The 4-3 Defense 101: Introduction

By M3reKat |
The 4-3 Defense 101: Introduction

Football is hard to watch if you never played or don’t follow it closely. It can move at the speed of light at times.

The offense is relatively easy to understand. Score points, there’s the quarterback. He’s the captain of the offense. He throws the ball and he's in charge.

Then, there's the running backs, who run the ball. Next are the wide receivers, who catch the ball from the quarterback. Lastly, up front, you have the linemen who block. 

But defense, on the other hand, is where things get tricky. Announcers talk about 3–4 and 4–3 defense. There are cornerbacks and even (God forbid you listen to them) nicklebacks playing “on the back end."

But what does this all mean? A defense’s job is to stop the offense, but why are they so complicated? There are zone blitzes and man blitzes. There are base packages. There are 11 different kinds of pass defenses. How does one keep them all straight?

Well, that’s what I aim to do. I'm going to make defense a little bit easier for everyone to understand. In this and the later-to-come lessons, I will help you understand the basics of the 4-3 defense and why the teams that run it do what they do.

Why the 4-3? It's what the Colts run. It's what a majority of NFL and college teams ran until the 1990s.


Now, you might be asking yourself, "What the hell makes this college kid qualified to tell me a single thing about the 4-3?"

And that's valid, but keep in mind that I've been watching and playing football since I can remember. I watched the Colts of the early and late years and the Iowa Hawkeyes religiously for the past 15 years (both of ran/run the 4-3).

I played as a safety in high school, which made me learn the responsibility of every defensive position on the field. And now I work for a college defense that runs a 4-3. So humor me a bit and we can get through this together.

Now that we've gotten all of the boring stuff out of a way, let's go into a brief overview of the history of the 4-3.

The 4-3's father was Tom Landry. You might have heard of him. Yes, that Tom Landry. The same legendary coach of 29 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. Landry was tired of defenses limited by the play of the defensive line and instead wanted to give his linebackers a chance to be the focal point of his defensive scheme. But, we'll get to that later.

This is a series that will have a number of parts:

  • The first being this introduction
  • The second being an explanation of the positions
    • Starting with defensive tackles
    • Then, defensive ends commonly referred to today as edge defenders, which they are. But not all edge defenders are defensive ends (We'll get to that).
    • Next, comes the linebackers;
      • Sam
      • Will
      • Mike
    • Then the cornerbacks
    • And finally, my personal favorite, the safeties
  • Then comes a basic lesson on run defense
  • Followed with a basic lesson on pass defense
  • And we will conclude with a rudimentary lesson on blitzes

When all is said and done, that should be 10 lessons. By the end of this 10-week journey, we should have covered the basics to make any football fan have a basic knowledge of the 4-3 defense.

I know it's a daunting task, but, hey, if the creatine-fueled dude-bro who is Leighton Vander Esch can get it, you can too! That being said, class is in session.

So take out your pen and paper. Open up to a new page and lockin. Because we've got a lot to cover. And not much time to do it.

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