsibilities are handed to the outside linebackers, who are expected to be lightning-quick runners and ferocious hitters. The inside linebackers in a 3-4, like middle linebackers in the 4-3, have to be smart, athletic, and versatile.


The base alignments explained above are very broad outlines. In modern football, there are hundreds of variations of each base set.

For some teams, the 3-4 and 4-3 are almost interchangeable. The right end in a 4-3 may be a 255-pound defender who sometimes drops into coverage: how different is he from an outside linebacker? Or, the outside linebacker in a 3-4 may line up in a three-point stance on the line of scrimmage for much of the game: why not call him a defensive end?

Teams that want to use a standard 4-3 scheme often face a dilemma: there aren't enough great defensive ends to go around. Players like Julius Peppers or Jevon Kearse come along about once per year in the draft. Most college defensive ends are great athletes who weigh about 260 pounds: put them on the line against a 320-pound left tackle, and they'll be plowed under on most running plays.

Changes in offensive style have also forced evolution in defensive alignments. When an offense lines up with five wide receivers on first down, then two tight ends and two running backs on second down, what's a defense to do? It has to adjust, by using five or six defensive backs on some plays, and extra linebackers on others. The one constant is that the defense usually tries to attack the five offensive linemen with four defenders, but those defenders could be any combination of traditional tackles, ends, and linebackers.

Teams like the Steelers and Bills ran the ball so effectively last year that opponents switched to a 4-4 defense: four linemen, four linebackers. At times, the extra linebacker crept up to the line and into a three-point stance. Suddenly, the five-man defensive line had returned to the NFL, strategy coming full circle. That's the nature of the game, and that's why it's a source of endless fascination.


92 comments, Last at 09 Jun 2010, 6:09am

1 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Great article.

Made me think of something: why is it standard for offenses to put TEs on the right side? It seems to me that it would make more sense to put the extra body on the QB's blind side, for pass protection. And on running plays, you'd have the extra blocking against the presumably smaller, quicker DE.

Just a thought.

2 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re: #1

I suspect the offense typically puts the TE against the RT because most QBs are right-handed, and thus teams are more likely to run right. It seems to me the hand-off/play-fake is easier for a right-handed QB if the play is going to his right.

But I also suspect that after one accounts for the number of plays where the TE motions before the snap, the split is probably on the order of 60/40 for the TE being on the RHS of the formation.

3 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

First off, I love the idea behind these articles, and I think it's a great article. It'll be nice to have these on the site as a reference.


Really? You think it would be easier handing off to the right? I always thought it would have been easier handing off to the left because then the QB would be holding the ball in his right hand. But, hey, not like I've ever tried it.

4 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Simply because the right-handed quarterback typically rolls to his right, making it easier to throw to the TE and allowing for extra protection when he's on the move. I remember when Stabler played, the Raiders were the only team in the league to have the TE on the left.

5 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Great, great article!

One question; is there any broad impact or responsiblity on the secondary between 3-4 and 4-3? Or can these line schemes be applied more or less independently of whatever secondary coverage scheme is desired? For example, do you see more cover-2 when playing in a 3-4 than in a 4-3?

6 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

The "Cover-2" as made famous by Tony Dungy is a 4-3 base defense. Of course you can play Cover-2 from either formation.

7 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

FO should run more articles like this during the offseason. Minicamps for fans.

8 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

i don't think the roles of the secondary vary between 4-3 and 3-4, any more than they vary between the different plays called within the packages. regardless of the package, it seems that the important question to the secondary is basically, "who's blitzing and who's dropping into coverage". in 4-3 i suppose you would have an additional blitzer by default, but again it's up to the play called.

9 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re: tight ends on the right side

Football formations have been predominately right-handed since ancient times, when 95% of plays were runs and the player who took the snap (who often wasn't the "quarterback") often ran the ball. If you are right handed, you will want to tuck the ball in your right arm and run to your right, so it made sense to amass blockers there, even before there was such a thing as a wide receiver.

Re: The secondary

Most teams that use a Cover-2 base coverage use a 4-3, and the 46-defense always uses a 4-3 alingnment (the "6" refers to the two CBs, the strong safety, and the 3 LBs). The 46 uses pimarily man coverage. In general, changes in coverage responsibilities vary from coach-to-coach and don't have as much to do with the front as with the coach's philosophy.

Glad people liked this so far. Any other "minicamps" you want to see?

10 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I think what's important to the defensive backfield is the actual number of DBs you have on the field - in both the 4-3 and the 3-4, you have 4 DBs in coverage plus 3 LBs (usually) adjusting to either run or pass (i say usually bc any number of players can blitz on any number of plays). And even then, it only effects how much field each one of your DBs has to cover (bc you can run man, zone, cover 2, cover 3, watever the hell you want back there). Its simply important that your coverage strategies in the backfield make sense with what the front seven is doing. [IE: if the offense comes out with an empty backfield 4WR and 1Te, and you decide to blitz all your linebackers in a 4-3, you prolly want your DBs in some form of a zone, seeing as how you're a man short if the TE goes out on a route]

I think...mind you that talk is based on knowledge of football from high school.

11 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

"Mini-camp" ideas:

Secondary schemes - might as well 'cover' this topic too.

What happened to the fullback? - Why has this position/formation gone out of style?

Do the Patriots or Colts offenses have a name? (Is there any offense other than the "West Coast Offense" that has is both in vogue today, and has a name?) There's lots of broad prinicples and key plays you see in different offenses(ball control vs. wide open, play action, going deep, timing, etc.), but is there any kind of "base system" that you could really describe these days?

12 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

the 46-defense always uses a 4-3 alingnment (the “6? refers to the two CBs, the strong safety, and the 3 LBs)

Nope, sorry, not true. The 46 (that's "fourty-six," not "four-six") was named for safety Doug Plank, who wore uniform #46:

Here's the last, vital paragraph:

Safety Doug Plank, #46, is also in the show. The defense is named after his number because in the late 1970's when Ryan first used the defense in third down situations, it was Plank who moved from his safety position to a blitzing linebacker.

