The 46 or Bear Defense

Submitted by JeepinBen on October 19th, 2011 at 11:06 AM

The “46” or “Bear” Defense

So we’ve seen a lot of different defensive fronts, and quite a few people have talked about how to play the 4-3 Under that is Michigan’s base set. With our D getting gashed recently by MSU the question has been asked “Why not play more 46?” In this diary I hope to go over the strengths, weaknesses and a little history of the Bear Defense.

First it’s a Forty-Six (46) not a Four-Six. Most Defenses talk about personnel from the line back. A 4-3 has 4 down linemen, 3 linebackers. Same with 3-4, 3-3-5, etc. The 46 doesn’t talk about personnel on the field, it refers to one man. Doug Plank wore 46 and was the starting safety for the Chicago Bears when Buddy Ryan (yep, this guy’s dad)  

designed it. The 1985 Chicago Bears were (agruably, but you’d be wrong if you disagreed) the best NFL defense ever. They gave up 10 points in their 3 playoff games. 198 in their 16 regular season games, or under 11 a game, under 4 in playoff games against the other elite teams!  They were 15-1 on the year, their only loss to Marino’s Dolphins. Their playoff scores were 21-0, 24-0, and 46-10. Not too shabby against the NFL’s best. They also made the Superbowl Shuffle which might be the most 80's thing ever.

So, how does it work? How do you beat it? The 46 uses the same 4-3 base personnel that Michigan does. 2 Defensive ends, 2 tackles, 3 linebackers, 2 safeties and 2 corners. The first thing we’ll look at is the line


D-Tackle right on the nose (For Michigan this is Mike Martin, for the 85 Bears it was William “Refrigerator” Perry). You cover up the center to make him block every play. 3-4 Defenses use similar players here.

D-Tackle right on the guard (For Michigan this is BWC/Heininger in the picture, for the 85 Bears it was Steve “Mongo” McMichael). Same as the nose, you cover the guard and make him block. You don’t want a covered defender to pull, as it allows instant penetration into the backfield. The inside Tackle (and End) have to make sure that they don’t get pinched inside.

D-End right on the other guard (For Michigan this is RVB, for the 85 Bears it was the “Danimal” Dan Hampton). Just like above. This would be your larger end (called “strongside or 5-Tech in other defenses, but he’s not playing a 5 tech here).

D-End outside the weak OT (for Michigan this is Roh/Black in the picture, for the 85 Bears it was Richard Dent). Main job is keep contain and pass rush. This position is very similar to the 7-Tech or Weakside end, or Rush End  in a base 4-3.

SAM - Line up on the outside shoulder of the Tight End (9-Tech). (For Michigan Jake Ryan, for the 85 Bears Otis Wilson). Very similar to a Sam in a 4-3 Under but in a 46 he’s typically in a 3 point stance (Ryan's ina 2). Make sure nothing gets outside on the edge. Often referred to as JACK in a 46

QUICK BREAK - Only differences so far from a 4-3 Under:


  46 Defense 4-3 Under
Martin Nose (0 Tech) Shaded (1-Tech)
BWC Face up on Guard 3 Tech
RVB Face up on Guard 5 Tech Strong
Roh 7 Tech Weak 7 Tech Weak
Ryan 9 Tech Strong, 3 point stance 9 Tech Strong, 2 point stance


Not so different thus far. Pretty much only where your interior linemen line up.

WILL - Inside shoulder of Tight End (7-Tech). (For Michigan Fitzgerald, 85 Bears Wilber Marshall). 2 point stance. This is also a similar alignment to a SAM in a 4-3 under at times. Not responsible for contain however, that falls on the JACK. This linebacker (CHARLEY) covers up the tight end in pass plays or can blitz.

