A common defense in American football, the 3-4 features three down linemen and four linebackers (and also, the four defensive backs).
What is 3-4 defense in football?
A 3-4 defense is one of the base defenses in football. This alignment consists of three linemen and four linebackers, making it easier to hide a blitz or drop back in coverage.
- The 3-4 defense is often used on first and second downs but not in short-yardage situations.
- This defense allows for as many as eight players to drop into deep coverage, leaving three to rush the quarterback.
- This defense is used by teams with bigger and more mobile linebackers that can rush the line of scrimmage and read and react to the play as it develops.
- Known as a great way to disrupt offensive rhythm because it allows for more blitz patterns and limits double teams.
- This defensive formation forces the offensive line to figure out who the fourth pass-rusher is, rather than having a fourth defensive lineman already on the scrimmage line.
What is the difference between the 3-4 defense and the 4-3 defense?
The 4-3 defense is the opposite of a 3-4 defense because there are four down linemen and three linebackers in the 4-3 alignment. The 4-3 defense is the most common in football, but the 3-4 has regained popularity in recent years.
The 3-4 vs. the 4-3 Defense Video
Role of the defensive line in the 3-4 defense
The defensive line in this defense includes two positions that take up three spots: two defensive ends and one nose tackle. The two defensive ends can line up in various ways, but they must attack their assigned gap. The nose tackle, which many claim is the most crucial part, is the biggest trio of linemen, and his job is to clog the offensive line’s interior.
Role of the linebackers
There are four linebackers in the 3-4 defensive alignment: weak-side linebacker, strong-side linebacker, middle linebacker, and the bandit. The middle and weak-side linebackers are considered inside linebackers that will remain toward the center of the field. Bandit and the strong-side linebacker are considered outside linebackers and can drift further wide.
Role of the secondary
The secondary consists of two cornerbacks and two safeties. This make-up allows the defense to run both man-to-man coverages as well as multiple zone defenses. The safeties can provide support if the cornerbacks get beat.
The strong safety is also usually positioned closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop the run and protect against passes to tight ends.
What are the advantages of a 3-4 defense?
One of the advantages of this defense is that it prevents huge plays. While you won’t come up with many tackles for a loss, you’ll also stop the offense from beating you with one big play. Another advantage of the 3-4 defense is that it is easy to fake a blitz with more speed.
What are the weaknesses?
While the 3-4 defense is a good base defense, it does leave some vulnerabilities. This formation of defense allows for the offense to be more effective from the run inside. It opens up gaps for the running back to exploit that the linebacker couldn’t get to with only three offensive linemen.
How do you attack this defense?
Since the 3-4 leaves defenses susceptible to the run, the first option is to run the ball straight down the defense’s throat. While this probably won’t lead to a home run play, it will effectively pick up short gains.
Once the defense picks up on what is going on, they will start to disguise their blitz, which can be dismantled by faking the run and passing it to the vacant positions that the linebackers take up. It sounds pretty simple, but it might take some time before you start to see the success of this.
Attacking the 3-4 Defense Video
Is this defense used in the NFL?
There were 14 teams in the NFL that regularly used the 3-4 defense in 2019. The Baltimore Ravens were among the best defenses in the NFL that year and gave up the fewest plays of any defense in the NFL.
You’re on our 3-4 Defense in Football Definition page.
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