13 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Fantastic article! This type of content is why I check FO at least every other day. (Aaron, you can quote that to advertisors...)

As for other "mini-camps for fans" ideas:

1-3) See post 11
4) A description of Offensive line responsibilities, with breakdowns on differences between different 'systems.'
5) A description of penalties.
5.1) Combine 4&5 and talk about Denver's run-blocking...
6) Whatever happened to the drop kick?

14 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

What happened to the fullback?

That's a good question. Even in the 80s full backs would regularly rack up 500 yrds rushing and most teams employed a FB in normal sets. I know the fullback was very important to the Shula era pro set offense and was used heavily by those teams with a Browns/Colts/Dolphins pedigree. By the 90s the full back became league wide more an extra blocker/ receiver. Hence he started to need a lot of the same skills as the TE. Gibbs offense tended to simply make a hybrid TE out of him. Most teams have split the 90s role into 1 player that’s a smallish TE/G and 1 player that is 3rd down scat back.

15 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

is there any kind of “base system� that you could really describe these days?

Well, first of all, as explained in this article, the term "West Coast Offense" was originally used to describe Sid Gillman's offense, not Bill Walsh's:

This is the offense the Chiefs and Rams are now using. I'd assume Norv Turner's running something similar in Oakland. Also, I once heard Joe Theismann say the Rams offense was exactly the same as the offense he ran with the Redskins. I don't know if Gibbs is still using it or not.

16 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I'm pretty sure Norv Turner doesn't run a west coast offense. I'm pretty sure he was brought into Oakland to remove the west coast offense. I thought Turner was always a big fan of the pro set.

I thought the Titans ran an offense very close to Gibbs old offense.

17 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

OK, Johonny, you totally missed my first point: The offense used to some degree by Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren, Dennis Green and a dozen other guys is COMMONLY REFERRED TO as the West Coast Offense, but that name is INACCURATE.

Norv Turner is a product of the Sid Gillman school, which preaches the TRUE VERSION of the West Coast offense. I'm not certain that he's stil running this offense, though.

18 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

re Hand offs

The key for RH QBs handing off with their left hand is that is makes for a faster read off a play fake. When he fakes with his RH, he has to turn all the way around before he can start looking down field. When using his LH, the turn is much shorter so he can get it off sooner.

To demonstrate, picture the QB at the center of a clock with 12 being straight downfield. When he's in his passing stance, his body (not his head) is facing aroung 2. At the point he hands off with his left hand, his body is facing around 5 depending on where the fake goes. When handing off with his RH, he's facing around 7.

Actually handing the ball off isn't hard and is easily done with either hand. As a right handed RB, I preferred going to my right because it put the ball in my "stronger" hand right away.

19 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

RE: fullbacks

I always heard that Bill Walsh's WCO and the later spread formations of the early ninties run 'n' gun teams was responsible for the end of the fullback as a runner.

20 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Good article. I'd love to see an article on offensive line schemes, the difference between Alex Gibbs style of railroad, or downfield, blocking vs. zone blocking. I'd be interested to learn what the Pats or Rams do differently scheme-wise since they seem to have very distinct blocking philosophies.

21 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I think a lot of the decline of the running fullback lies in how expensive it is to keep two good runners on your roster. I heard, I think, Don Shula talk about this once in an interview.

22 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Indeed, you'll have the benefit of the quicker LBs in the 3-4, but IMO, if the 4-3's problem is the lack of quality ends, the 3-4's problem is the lack of quality nose tackles. They're just one rare species, and I believe the great ones come only once every 5-6 years, if so...

23 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

It seems like the fullback isnt as effective anymore because linebackers are fairly fast/strong/smart so that the neither the misdirection or the power of the fullback gives him as much of an advantage. This is, of course, speculation... Maybe, today, the typical difference athletically between the fourth reciever on a roster and the fourth DB offers a greater advantage, plus QBs that can take advantage of it.
A good minicamp could deal with reciever routes: how intricate are they? How much does the reciever have to think? How much is it adjusted according to what he sees? Can the QB and WR recognize man vs zone coverage quickly enough to adjust the route accordingly and automatically? For example, if the route is a 7 yard out and the DB is five yards out covering the flats (or whatever)... would the reciever change to more of a corner route?

24 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Great article.

How about a minicamp on what a west coast offense is, and how it came about? And whether the Jets new "vertical west coast offense" will make the universe collapse of not.

25 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Some things i'd like to see here;
- what is a 3 technique tackle?
- why do tackles play on the inside of the d-line and outside of the o-line?
- Is it better to follow the pack and invest your money in outsied players on defence (DE, OLB, CB) or on inside players (DT, MLB, S)?

26 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Cool stuff. Coupla points:

-Never heard that about the 46-defense, Vince, even after 5 years with Buddy more popular than the Beatles here in Philly. Cool stuff.

-Gonna work on a thing about defensive line play that will include "3-technique tackles".

- The West Coast Offense thing is the second most annoying name switch in football history. #1 is when fullbacks and halfbacks basically switched places in the I-formation (the half back was the guy halfway back until sometime in the 1950s).

-The "offensive-defensive tackle" thing is easy to explain:

Back in the day, offense and defense lined up with a center, two guards, two tackles, and two ends. "Wide receivers" were uncommon, they were usually flankers, or running backs who went in motion.

So in the old days, our current offensive tackles were the second guys in on the offensive line and the second guys in on the defensive line.

Now, the old-school defensive ends slowly evolved into cornerbacks and outside linebackers. The defensive center became the middle linebacker. In a standard 4-3, the guys we call the DTs and DEs are the old-time defensive guards on the inside and tackles on the outside. But the names evolved to "ends" and "tackles", except that the 3-4 nose tackle is still sometimes called a nose "guard".