MIKE - 4-5 yards off the line of scrimmage, shaded to the strong side. (for Michigan Demens, 85 Bears Singletary)Near identical responsibilities as in a 4-3 under. Make tackles. Have Crazy Eyes


SS - 4-5 yards off the line, shaded weak side (for Michigan Hawthorne, 85 Bears Dave Duerson, RIP). Near identical responsibilities to the WILL in the 4-3 under. Make Tackles. (IMO Kovacs would fit well here)

FS - Play 12 yards off the line, play center field. (for Michigan Gordon/Kovacs in this picture, for the 85 Bears Gary Fencik)

Corners - Either bump an run or just basic man coverage. You’re on an island, don’t get beat. (For Michigan Woolfolk/Floyd, for the 85 Bears Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier).

So that’s the main alignments and responsibilities for the defenders.
Why it’s good for Michigan on rushing downs:
Neutralizes the interior O Line. When there’s a D lineman face up over you, you can’t pull, trap, get to the 2nd level, or do many of the things interior O linemen do. For Michigan, this prevents Martin from getting double teamed, and lets BWC bull rush a guard 1 on 1.

Gets the Beef on the field. Michigan runs this with BWC and RVB and Roh in the game. With Martin and Ryan down that’s a 1450lb D line.

So why don’t we see this Defense often anymore? Well offenses adapt. 3 step drops and the horizontal West-Coast attack eat this defense alive. The 46 is based on pressuring the QB (you almost always rush at least 5) and if the QB is throwing within a second of the snap, you can’t pressure him. Offenses rarely ran 5 wide, but now they do it often. 5 wide would mess this up as well. The other main reason? Personnel. The 85 Bears had 3 future NFL coaches on the defense alone (Rivera, Signletary and Frazier). You need 2 shutdown corners who can survive on an island (which is why we see the Jets run this D every so often). In the modern NFL a QB would audible to a slant and the WR would be gone without a good corner. Also, you need a SS who can live in the box, still make plays in the passing game, dominate, and be so good there is a defense named after you. This is what Wikipedia says happens against 3 wide:

“When three or more receivers are used by the offense, the defense makes what is called a jayhawk adjustment. The charlie linebacker will step back to where the middle linebacker was in the normal alignment, the middle linebacker will move to where the strong safety was aligned and the strong safety will move out to cover the third receiver. If the offense uses a fourth receiver, the middle linebacker lines up in front of the center and the charlie linebacker would cover the fourth receiver.”

Sounds like the 4-3 Under at this point no? The problem is do you know many Strong Safeties who would do very well in man coverage in the slot? Or how about corners that can play on an island every play? or a FS who is good enough you just play cover 1 all day.

Anyway, hopefully this diary helps you understand a little about the Bear front and responsibilities when Michigan uses it. Go Blue.



October 19th, 2011 at 11:29 AM ^

So I wrote up how to play the 46 as the Bears did. What you can see from the Pictures of Michigan's 46 front is they have a slight under shift. So while MM is still on the Nose, RVB and Heininger are both playing closer to a 3 tech (in between guard and tackle) than heads up. Also Black seems to be in a 9-tech, or wider than the traditional 46 end. Also as I mentioned above Ryan is in a 2 point stance rather than a 3. Also the D Line in the diagram up top isn't aligned properly.

Also, I noted it in the personnel above, but I'll specify here, Michigan ran this with 4-4 personnel, bringing in Fitz for the "Will" Spot, putting Hawthorne in the "SS" spot and using Kovacs as the deep man.


October 19th, 2011 at 11:20 AM ^

Whenever I see Michigan line up in the 46 front, I expect the opposing QB to check into a quick slant or some other type of pass play.  But, and I am not sure why, it seems like opposing offenses have usually run right into the teeth of it.  Hopefully that keeps happening.


October 20th, 2011 at 8:58 AM ^

I don't remember seeing it a ton vs msu, but people were calling for more of it after the loss. I think we didn't run it more because putting our corners 1on1 too often against msu would have been a mistake imo. I think the ufr comes out today so we can see just how often we ran it

CRISPed in the DIAG

October 19th, 2011 at 11:50 AM ^

The MNF game against the Dolphins is on of my favorites.  Marino didn't use much three-step, but he had an unnaturally quick release and threw to Duper/Clayton in a basic long-short progression of patterns.  


