Saturday, January 15, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - DE play

Introduction - Evolution of the DE

The keys and mistakes video cut-ups for the DE are the longest for any position group in the 4-3 defense, likely making it the most complicated position to play vs. the Option.  This position usually has a good athlete playing it (e.g. the basketball player who just came out for football), but Option teams historically have been able to take advantage of the lack of discipline and proper coaching at the DE position through the years.

What we are now beginning to see today is the athletic and well-coached 4-3 DE who can really wreak havoc on the Option offense—as a result there are many plays that are designed to confuse and slow him down.  Urban Meyer talked about how much of what they did in their Spread Option at Florida was designed to control the DEs, because they are such tremendous athletes that they can take over a game by themselves.

The 2010 Orange Bowl showcased the freakish talents and abilities of Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, who just about shut down one half of the field vs. the potent 2009-2010 Georgia Tech offense.  Guys that are 6-4 250+ and can run as fast as many RBs are becoming entrenched at the top of the NFL draft and are becoming multimillionaires because of their ability to dominate and impose their will upon opposing offenses. 

The aggressive DL philosophy of the 4-3 Defense has allowed the DE to showcase his God-given talents.  Instead of being a "contain" guy, the 4-3 DE could really strike fear into the QB by coming down at him hard and following the Block-Down Step-Down rules that OJW talked about in the last article.  The switch from the 50 to the 4-3 Defense has allowed the DE to evolve from being stranded on an island to being a one-man wrecking crew vs. the Option when he is coached correctly.

Back for an encore presentation is the Outlaw Josie Walesbig thanks to him for sharing all of his great wisdom and experience with DL play.  He is an invaluable resource to other coaches on the Coach Huey site, and he has helped me tremendously over the years by patiently answering all my questions about the 4-3 Defense.

DE Fundamentals

The play of the Ends is similar to the play of the Defensive Tackles.  It is one of the important points of the 4-3: all four defensive linemen can be trained together.

The basic stances are similar.  However, most coaches say the closer a lineman is to the ball, the lower his tail needs to be.  All four linemen are trained to have their inside hand down and their inside foot back.  This is very helpful to staffs who only have one defensive line coach, as they can all be trained together.

With that in mind, the Ends are in what many call a sprinter's stancetail is higher and the feet are closer together.  They are also angled inward so as to see the ball and get a good jump on the offensive player they are aligned over.

The importance of the 4-3 defensive linemen getting a jump on the offensive linemen cannot be overemphasized.  Most coaches teach that the first player to get their hands on the other player will be the winner.  Defensive linemen must work to get their feet into the LOS (line of scrimmage) before the offensive linemen can get their hands on them.  Take-off drills must be done every day.

The Defensive End attacks his offensive counterpart by moving as fast as possible to his landmarks.  His inside hand is on the middle of the breastplate and the outside hand is on the outside edge of the shoulder pads.  If this sounds familiar, it is.  It is exactly the same landmarks as the other defensive linemen (again, simplicity of training all four linemen the same).

It is best to not switch sides with the Defensive Ends, but to allow them to stay on the side that best suits their abilities.  Often a larger man will be used on the defensive left side and a faster man will be used on the defensive right.  However, this is simply personal preference by a coach.

The End attacks his man and sees and feels what is going on.  If his man blocks down (toward the Center) the End will feel this and then step flat down the line.  This is the use of the famous Block-Down Step-Down rule that he must obey.

It is also important to realize the angled Ends affect the blocks of their offensive counterpartsthe TE release is slowed, as is the Offensive Tackle's release.

There Is No "Contain" in the 4-3

There are several plays that will unfold when the End's man blocks down.  The most common plays he will see are the Counter-Trey play, the Power play, or the Option play.  In all these plays, the End must obey the "Wrong-Arming" rule as discussed in the DT article.

It is vital to the overall consistency and philosophy of the 4-3 for the End not to be trained in any type of contain principle.  It will be contrary to the other things that he must execute.

The long trap, or Counter Trey a.k.a. Counter-Gap play affects the Defensive End.  He will feel or see his landmarks move inside, usually that is the Tight End.  He must step inside and will see the Offensive Guard pulling toward him.  The Defensive End will attack the upfield shoulder—the shoulder closest to the LOS.  Often coaches describe this event as a "train wreck."  We desire to create a pile of bodies at the POA (point of attack).

Again, we do NOT want the Defensive End to have to worry about contain.  In the 4-3 defense there IS no contain.  The word "contain" isn't part of this defensive philosophy.  The End is attacking the pulling Guard and forcing the ball carrier to deviate from the place he wants to run.  This causes him to bounce outside and again, fall prey to Corner Force or Safety Force, depending on the secondary call.

The End will defeat the block of the Fullback on Power-O by attacking the same upfield shoulder that he attacks on the Counter-Trey play.  The only difference is that the Guard will be attempting to block in him the Counter-Trey play as opposed to the FB's block of the Power-O play.

DE vs. the Option

While correct End play is important in the previous two offensive plays, it is absolutely imperative in the Option.  A Defensive End must Step-Down inside as he recognizes the down block. This moves his gap-control one hole inside.  For the 9 tech End, in the case of the Triple Option Outside Veer coming his way, he will be in a position to take the Dive.  This allows the Sam Backer the ability to scrape around him for the QB.