On offense, the rule that seven men had to stay on the line kept the old names for positions intact, except that one of the ends became a wide receiver (who is still called a split end in many systems).

Pretty wild.

Oh, and fullbacks, we are thinking of doing some research on that. But before I hit the encyclopedia, I recall that the 1970s Oilers were one of the first teams to use the fullback as just a small guard in the backfield for Earl Campbell. That, and the single-back sets prefered by Gilman/Coryell/Gibbs, started a strange history for the position that once made Jim Brown a legend.

27 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I'd like to see an article about offensive schemes, specifically describing the roles of the x, y and z receivers.

In other words, how are the Eagles going to position their receivers without T.O.?

28 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Wow, in the span of two days we've had nearly identical questions and answers about the origins of the term "46." (Click my initials, see comments 3-8.)

29 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I'd like to see an article on the rise and decline of the Run 'n Shoot, the Fun 'n Gun, and similar offensive schemes.

30 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Mike, this is a cracking piece, more so because of the intelligent comment that follows it.
Is there any chance of a special teams minicamp, blocking on kickoffs, punts, and coverage stategies etc, or is this really the free-for-all that it appears to be?
Oh, could we have an minicamp on whether Brady is a better QB than Manning? ;)

31 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

This is off topic, but since others are dropping football history tidbits...

I read about an old Syracuse team that lined up so that the center was FACING the QB, his butt facing the defense. The advantage of this was that he could pitch the ball to one of three backs (QB and 2 HBs) and then pull to one side or the other to block the end. I think it lasted for 1 year. The team did so well that the modern rule of 5 down linemen facing the defense was adopted.

This must have been back in Red Grange's day. Anybody else ever heard of this?

Also, my high school went all the way to the state championship game running a no-huddle delta wing offense. It completely confused everyone. Of course, I had graduated two years prior...sigh. I believe the playbook came from Delaware, where the Blue Hens had been running that otherwise extinct offense for years.

32 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Q: Every so often you'll read an article about a free agent or potential draft pick d-lineman and it'll say that so-and-so is more suited to the 3-4 or the 4-3. This article seems to say the 3-4 needs the bigger guys, but wasn't the Ravens' superbowl defense a 4-3 that featured two huge tackles? Can someone explain the difference b/t a prototypical 4-3 lineman and a prototyical 3-4 lineman?

33 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

great work, mark. i am now going back and re-reading some of the stuff on the site examining different defenses with this new perspective.

for those interested there were two articles much along these same lines that ran last year penned by guest columnist Chris Miraglia (sorry, you gotta copy and paste. i couldn't figure out the hotlink script):

West Coast Offense Simplified (

The Cover 2 Explained (

34 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

RE: 31

I meant the Double Wing, not delta wing. Duh.

35 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

beedubyuh, I've heard of that Syracuse backwards center, but I don't know many of the details. I thought it was a little later than the Red Grange days -- more like the 1940s or something.

36 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

MikeT - "Never heard that about the 46-defense, Vince, even after 5 years with Buddy more popular than the Beatles here in Philly. Cool stuff."

Really? I know that people were love him or hate him with Ryan, but I thought the hate him crowd was pretty strong in the Philly area. Dick Vermeil, on the other hand, had minor deity status. Still does.

37 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I'd love to see an article on extinct offensive schemes - for instance, I have no clue what the double wing is, I know how the T-formation was set up, but I don't know how it was run or why it was so effective - there are so many old schemes that I'd love to know about that I just don't have any clue how they were run.

38 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

First off i am a huge fan of this site because of articles like this.

Re: 32

The 3-4 scheme requires 3 big lineman with the nose guard being really big. The lineman also need to have great technique and good hand placement in order to occupy five offensive lineman freeing the linebackers to make plays. In a 4-3 the line only needs two large tackles, and two faster smaller d-ends. A typical defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme becomes an end in a 3-4 scheme. Being a Pats fan most of the ends that we have drafted or signed were tackles in college.

Also when people say that the 3-4 scheme requires bigger players they are refering to the whole front seven. The outside linebackers are usually the size of defensive ends. (in fact many of them are defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme i.e. McGinest, Vrabel with the Pats.) The inside linebackers need to have more speed (Bruschi, Phifer), but still need to be able to fight through blocks if an offensive gaurd gets free (Ted Johnson).

I guess it also depends on whether you are playing a two gap system or a one-gap system. Two-gap system requires more size, technique, and play recognition while a one-gap system requires more quickness, athletisicm, and speed.

39 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re: #32

The difference between the DTs in a 4-3 and the NT in a 3-4 is that the primary responsibility of the NT is to create a pile (hold his ground for as long as possible against 2 blockers), whereas the DTs in a 4-3 are usually expected to penetrate past the OGs, or at least shed the blocker and try to make plays at the LOS.

So they require slightly different body types. The ideal NT is someone who looks about as wide as they are tall. If you're 6'0" and weigh 340 lbs, I have a job for you! :) A good NT will tend to have low center of gravity (short and wide) and some combination of large mass and/or strength. It's not a coincidence that the roll-call of NFL steroid abusers was heavy with NTs.

DTs in a 4-3 are still very large human beings, but now you're looking for someone 6'2"-6'4" and about 300 lbs. Quickness is more important than raw mass, so the best DTs tend not to be fat tubs of goo.

Which brings me to the 2000 Ravens. Siragusa and Sam Adams could each have been a good NT, although Sam was a pretty good 4-3 DT before he really started to eat. A lot of teams that play a 4-3 have one DT that is an "anchor" and a second DT this is a "penetrator". The former (Gilbert Brown anyone?) would have a body type like an NT, while the latter can be lighter and quicker. Having 2 "anchors" is a good style if you don't have any quick DTs, you just use the D-line to allow your LBs to be unblocked. Ray Lewis in his prime made that look good. But it would be a lousy scheme if you had John Randle and Warren Sapp in their primes at DT.

You can either pick the players to fit your system, or adjust the system to fit the players. Smart staffs can do both.

