Must Read - Smart Football on 3-4 vs. 4-3

Submitted by JeepinBen on February 4th, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Over at Grantland Chris Brown of Smart Football has a great article on Vince Wilfork and the Patriots D.

The main focus on the article is how Belicheck makes his Hybrid 3-4/4-3 work. The biggest part of this article for Michigan fans is the part where Chris Brown explains the history of the formations and how we arrive at Michigan's 4-3 Under front. Especially since so many people think we're recruiting for a 3-4 (Guess what, we're NOT!

this is good stuff. He explains the main differences between the techniques required in the 3-4 vs the 4-3. I tackle the (lack of) personnel differences between a 4-3 Under and a 3-4 here:

But here are the juciest bits from Chris Brown (the whole article is definitely worth a read):

These 4-3 and 3-4 teams typically differ in a key respect: which "technique" their defensive linemen use. Usually, teams must commit to one technique or the other, as each choice has all sorts of other implications for the defense. 


And the first question for a defensive lineman is always, Am I playing a 2-gap technique or a 1-gap technique?

"Gap" refers to the area between offensive linemen. A 1-gap technique is just what it sounds like: The defensive lineman lines up in front of the gap he is responsible for and his job is to attack and control it. If nothing else, a defender must not allow a runner to go through his gap. While defensive linemen attack their gaps, the linebackers behind them are responsible for their own gaps. These are the defense's "run fits," meaning how they fit into an offense's blocking scheme to take away running space.



Diagram 3




Pretty much we're going to run the 1-Gap 4-3 Under because it's a lot simpler to teach. 2-gap systems like the 3-4 are a lot harder to run. Just go read the article, it's great. 



February 4th, 2012 at 3:41 PM ^

He's got Casteel, so it'll be a 3-3-5, but not a Gerg 3-3-5. Basically, they vary in that a Gerg 3-3-5 is designed to work for two downs and let, say, Terelle Pryor scramble for eighteen yards and a first down, while Casteel generally likes to stop the opposing offense.

In all seriousness, Casteel knows what he's doing and the Arizona defense should start being solid at some point in the next couple seasons.


February 4th, 2012 at 10:51 AM ^

someone says Pipkins = Wolfork --> 3-4.  

I think the most important point w.r.t. the great Michigan running a 3-4 debate is the notion that the 4-3, 1-gap defense is easier to teach.  With limited practice time and other obligations coupled with dealing with 18-19 year olds, I'd say that's that.


February 4th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

FYI this article is really, really good.  A lot of history in here as well with Jimmy Johnson "inventing" the modern day 4-3, something I did not know.  I always find it fascinating learning how football offenses and defenses have evolved, from the Wishbone and Wing-T to the 5-2 Monster / 4-3.  Overall a very interesting, well-written, and informative article.  Thanks for sharing.

NOLA Wolverine

February 4th, 2012 at 1:19 PM ^

I don't know where this obsession with X's and O's came from. It's quite odd. It's really not that big of a deal. I guess it's just how baseball's box score obsession has adapted to football being king. People always point to Nick Saban and say "well look, he's a master of chess, check out the stunts they're running," except that quite a few people would look pretty damn smart when you have an all world secondary filled with kids you can't get open against, giving you numbers at the L.O.S. 

A lot of people around here blame Gerg's use of the 3-3-5 as to why the defense sucked until Mattison came here. The reason they were underwhelming with Gerg is because they couldn't tackle anyone and didn't get to the ball. Now with Mattison they tackle and swarm to the ball. I guess it's up to you to decide if you think it's because of where they now stand before the snap of the football or how they're coached fundamentals in practice (also, being older). 


February 4th, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

Q. Bringing in a guy like Greg Mattison to run your defense, that has to be a huge boost for you.

COACH HOKE: Greg, he brings so much to the table. I can tell you, it's not what he brings just in the X's and O's and schemes of football. His relationship with our players, the knowledge and the fundamentals and teaching that all the guys have on our staff, that's first and foremost. The fundamentals and techniques to how you play are really going to determine where you're at at the end of the year and the improvement you make each week.Obviously there's a scheme knowledge that we feel very comfortable with, we like. But I think his relationships that he builds with kids, 18- to 23-year-olds, motivation skills, are tremendous. 

Clearly scheme matters to our defensive coaches. It might not be the most important thing--but it's not irrelevant, either.

Here's the Link.


February 4th, 2012 at 4:53 PM ^

Your point was that scheme [is] "really not that big of a deal."

What Hoke and Mattison are both consistently saying is that fundamentals are the sine qua non, and of course that's true. But they both assume that scheme is important -- hence Hoke's quote that Greg brings a lot to the table, not just schemes but also fundamental training.

Mattison has also talked quite a bit about how the defense needs to own the scheme, to talk to each other, and so on -- as you can see here:

Is there any drop off in communication when Jordan is not in there? 

Well, I was worried about that in that game, because Jordan is a coach back there, and , they did a really good job. Thomas Gordon did a great job of trying to get everybody lined up, and Troy, I mean, they, that’s one of the maturing things in think you’re seeing in our defense. And Desmond Morgan wouldn’t say a word, and now he’s talking, and everybody’s starting to talk more, and I think they’re feeling comfortable with their defense. I talk to them all the time is once you put in the defensive scheme, it becomes their defense, and they’re the ones that have to run with it, and, we don’t make a lot of changes each week either. They’ve got the package now, and they’ve got what we’re going to run, and now it’s about everybody getting everybody in the right spot, and then playing hard, and then, I was really happy with them as far as the communication. In fact, I screwed up a couple calls, and there was one of them where they were running all over the place, and that wouldn’t have happened in the beginning of the year. And I was watching the film I said that’s good, you made me look better on that one. That was a bad deal on my part.

NOLA Wolverine

February 4th, 2012 at 5:10 PM ^

Yeah if 5 players are doing one thing and 6 players are making stuff up the play is probably not going to look very pretty. Everyone needs to be on the same plan doing their job, and I would consider discipline to be a fundamental. My argument is that what specifically the plan tells you to do has much less of an effect on the outcome of a play than what's been portrayed in the media this past 5 or so years where they've latched onto X's and O's. It's about organizing your players.  

Scheme is like a project manager, a project manager typically isn't responsible for the specific technology a product has (How they ensured that a driver has a smooth ride in a car, for example. Or for the analogy, how well Blake Countess plays on short and intermediate routes), but they did make sure to organize their talent and keep them on track to acomplish their goals. Maybe the guy who dealt with bearings could have dealt with the seals, or vice-versa. But it's important that they knew who was doing what. 



February 4th, 2012 at 3:00 PM ^

"The main focus on the article is how Belicheck makes his Hybrid 3-4/4-3 work."  

"Work" is used loosely in that sentence given that the Pats finished 31st out of 32 teams in the NFL in total defense in 2011.

(but the article is nevertheless very informative, I must say, so I'm glad for the link)


February 4th, 2012 at 3:40 PM ^

I played football in Northville in the late 80's and we referred to the SS as the Monster. I still remember the calls of the Monster as he moved to the strong side, "monster left, monster left."