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.