40 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Really? I know that people were love him or hate him with Ryan, but I thought the hate him crowd was pretty strong in the Philly area. Dick Vermeil, on the other hand, had minor deity status. Still does.

Buddy Ryan did have a minor "we hate you!" period in Philly. That was because he never won a playoff game.

Unfortunately, after that, we got what we wanted. Ryan was axed, and we got the Savior of the Eagles Franchise, Rich Kotite.

Of course, that lasted all of about one year, and we woke up like a bunch of fans with beer goggles and realized "who the hell do we have as head coach?!" In the following minor pit of hell which followed, most Philly fans I know then said "man, we screwed up in firing Buddy Ryan."

Loved Ryan while we had him up until he couldn't win playoff games. Hated Ryan when he couldn't win playoff games. Loved Ryan after we had to suffer (and boy, do I mean suffer) through Kotite and Rhodes for several years. Now Ryan's a pleasant memory, if only for the fact that it seems like a happy little precursor to Reid's current run.

Blah. Don't ask. Philly fans are screwed up. There's a reason that Mike Tanier (hi Mike!) wrote these fantastic articles about being a football fan in Philly.

41 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Pat - ok, so maybe the "hated him the whole time he was there" crowd was mostly me. Confession to make here, I am a lifelong Eagles fan. I blamed him for ruining the Eagles offense. Even after the painful reign of Kotite, I remember thinking, "well, it could be worse, we could still have Buddy Ryan."

The resurgence in interest lately about the 46-defense is kinda amusing.

42 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Running plays must usually pit 9 offensive blockers against 11 defensive tacklers (assuming the QB doesn't block). Since two defensive players have to go unblocked, the offense tries to diagram running plays so that the two unblocked players are far away from the play direction and/or are the slowest on the field. The pursuit ability of those two unblocked players becomes key, then, if everyone on offense makes their blocks. The 3-4 against the run would presumably have faster players more capable of pursuit, and it would also have the extra linebacker, who's generally in a better position to pursue a play than a lineman tied up in the trenches.

43 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Great article! I have recently read an article on the development of the single-wing system in the 40s and 50s. I was wondering if anyone could explain the details of the system??

44 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

I read about an old Syracuse team that lined up so that the center was FACING the QB, his butt facing the defense.

I read about this somewhere too. As I recall, it was highly successful at first. Then defenses realized that at the snap of the ball they could have the nose guard run over the center and get penetration up the middle. The other ten defenders would cover outside runs, and now the offense was screwed.

45 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

If you Google Double Wing or Wing-T, a slew of websites will come up providing playbooks and coaching tips for high schools and small college programs. Kinda cool.

I'm linking to an interesting article on the history of the Wing-T offense. Written by a coach that used it.

46 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

"Ryan was axed, and we got the Savior of the Eagles Franchise, Rich Kotite. Of course, that lasted all of about one year, and we woke up like a bunch of fans with beer goggles and realized 'who the hell do we have as head coach?!'"

Kotite was Eagles coach for four years. He went 36-28 (.562) from 1991-1994. Was it really that bad? Ryan went 43-35-1 (.544) in five years. Kotite had a better win percentage. He was also 1-1 with the Eagles in the playoffs, while Ryan was 0-3. I'm not trying to prove a point, more I'm just asking since I've never been a Philly resident, but it seems like Kotite's reign wouldn't have been worse than Ryan's.

47 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Kotite was Eagles coach for four years. He went 36-28 (.562) from 1991-1994. Was it really that bad?

Tread with care, young one, when speaking positively of the hated Rich Kotite.

Seriously, though: Ryan coached an improving team.

1986: 5-10-1
1987: 7-8
1988: 10-6
1989: 11-5
1990: 10-6

Whereas Kotite coached a failing team.
1991: 10-6
1992: 11-5
1993: 8-8
1994: 7-9

Buddy Ryan is one of the few cases where a coach is fired after a winning season. Kotite really doesn't look that bad from his Eagles tenure (he looks much worse from his Jets tenure) but he still took a playoff-caliber team and reduced them to something much less. You may still point out that the Eagles had another two winning seasons after that (10-6, 10-6 under Rhodes) but most fans could see the entire thing crumbling down with the QB carousel in 1996.

The entire 1993-1998 era is very depressing. You could see the wheels falling off of the late 80s-early 90s Eagles, but the coaches were doing nothing to replace them.

48 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Now that we've got this good and off-topic: The Richie the K era in Philly!

Pat: You may not want to read this, it could make you cry.

Buddy Ryan was a terrific judge of talent but a lousy head coach. I'm not even sure he was all that good a coordinator because when he succeeded it was usually with overwhelming talent. Of course, he was the one picking those players and that's an important part of the coach's job.

Buddy picked a lot of good players for the Eagles: Keith Byars, Eric Allen, Byron Evans, Keith Jackson, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, even Freddie Barnett and Calvin Williams. He inherited Randall and Reggie White from the Marion Campbell era. The amount of talent got the Eagles into the playoffs, but Buddy's inability to adequately prepare his teams meant they couldn't win those playoff games. But he did take a terrible team and built it into a perennial playoff contender until free agency and Norman Braman caught up to them.

When Richie the K took over the Birds in 1991 he hired Bud Carson to be the Defensive Coordinator. Carson took Buddy's players and turned in one of the handful of greatest seasons a defense ever had. That performance would not be repeated, as Jerome Brown died in the 1991-92 offseason, Reggie White left for GB after the 92 season, and Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons went to join Buddy in Arizona in 1994. But Carson still did better than Buddy ever did with those players.