The angled Defensive End is very important in defending the Option play.  For the 9 tech End, in the case of an arc-blocking TE, the End is able to slow the TE's release and still fulfill his duties of attacking the QB on the Option.

For the 5 tech End, if the Option play is directed toward the weakside of the formation, the angled 5 tech End attacks the Offensive Tackle and slows his release as he is attempting to block the Mike Backer.  This puts the End in position to take the Dive portion of the Triple Option and allows the Mike to scrape over the top and take the QB.  The Will Backer can assist  on  the QB or attack the Pitch phase.

Concluding Thoughts

It is important to remember that the 4-3 defense was originally organized to attack the Triple Option Wishbone offense.  While it is not possible to totally stop Option attacks, the 4-3 gives us a weapon against this offense.

With that in mind, it is important for coaches to learn, follow, and teach the rules that were laid out originally with this defense.  Every position and technique of the 4-3 Over has its important part to play if the Triple Option offense is to be held in check.  The 4-3 Over is best described as "a complicated dance" where everyone must do their part or the whole thing will come apart.  Coaches should be advised to learn the elements of Block-Down Step-Down, 1-gap 1/2 a man defensive line techniques, the idea of "Spilling" the ball carrier, and lastly Force vs. contain.

While the ideas of the 4-3 Over Defense were radical when they were first presented in the 1980's, they are now considered the basis for modern defensive football.  It is now the standard for defensive football at most levels and is an important weapon against the Triple Option offense.
DE Keys
1.  Block-Down-Step-Down vs. Inside Veer
2.  vs. Run
3.  vs. Loop, take QB
4.  Run to You: Cross Face of OT
5.  vs. Rocket motion
6.  vs. Pulling Guard "Log" Block
7.  Run Away: Check for BCR (Bootleg, Cutback, Reverse)

1.  Not Getting Hands on OT
2.  Not Crossing Face on Run to You
3.  Not Holding Your Ground
4.  Slow Off the Ball
5.  Not Taking QB vs. Loop
6.  False Step
7.  Not Looking Inside for Pullers
8.  Not Checking for BCR on Run Away

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - Schedule of Posts
Wed. January 12 - DT Play
Sat. January 15 - DE Play
Wed. January 19 - Mike Play
Sat. January 22 - OLB Play
Wed. January 26 - FS/SS Play
Sat. January 29 - CB Play

Feel free to ask OJW any questions about DE Play.


  1. Can you touch what you mean by Force and Contain? When you say there is no contain in the 4-3, is that just for the DE position or are you saying it is all "Force"?

  2. My answer is somewhat philosophical.

    In the 4-3, the word "contain" isn't used in its former context. I'll explain. The idea of slamming all the inside holes shut and making the runningback go somewhere he doesn't want to go is the "spill" concept. This is very important to the 4-3 Miami idea of defense.

    By contrast, the 50 front family of defenses has to have an EMOLOS (End Man On Line Of Scrimmage) take a position that defines the edge of the defense.

    He must define a point on the field that the runningback isn't allowed to run outside. This IS the idea of "contain." The EMOLOS is "containing" the ball carrier inside a container. If the ball carrier breaks outside of this man it is called "losing contain." Most everyone has seen a ball carrier get to the sidelines or outside the defense in a sweep.

    In the 4-3 Miami the End isn't playing the role of the EMOLOS in the 50 or Split-5 defenses, like we used to teach. The End is just another defender slamming a gap shut so the ball carrier will move outside to the Force defender.

    As I wrote earlier, the action that creates the "spilling" effect by the Defensive End is called "wrong-arming." The word "spill" is the philosophy, while "wrong-arming" is the action that creates the dynamic OF "spilling" the ball carrier.

    It is considered a difficult task for a 4-3 Defensive End to learn both "spilling" and "containing" as these are opposite philosophies. While it isn't impossible-it should be considered for upper-level players and not high school and lower.

    Often coaches will use the expression "contain" to tell the defensive linemen to keep the QB within their pass rush lanes. However, this usage of "contain" has nothing to do with the philosophy of "contain vs. spill."

    The Force defender is the one who "forces" the ball carrier back inside. The original idea of the Miami 4-3 was to use the Cover-2 secondary. The Cornerback was the Force originally.

    The Force player then becomes the EMOLOS of sorts. However, in the dynamic of the game, the Force player is not static, but moving toward the LOS-attemting to cut down the ball carrier.

    Currently, many teams will have the Corner force at times, then a Safety Force at times, depending on the call of the secondary. However, the word "Force" is used and not the word "Contain."

    In the dynamic of the game-the interior defensive players are closing down all the inside gaps by rule, and forcing the ball carrier to turn himself perpendicular to the LOS. In this process he loses all his forward momentum. While attempting to get to the edge of the defense, the ball carrier will be tackled or turned back inside the other players of the defense who are in pursuit.

    This is the reason every player must do their part to make this defensive philosophy work.

    I hope this helps.

  3. Also, look on the right side of the home page and look under Labels. Click on Force for an article with cut-ups that goes in depth explaining the concept of Force.