October 19th, 2011 at 11:55 AM ^

Ditka threw the ball a ton rather than handing off to Walter Payton. Buddy Ryan and Ditka famously feuded all year, but would have come to blows in the locker room at halftime had Hampton not stepped in between them. Crazy egos on that Bears team. the WCO really ended the 46's run later with the 49ers teams of the early 90s. After that happened the 46 was turned into a situational set.


October 19th, 2011 at 2:42 PM ^

I put up some diagrams in another thread, but what I'd like to see Michigan do is take a little bit from the Bear, but rearrange the LB's and S's so that it's almost more like a 4-2-5 Over, if that makes sense... Chart? Chart!




                                                    M                        SS

C                           S           E  T   N  T      W                               C

X                                         T  G  C  G  T                                     Y

                                      E            Q




Personnel Notes:

W = Will = Jake Ryan (which would be the opposite of what he's been doing). This position is ideally a hybrid LB/DE - think Woodley in his steeler days... a 3-4 End.

S = Sam = Cam Gordon/Hawthorne. Ideally a Safety/LB hybrid who has great open field tackling ability but who can cover as well.

M = Mike = Demens. Needs to be a stud and sure tackler, who can clean up the trash left when you send 4 linemen against 4 O-linemen. Note: I'm not sold that Demens actually fits that description. but he's what we've got.

SS = Strong Safety (ironically on the weak-side, here) = Kovacs. I like Jordan closer to the LOS, which puts him in position to make plays on the ball carrier. from where I diagram him here, he can still cover deep if necessary, or blitz, or be run support.

Depending on the confidence level of our Corners, you can drop that SS back to a 2-deep to provide over the top help. That could be useful on passing downs.


How would this look against a Rich-Rod spread team?

Chart? Chart! [Offense is lined up in Calvin Magee's supposed bread and butter formation]



                         SS                  M                        

C                              W      T   N   T   E         S                          C

X                                   T  G   C   G  T                                      Y


                                        RB   Q  RB


A supposed weakness of Bear Front d's is perimeter running. With Kovacs rolled up towards the LOS, I don't see any glaring weaknesses, and having 4 O-linemen covered up hampers an offense that wants to pull linemen to the perimeter or 2nd level. The bubble wouldn't look all that inviting from an offenses standpoint. QB Oh Noes would be the major concern.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:07 PM ^

I don't actually think this would hold up ALL that well against a true spread team. I think at some point you'd have to get one of those DT's off the field for a safety/nickel corner. A slant to the weak side could disrupt the option, but your point is valid. This is also why I made that note above about the Mike having to be a sure tackling stud who can clean up. With David Harris, I'm Ok-er with it. With other recent Mikes, not so much.

Thanks for putting up this diary! I like the concept of the Bear. Like anything, I don't think it can be an exclusive look. It should have its moments.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:16 PM ^

So true. I would say, though, to that option you spoke of. I would expect, as a D coordinator, that one of my SS, C, or W guys could win their matchup and make a play. Probably not my WILL, since he's likely faceup on a stud left tackle, but SS on running back? I think it would be OK more times than not. But it's that one time it gets broken that can kill you (Denard. Notre Dame. 87.)


October 19th, 2011 at 3:13 PM ^

bubble screen being an obvious one, it would leave slot WR one on one against FS.

Shallow cross concept(basically the play where Illini repeatedly scored on RB wheel route) which would have put SAM and/or FS in a bind.

Power option to strong or weak side. Have numbers advantage in favor of the offense.  If done correctly, MIKE must make plays on the QB or RB, but he'll be put in a bind either way.

Smash concept, put FS/CB in a bind.

3 vertical with slot WR having option route, preferably cutting in front of FS.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:23 PM ^

Good points, although SAM would be in a position to make a play on the bubble first, or at least discourage it. 

To run this, though, you need to be sure that the guys up front can win matchups and get pressure. A team looking to pass against this thing will find many things, I'm sure.

That Illi-wheel would be a killer, that's for sure.