But what really stands out about the 1991 Eagles is the Randall Cunningham injury. In the 1st quarter of the 1st game of the season, Bryce Paup fell onto the front of Randall's leg and tore his ACL. Remember the highlight from MNF with Carl Banks launching himself at Randall's legs and Randall just bouncing away to throw a TD pass? In a cruelly ironic twist the hit by Paup probably wouldn't have even knocked Randall down had it not injured him. And no, I'm not still bitter about this. :cry:

Here's six words to traumatize Pat and the rest of us Eagles fans: Brad Goebel, Pat Ryan, and Jeff Kemp. You see, the Eagles had a renowned back-up QB in those days, Jim McMahon. But Jim would get injured everytime someone looked at him cross-eyed, or when he got crushed by the guy who just turnstiled rookie RT Antone Davis. (Another blast from the Eagles past. To try to compensate for Buddy's inability to craft an offensive line, the new regime deemed it necessary to trade two 1st-round draft picks to Green Bay to move into a position to draft Antone. I can't remember who the first guy was that GB drafted, but the second was Tony Smith. Can't remember him? Well ... the Packers didn't actually draft Tony Smith, they traded that pick to the Falcons. For Bret Favre.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Brad Goebel (see link in signature) was a rookie from the noted passing powerhouse of Baylor. His play that year could be characterized as the bad Jay Fiedler. Pat Ryan was a close personal friend of Richie the K, and he came out of retirement to deliver performances that can only be described as "Doug Pederson, without the funk". The last of the five QBs to start for the Eagles in 1991, Jeff Kemp at least had a job in the NFL at the beginning of the year.

Here's the best way to summarize those 3 guys who started better than half of the Eagles games in 1991: Combined, they threw 3 more passes in the NFL after 1991.

Anyway, 1991 was the best chance the Eagles had to win the Super Bowl before this year. Randall's injury proves God hates Norman Braman as much as Philly did, and it means Barry Switzer is alone in the debate about who the worst coach to ever win a Super Bowl.

50 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

That assumes one blocker for one defender. In the 3-4, the NT eats up two blockers almost every time (because of his size) and obstructs much of the space between the guards. Often the other two D Linemen have a similar two gap responsibility so that its not out of the question for three D Linemen to take on 5 OL and a TE. This is accomplished without shifting the LB or the DB out of position. Then you have a 8 LB or DB on a ball carrier and maybe a blocking back, and WRs. Now thats the ideal and it doesn't always happen that way, but I'd say one of the biggest advantages of 3-4 over 4-3 is preventing long runs (But not being great at stopping a RB willing to just jam it up the middle).

51 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Oh my God, my Philly Peeps are taking over.

When people bring up Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite, and Ray Rhodes, I always say the same thing: "Thank God for Andy Reid".

Of course, I still have arguments with people who say that Buddy was a better coach than Reid. Seriously.


As for some of the other postings:

- I will be working on a defensive line article soon that will talk mostly about 4-3 schemes and will address some of the things talked about here.

- Have heard about the "center facing the defense" days but don't really know much about it. I may pop over to the Pro Football Research Association and ask Bob Carroll and his crew for info. Maybe you will beat me there.

- Will keep in mind some cool ideas like the fun 'n' gun, special teams, Delaware double wing... time to start researchin!

52 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Hey, Mike, it's not my fault. Someone tried to defend Rich Kotite. It's my moral responsibility to completely trash the guy. I've got a friend who's a Jets and Eagles fan - I'm pretty sure if he ever sees Rich Kotite, he'll strangle him.

Back on topic:

Fun 'n gun? Isn't that Spurrier's offense? That'd be a comic article.

53 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

As a redskins fan i would kill to have the kind of sustained success the eagles have had over the last 15-20 years. In fact, you could make the argument that the eagles have been the most consistenly good team in the nfc east during that time. The only problem is they are the one team in the division who has not won a superbowl in that time period. Still Dallas has stunk since the mid 90's, the skins have sucked since the early 90's, and the giants blew most of the 90's came back strong in 2000 and proceeded to suck again. While the eagles only really sucked in 99 (rebuilding year) and the end of the rich kotite era.

54 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Didn't the redskins win a couple superbowls during those 15-20 years?

55 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

... and 97, and 98 as well. The Eagles actually had a decent record in 95 and 96, but honestly, the wheels were falling off. The team was spending far too aggressively to get players that simply weren't worth it.

It's not surprising that the Eagles fell apart so fast in 97 - they had been overperforming for a few years. In 95, for instance, the Eagles were actually outscored by opponents 338-318. That's a Pythagorean projection of a 7-9 record (they went 10-6). The next year it was better, but they still overperformed by a win or two (8.5 pyth. wins, 10-6 record). They didn't really have a QB from 95-98, and oh, did it show.

That being said, having to suffer through those years was definitely worth it for the run Philly has now.

Oh, and again on topic:

If we do have an article on the West Coast Offense again, maybe we should figure out a name to give the real West Coast Offense (not Bill Walsh's).

56 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Just a comment on NTs. A lot of NTs use(d) quickness instead of strength to take up two blockers. When Kelly Gregg was a NT for the Ravens, he was able to hit the center-guard gap very quick, so that it forced the offense to use two blockers on him. There have been lots of quick NT's. Bob Baumhower, Charles Johnson, Tim Krumrie, Reggie Kinlaw, even lard-ass Jerry Ball used their quickness to occupy 2 blockers.

57 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

This article epitomizes what I like about the readers of this site. Week after week, readers critcize the play-calling, fire coaches, release players etc etc, they when it comes to a discussion of basics, these same readers aren't afraid to say that they need some real instruction. I love it!

My own suggestion for a minicamp would be pass patterns. Since I see little football overseas and am dependent of Field Pass (audio), I'd love to see some definitions of flys and outs and posts and all those other mystery terms.

58 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Love the article, and all articles of this type ("The Cover 2 Explained" is the article that got me checking FO every day).

One question:
"the linebackers ..... only have to worry about the fullback and/or tight end getting out to block them, not a 320-pound guard."

"The outside linebackers ....... must be big enough to do battle with an offensive lineman."

So which is it?

59 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

A minicamp I'd like to see is the reads a QB must make when dropping back to pass. How to spot man v zone, reading the safeties etc.

