The 46 defense in football, created by long-time coach Buddy Ryan, propelled the Chicago Bears teams of the 1980s. It’s an aggressive defense that puts pressure on the opposing QB to make quick decisions. Six men line up on the defensive line.
What is the 46 Defense?
A 46 defense is a type of defense used by the Chicago Bears in the 1980s to stop the run and create a dominant pass rush. The goal of this defense is to attack the quarterback with overwhelming numbers.
- The 46 defense was created by former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in the 1980s.
- This defense had a short lifespan, as it became less effective by the end of the 1980s. It can still be useful today if used in the right situation.
- The 46 is eight men in the box defense with six players lining up on the line of scrimmage.
- The ‘85 Bears used this defense, known as arguably the most dominant defense in NFL history, to win the Super Bowl XX in the season of 1985 under head coach Mike Ditka.
- This defense relies on each player being able to make big plays.
Roles in the 46 defense
A talented crew can make many a defensive formation work well. The 1985 Bears were particularly well-suited to play this defense.
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Line up with two defensive tackles and two defensive ends. Line up the strongest pass rusher against the center. The defensive ends line up at each end of the defensive line. They keep things in the middle.
Strong Safety and Remaining Linebackers
These players are the second layer of support in the 46 and can blitz. They cover short routes and runs that get past the defensive line. The SS can also cover a receiver in man-to-man coverage if needed.
The two cornerbacks are in isolated man to man coverage. They cannot get beat, or the offense could have an easy touchdown.
This player is the last player you want to have to make a play. The free safety lines up more than 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage and is the last line of defense. The FS helps if either cornerback gets beat.
Bob Ryan Explains the 46 Defense Video
Why is it called the 46 defense?
Most other defenses get their names from the number of defensive linemen and linebackers, but the 46 defense gets its name elsewhere. This defense is named after the jersey number that Doug Plank wore when the defense was created. Plank was a hybrid free safety/linebacker in Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense.
Why was this defense successful?
This defense was so successful because the pressure was so difficult to stop. With the ability to rush as many as eight players to the quarterback, it was overwhelming to teams that didn’t know how to guard against it.
1985 Bears Defense
After Buddy Ryan designed this play in 1978, the Chicago Bears went on to win the NFC Central in 1984 and 1985, also winning the Super Bowl in 1985. The 46 defense was known to be most successful with the ‘85 Bears. The ‘85 Bears defense set NFL records for most forced turnovers and the fewest yards, points, and first downs gave up in a season. Ryan also used the 46 defense in his time as the head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and as defensive coordinator with the Houston Oilers.
What are the weaknesses of the 46 defense?
The 46 defense in football does have some significant weaknesses. The 46 defense can quickly crumble if the personnel doesn’t fit the scheme. You need big and physical players on the defensive line and a free safety that is quick and covers a lot of ground. If a cornerback can’t keep up to speed with the wide receiver or the pass rush isn’t strong enough, the defense will get beat routinely.
What are the strengths?
When the 46 defense has all the right parts working, it can be advantageous. This defense creates many turnovers and wears out the quarterback with big hits. The 46 defense moves very quickly and wears out the offensive line with so many pass rushers.
Is the 46 defense still used today?
The 46 defense, sometimes written 4-6 defense, is still used today, but not very often. Since the spread offense is so common, it would be challenging for a 46 defense to succeed. The 46 defense is most effective against compressed offenses but vulnerable on spread offenses since there are just three defensive backs guarding against the pass.
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