Breaking Down The Defense

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Lets get down to the basics. Throughout the off-season thus far a majority of the narrative has been “Will Tampa Bay run a 3-4 or a 4-3?”
Today I would like to break down each. Keep in mind I’m gonna keep it as vanilla as possible.

The 4-3:

This is the base defense the Buccaneers struggles to execute last season. In this front you really rely on the front four to create the push up front and collapse the pocket. Last season there was decent play from Tampa’s defensive end positions. Not great, but it was solid.

In this game the defensive end’s job is to contain and close. This means penetrating upfield leaving your outside half free to contain the run and close in on the ball

The tackles job in the 4-3 is to push. Their purpose is to cause havoc. To rip, swim, slap and spin their way to the ball. Occupying blockers pushing the pocket and creating sight lines for their linebackers.

The linebackers job is a tad more complex. The middle linebacker has to read first then react. When I coached this scheme, I always taught players to read the strongside guard, then progress to the running back.

If the guard aggressively fires out that read it tells him it’s a run, if he reads the guard “rocking” or “set steps” that usually means it’s a pass. If the guard drop steps and pulls it tells him to watch for the cut back. This is all one read. There are many steps to take after the initial read, however this is of utmost importance.

The outside linebacker:

The OLB is a read and react position, it is however a lot different than MLB. Depending on which side of the formation he is on will dictate his reading responsibility. Strong OLB will read from TE to T which means he reads the release of the TE then progresses to the tackle.

Much like the MLB, the first step is usually the indicator. If the TE releases the next read is to the step move of the tackle, from there the read progresses to the backfield. The weak side OLB reads the Tackle, and then he would progress to the backfield.

Please keep in mind different coaches have different assignments, reads and techniques. This is just a basic generic overview of the scheme.

The 3-4:

This really is a Linebacker driven scheme.
In this base you have only 3 down linemen. There are multiple variations and techniques used for these front three. For sanity sake let’s just keep this the white T-shirt and jeans version.

Your front three consists of two Edge linemen (note I didn’t use the term defensive end) and a nose tackle. The job of these men is honestly fairly simple. And that is to occupy blockers, clog gaps and push up field. There assignment is to not allow blockers to the second shelf and to let the linebackers fly around to the ball.

Now I’m not saying they won’t make tackles or collect any sacks, but honestly it’s not their job. This is why the argument that McCoy is a better pass rusher than Suh is really moot. Yes they both play DT however McCoy plays in a 4-3 where his duty was to get to the QB. In a 3-4 that’s something you consider a bonus. Like finding that random $20 in a pair of jeans you just washed. In a 3-4 both the DT and Edge’s job is to force the pocket and allow the LB’s to clean up.

The Linebackers:

This is where a 3-4 can get a little tricky. A lot of coaches like to mix things up here on the second shelf of the defense. Essentially you have 2 inside linebackers, 1 strong side OLB, and 1 “Money” backer or “Reaper”.

Like most defensive schemes, the linebackers initial read is crucial and honestly are mostly the same as in a 4-3 scheme. With that said though, the Reaper is where it gets fun.

In a bulk of the snaps, the Reaper will play to the QB’s blind side. Meaning if the signal caller is right handed the Reaper would line up to the defenses left side allowing him to stay on the blind side of the formation.

The Reapers read is different. Usually he will have to base his reads on down and distance. For example, most screen passes are thrown in a situation of 2nd and long or 3rd & 6 or more. That’s unless you’re Dirk Koetter and the screen is thrown without any rhyme or reason.

If the tackle set steps, the Reaper more often than not will have the green light to pursue the QB. However down and distance will dictate this as well. If the tackle set steps, and a back crossed his face he has to be ready to drop into coverage.

On the opposite side of the formation, the OLB has his reads as well. These are basically the same as in a 4-3. He however is the outside containment. This basically means the ball should never be wider than he is and his pursuit is from the outside in.

Todd Bowles runs a plethora of blitz and stunt packages in the 3-4. You will see blitzes from everywhere. Even from the third shelf (secondary), but don’t be fooled by stats. In a 3-4 defense your DT’s will not blow you away with their sack totals. Yet relish when you see the total team sack tally increase. Enjoy seeing red and pewter missile creating chaos as they blitz from all angles.

To be honest, I don’t think the Buccaneers will be in either of these bases much. Realistically in the NFC South I see the Bucs running a good amount of 2-5. Though that’s another discussion for another day.

Written by: Mike SeDoris

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