It could help my Madden play - I am 0-4 in All-Madden and repeat SB winner on All-Pro so I obviously need some help getting over that hurdle.

It would also enhance my NFL viewing as it's the kind of thing you just don't get enough analysis of on-screen. Excellent article and thread by the way - makes off-season just about bearable.

60 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4


If everything works well on defense, the five offensive linemen will be occupied by the four defensive linemen, and LBs won't have to worry about taking on a lineman.

As you might expect, things don't always work out, and the LB needs to have recourse when he is blocked by a 320-pound lineman.

Lately, we have seen a lot of 225-lb linebackers in the NFL. This is about the lowest weight that can really handle the position. These guys are in real trouble when they are blocked by an offensive lineman, and teams like the Steelers and Jets took note and started using more "heavy" offensive alignments last year.

What you often see now is a 245-lb. linebacker on the strong side, where the offense is more likely to run, with a smaller LB on the weak side, who can drop into coverage and be an extra safety on passing plays

61 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

"If we do have an article on the West Coast Offense again, maybe we should figure out a name to give the real West Coast Offense (not Bill Walsh’s)."

Air Coryell.

62 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Hey folks. These have proven to be so popular that we're definitely going to do more of them. We've given them a special category based on what one of our commenters called the article, "Strategy Minicamps," and if you click on my name you'll get a list of past similar articles.

63 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Is West Coast Offense the new irony? Every time somebody mentions it, we have a discussion about what is and isn't the West Coast Offense. It seems like now we have three diffent offenses to discuss under that umbrella: The "Real" West Coast offense, Bill Walsh's offense in SF (What is commonly known as the real west coast offense), the offense that Green Bay used with Holgreen and Philadelphia is currently using (the "new" or "modified" or "watered down" west coast offense). Of course, there is the final category, any team that employs 3-4 wideouts or a lot of passes to the half-back is labeled by announcers/pundits as the WCO, but we can eliminate this category, it's too broad to have any meaning.

64 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

With the changes going on in Dallas for 2005 i am glad to find a site , with all this information. In clear language, not just jargon.

65 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Aaron, that's a lovely round-up of articles you've got there. Thank you.

I've never understood why football writers complain about a dearth of news in the sprintime. Football is a vast subject. The things I don't know about tight ends could fill a book.

66 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Points on things I remember after reading the article and 65 discussion entries:

Nitpick: the Pats won the 2001 SB primarilly running a 4-3, and switched to a 3-4 in 2003 (the Colvin pickup was the impetus, even if he didn't play after game 2). While McGinest mostly ran the "elephant" position the same as now, the personel was different and scheme was geared more towards a 4-3 until '03.

Buddy Ryan v. Philly: Having lived in Philly, I can assure you that Reid will be despised at some point, probably in the near future. Crankiest non-soccer fans in the world, most likely because they have to live in Philly. (Please don't hurt me...)

Kotite trivia: He replace two coaches who were fired after having "successful" runs- He replaced Buddy Ryan who was fired after 3 winning season in a row, and he replaced Pete Carrol (Jets) who would be fired by the Pats after not having a losing season in his tenure (10-6, 9-7, 8-8).

West Coast offense: I've always like calling Walsh's O the "Cinncinatti" offense, because that is where he developed it, and calling the Gillman/Coryell WCO just a "vertical" offense, or something similar.

More WCO: nobody runs the traditional Cinncinati offense anymore, it has evolved into the Reid/Holmgren/whatever thing because defenses started catching up to it, and the 49ers braintrust developed their own version. Cultural diffusion at work.

Death of the Fullback: Remember, in the 80s, defensive substitutions (ie nickel backs, etc) were rare, so getting an extra reciever on the field created a lot more matchup problems back then. Also, WR attracted larger athletes than CB, routes became more complex, and passing rules became more friendly, thus making the two-back set less attractive (that is, the opportunity cost of running rose, since passing was becoming more successful). Basically, the rules and personell favored passing, so the blocker/second runner got phased out more and more in lieu of a better receiver. I wouldn't be surprised to see a resurgance, as rushing totals are starting to tick upwards again (though part of that is, in my opinion, poor tackling techniques, which brings up a whole other issue).

TE on the right side of the formation- while some of this is a holdover from tradition, I think it also makes sense. Teams put the better pass-blocker on the QBs blindside (LT for a righty), so they end up putting the TE on the side of rush (or formations that look like running plays) the team would help out the poorer blocker on the right side. Also, the extra blocker helps the QB on rollouts, because most QBs roll to their throwing side (very ackward to pass for a righty rolling left). Also, run and pass blocking is more and more specialized, so RT tend to run block well, so adding the TE is maximizing run blocking now.

The Hybrid positions: I do think it is interesting, though, how hybrid positions continue to develop. Strong safety has always been that way, in that some plays the SS is in the secondary, others he is at the LOS like a linebacker. It follows that MLBs are turning into a 2nd SS (much more coverage requirements) and line personell/OLBs are become hybrid linebackers/ends. Really, it just shows that versatility is the new black.

68 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

He's the guy who paints himself pink and whom nobody talks about.
Seriously, the elephant is like a hybrid LB/Lineman who lines up in different positions, rushing the passer and trying to overload one side.

69 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

OK, i remember the eagles were doing that kearse last year. Why in the world they didn't do it in the 2nd half of the superbowl when N.E. was handling their pass rush is beyond me.

70 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

OK, i remember the eagles were doing that kearse last year. Why in the world they didn’t do it in the 2nd half of the superbowl when N.E. was handling their pass rush is beyond me.

The main way the Pats neutralized the pass rush was a steady diet of screen passes, mostly to Corey Dillon. Those plays wer designed to use Kearse's pass rush against the Eagles.

BTW, Kearse has never played an effective game against the Pats. He was consistently invisible in many big matchups between the Pats and the Titans (who otherwise gave the Pats fits).

71 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

The only thing missing from this excellent article is ECONOMICS. I think the recent switch back to the 3-4 has as much to do with economics as anything else - it simply became cheaper to pay 4 versatile linebackers than it is to pay one stud MLB and 1-2 stud DEs.

72 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re 71
Excellant Point but I wonder if the increasing popularity of the 3-4 will have a supply and demand effect that makes the players that are best suited to it more expensive.

73 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re: 71
True. I also think that the durability of DLs is a big part, as LBs are able to be on the field for more plays and their careers don't fall off the cliff. Since great DTs were were snapped up with huge contracts, they were expected to play more plays, and their careers ended faster. Basically, a great rotation that doesn't burn your DLinemen was way too expensive. As such, since so few teams ran 3-4, the guys best suited to those schemes (and less suited to 4-3) were cheaper (supply and demand). Thus middling sized DE/LBs were undervalued, and teams were able to get better deals on the 3-4 personnel and devote more cap money to other positions.

Interestingly, I think a similar situaion is going on with the safety position right now. With the reinterpretation of the chuck rule, teams clamored all over themselves to get the good CBs, even though the chuck rule probably devalued the CB position (teams are more likely to have success against even the best CBs, so the marginal value dollars used to sign the #1 guy over the #50 gets less performance, killing the cap). Since CB salaries are much higher now, look for the smart teams to devote more of their secondary money to top-flight safeties, a cheaper position, and spend closer/below average salary on CBs (and probably invest less money in the secondary as a whole). I'm of the mind that the safeties have become the new hyrbid end of the defense, in that the marginal dollar value lies in versatile and smart deep backs instead of cover corners.

74 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re: the drop kick.

The drop kick is still part of the rules, and plays exactly like a field goal. It's not used because it became much harder to drop kick when the ball got slimmer (I believe this happened for passers).


75 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re #74:

There was also a rules change 10-15 years ago which restricted the drop kick to being done behind the LOS. Before that, you could drop kick from anywhere on the field.

76 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Re: 73

That's why the Steelers were able to have successful defenses throughout the nineties: they exploited an inefficiency in the league. With damn near everybody running a 4-3, the tweeners of the 3-4 were available, often at decent prices. With the rise of the 3-4's popularity, I'd expect to see the Steeler defense suffer a little.

Remember how every year Pittsburgh produced a new standout LB? Because they had the pick of the litter. Nobody wanted what they needed.


The Spurrier Fun-n-Gun system was a hoot to read about. Neat theory, absurd practice. The QB is supposed to read the defense and throw the ball into "open zones" on the field, figuring that one of the receivers will be there. This could work, but the Ole Ball Coach refused to refine the system to work in the NFL or study matchups. His short office hours were legendary in the DC area. Every Sunday, it showed.

I think the F&G is similar to the Run and Shoot, but instead of elaborate "passing trees" to figure out who'll run where, it uses a zone map of the field. I think.


A backwards-facing center would be demolished by any NT or DT worth his jockstrap. Hit him at the snap and you'd flatten him or knock him badly off-balance. Though it'd be cool to watch at least once.

77 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Agree, the Steelers got the one else wanted them. However, I am interested in seeing how long the 34 band wagon lasts.

Very few of the Steelers DE - OLB conversions happened quickly. Most took two or three years being backups, learning the system and their new postition in it, before they could contribute.

Many teams took the tweeners this year, hoping for sudden impact...from watching the Steelers, I do not think this sudden impact will happen.

I am waiting to see if teams hoping for these tweeners to have sudden impact get impatient, and switch back to what they know; the 4-3.

The 3-4 depends on discipline and knowledge of the system. These new responsibilities, in my opinion, cannot be taught in one off season. I am not saying the 4-3 does not rely on discipline and knowledge, but the two systems are different, not just LBs but for all the front 7.

78 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Part of the proliferation of the 3-4 is coming because a lot of the assistants from 3-4 systems are being hired to lead defense for other teams. So really, teams aren't going to "switch back to what they know" unless they fire the 3-4 guys on the staff. Whether that happens or not, though, remains to be seen. Personally, since kickers, punters, and OG are the cheapest positions, I wouldn't be surprised if the next "hot defense" is made up entirely of those guys.

79 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

With so many 'hybrid' type players, who becomes the highest-paid? For instance, it looks like Eugene Wilson will be a hybrid safety/cornerback...I know last year that the Pats didn't play their SS and FS in the normal position, and instead played them even. In other words, no 'free' or 'strong', just safeties. What type of hybrid does this make a player...half cornerback, half linebacker? :)

I think they're moving Wilson to corner this year, but I'd love for him to stay at's comforting knowing Rodney (can I get some respect?) Harrison and Eugene Wilson are in the middle of the field.

What other teams play safety in unusual/exotic ways?

80 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

#66, nitpick to the nitpick. The Pats had been trying to run a 3-4 since Belichick came aboard as HC, but didn't have the personnel to do it (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren as NT). Although signing Vrabel and Colvin were important, I believe it was the acquisition of Ted Washington, not Colvin, that finally allowed Belichick to run a 3-4 as his standard base package.

#77, seeing how the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers have been among the most successful teams in recent years, the 3-4 will be here for a while. As was said, the offspring HCs and DCs of these teams (Nolan, Crennel, Rob Ryan, plus the return of Saban) are sure to keep going with what got them hired as HCs.

81 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Long time reader, first time poster. A good source for basic formation information, strategy, and history is Total Football. I just picked up Total Football II at a used bookstore and it has a history of offensive systems starting with the single wing up through the run-and-shoot. It talks about the introduction of man-in-motion, Paul Brown, the passing tree, Gilman, Coryell, and everyone who learned from them. It also does defenses from the Eagle, to the Umbrella defense, to 4-3, 3-4, etc. Excellent overview.

82 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Speaking of passing trees:

Belichick slipped in an interesting piece of offensive strategy in a minicamp press conference. He was asked (in relation to newly acquired David Terrell) if he would like to run more fade patterns in the end zone.

Initially, Belichick said, "sure. I'll run any route if it scores points". Then, he thought a minute and said something like, "Well...I take that back. It's important that all pass patterns be disguised until the last possible second. So, all the patterns you run have to be part of the same passing tree so they look identical to the defense until the receiver makes his break. That means there are some patterns you don't want to run because the defense would know what you are doing, just because they look different..."

83 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Oh, no doubt Ted Washington was a key part in the transformation, and the D still swings back and forth between formations from play to play. I just remember BB saying something to the effect of, "we have more good athletes at linebacker, and we try and put the best players we have on the field all at once". Though he prefers a 3-4 to a 4-3, he didn't have the quality LBs to run it in the first three years. So he played the 3-4 until he could shape the roster to his liking. Scheme for what you have until you get the guys you want, unless you are Atlanta, in which case you make your square QB try to fit into a round hole.

84 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

A lot to comment on, but limited time --

1) TE to the right??!! -- In the basic pro I (FB, TB, TE, Fl, SE), the strength call (TE and Fl) went to the wide side of the field the vast majority of the time. I doubt that you will see the TE to the right that much more often than the left.

2) The demise of the FB is due to 3 factors: a) the development of zone blocking, b) the advent of gap control defenses, and c) the advantage of an additional quick pass receiver ("quick" in this usage meaning on or close to the line with the ability to threaten deep in a hurry). He has been replaced with a TE/H back or a 3d WR.

As coaches began stressing the need to put most of their best athletes on defense, running the ball became increasingly difficult. Holes got smaller and often opened some place other than designed. A lead fullback colliding with a LB in the hole often seemed to accomplish nothing more than plugging it up with two more bodies.
Offenses responded by adopting zone blocking and teaching RBs to cut to whatever hole opened up.

With the gap control defense, a TE was better than a FB because he creates an additional gap that must be defended. The RB in a zone scheme had a defense that was more spread out. With offenses using 3 WRs more often, the TE was kept and the FB dropped.

Also, the TE provides a 4th quick threat deep. The FB can't. This stresses defenses which want to play games with their safeties and forces them to be more vanilla in the coverage schemes and run support. And that helps the QB reads.

85 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

Being a lifelong NFL and Eagle follower since 1950,this thread goes to recalling by mid 1950s Eagles had the best 5-2 defense in the league,by 1960 Champ year (Bednarik 60 minute man)a few teams had converted to 4-3,not the Eagles.
1991,1992 and 1993 started so well,before Cunningham DOWN.1992 HE RETURNED FOR playoffs,White,Simmons,Joyner,Waters led nasssty defense.Cunningham had the 1994 team @7-2,before unravelling with 7 losses.Ryan's assembly of talent,Carson's D coaching,as #48 &#49 point out=much expected seeped agonizingly away.R.C.mended for one final Viking strike.

86 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

There's another point to be made within the talk of the economic advantage of using the 3-4 when everyone else is using the 4-3. #76 touched on it as well. There is a limited supply of top-flight athletes at any position. When only 2 or 3 teams are running the 3-4, those teams get to pick run stuffing NTs and DEs and versatile LBs that are suited for their systems at a draft pick or contract level that teams running a 4-3 shouldn't match because the value isn't there for them. With more 'tweener players needed now to fill more 3-4 defenses, the quality of starter is almost bound to go down. And, conversely, the 4-3 teams that remain will benefit from this by seeing the demand for their types of players go down while the supply stays (more or less) constant, though this effect should not be as major as the majority of teams will still be playing a base 4-3.

The other point I always worry about with 3-4 defenses is staffing it adequately within a 53-man roster. With a 4-3 defense in a nickel or dime situation there are 1 or 2 starters from your base defense off the field, respectively. With a 3-4 in a nickel or dime package you have to provide an extra DT, plus removing 2 or 3 of your starting LBs from the situation. While the Patriots have done a wonderful job of dealing with this, most teams just don't have the savvy in personnel and coaching to convert, for instance, a WR into a CB to cover up such a deficiency.

87 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

what are some of the good run plays vs. 3-4?

88 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

In response to #87:

The weakness of the 3-4 is in the middle. You have a lot of options there. You can simply man block and let the RB key the block. You can double-team the NT and use a FB to lead a TB through the whole. You can even combo-block: first double block the NT, then a blocker peels off and blocks an ILB. Having a good FB in mold of a John Riggins is very useful in a single-back set, as he can run over the ILBs.

The 3-4 is strongest against outside runs, because the ILBs can swarm to the point of attack. This is also a weakness: you can run counters, provided (a big if) you can get the ILBs to overreact in the first place.

89 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

#74 and #75 (drop-kick):

I have actually managed to drop-kick a college ball from 10-15 yds (I didn't exactly have a strong leg) through the uprights on a grass field. I used a two-hand drop and a rugby-style kick, placing my toes UNDER the ball. I got off some tight spirals. I don't know if I could have done the same with the narrower pro ball.

I think the drop-kick can be useful for long field goals against (that's right - against) a light wind, a situation that is bad for placekicks. The field has to be fake or the spot made on real grass in good condition.

Arena football has had drop-kickers. I don't whether their styles were American (toe-jam) or rugby. They completed over 1/2 of their conversions and field goals. That means they were worth an average of over 1 point per conversion (a drop-kick counts for 2 points in arena ball). I don't know how their field goal effiencies and point averages (drop-kick FGs are 4 points) compare to placekickers.

90 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

what would u say is the difference of the standard 3-4 defense compared to nick sabans defense schemes because its tweak and because of sabans exotic blitzs schemes and disguises of his coverage

91 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

An old article, but a great one. Wouldn't you say that a dt in a 4-3 nowadays should weigh more than just 300 lbs? How many dt's DONT weigh 300? Even Warren Sapp weighed 300 at one point but was a liability against the run.

92 Re: The 4-3 vs. the 3-4

The reason that most tight ends line up on the right side of the formation is because most running backs prefer to run to the right.