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Football Schemes and Concepts Chapter 2: The 4-3 Over

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Football Theory 1: Gaps and Techniques 1

In last week's post, I covered some of the more fundamental defensive football concepts: gaps and defensive linemen techniques. I went through an overview of how gap theory is used to choke running lanes, and we saw how defensive linemen will position themselves in pre-snap techniques to ensure the best leverage against an opposing offensive linemen.

In this week's post, I want to take those things that we learned, and actually translate them into one of the most fundamental defensive formations in football: the 4-3 over defense.

The 4-3 Over Formation

You've very likely already heard of the 4-3 defense, which is also referred to as the "base 4-3" or even the "43." What you may not know, is the 4-3 front has several different ways for the defensive personnel to line up, depending on what the defensive coordinator will call prior to the play.

Throughout my research, I'm learning that of all the different variations, the "4-3 over", and the "4-3 under" are the most common formations. In this post, we'll be focusing on the former, and take a deeper look at the latter next week.

When the offense breaks the huddle, they will come out in a specific type of personnel.

You may have heard phrases such as “11” or “12” personnel. This refers to the number of running backs and tight ends on the field. The number of wide receivers is inferred based on this number, given that there can only be 11 offensive players on the field. For example, 21 personnel means that there are two running backs and one tight end. Therefore, there are three wide receivers, a quarterback, and five offensive linemen, in order to achieve a total of 11 offensive players.

I specify this because the defensive personnel for a particular play will be determined by the offensive personnel. In the case of the 21 personnel example above, the defense will very likely come out in a base 4-3 package, as opposed to something like “nickel” or “dime” packages, which we’ll get into later.

Why? Because of the gap scheme we discussed last week.

If we have a tight end on the field in 21 personnel, how many gaps do we have? You should have counted seven (don't forget to include the gaps outside of the offensive tackle, and tight end). So in order to combat this, the defense will put out seven defenders to fill all seven gaps.

You may be asking, "What about only six members of the front-7, and a corner to fill the last gap?" With that reasoning, you'll likely be putting the corner against either the offensive tackle, tight end, or fullback; all of which are likely a winning battle against the smaller-framed cornerback. Thus, the defense will match the offense with its 4-3 formation.

With this scheme, the defensive personnel is as follows:

  • 2 defensive ends
  • 2 defensive tackles
  • 3 stand-up linebackers
  • 2 cornerbacks
  • 2 safeties

The tight end is the determining factor for the defense as to which side of the offense is referred to as the strong side (or "closed" side). This basically means that if the offense is going to execute a running play, they will go to the side with the tight end because it has more players. Obviously this doesn't always happen, but that's the origin behind the strength of the formation.

Another important concept to note, generally, offenses in the NFL are based on a right-handed scheme. What I mean by this is that your left tackle is generally the better pass blocker because he protects the quarterback's blind side. This means that when a right-handed QB is standing in the pocket, he is unable to see the pass rusher coming from the side of his left tackle. Conversely, your right tackle is generally your mauling run blocker. You generally scheme up your run plays to be run behind your left tackle.

An offensive scheme will not adjust its offensive line personnel to match a left-handed quarterback. Thus, the defensive line will generally maintain its personnel alignments to match the offensive line. Having said that, if the tight end lines up inline (adjacent to) to the left tackle, that now becomes the strong side of the formation, and the front-7 should adjust accordingly.

Why is this important? Because the defense will position their front-7 based on which side of the offense is the strong side.

In the 4-3 defense, you have three stand-up linebackers, most commonly referred to as WILL, MIKE and SAM. Notice the first letter of each of these terms also corresponds to Weak, Middle, and Strong.

In the 4-3 over formation that we’re looking at, the WILL linebacker lines up on the strong side of the offensive formation, behind the 3-technique defensive tackle (the outside shoulder of the strong-side offensive guard), while the SAM will line up behind the right defensive end (pictured below). The MIKE will hover about 4 yards behind the 1-technique.

The DLs also move depending on where the strong side of the formation is. As mentioned earlier, in the 4-3 over, you have two defensive ends (DEs), and two defensive tackles (DTs). In the 4-3 over, both DEs will line up on the outside shoulder of the outer most lineman, including the tight ends.

This results in the weak side end (RDE) beginning the play in 5-technique, while the strong side end (SDE) will line up at 7-technique.

Schemes and Concepts Chapter 2: The Base 4-3

From here, the two corners and two safeties will line up based on the pass coverage assignments, which we’ll cover in a later lesson as well. For what it's worth, the secondary (i.e. cornerbacks and safeties) is showing a cover-2 look in the image above.

Filling The Running Lanes

Okay, so now we know where the players line up. What now?

At this point, the front-7 is ready for a run play to take place (recall the gaps concept). We know there are seven gaps in the image above; two A gaps, two B gaps, two C gaps, and a D gap outside of the tight end. Because of this personnel, the defense will be able to fill all holes the offensive line can create:

Schemes and Concepts Chapter 2: The Base 4-3 1

2017 Positional Projections

Looking towards the 2017 NFL season, I'm projecting the following players to be on the field in this formation to open training camp:

Schemes and Concepts Chapter 2: The Base 4-3 2

As for why I project these players this way and why they're good (or bad) fits for these positions, we'll cover that in a future post as well.

Wrapping Up

This is a very simplistic view of the base 4-3 over defense, and there is certainly variance in how players line up, coverages, etc… but, at its simplest view, this is the base 4-3 defense. In next week's post, I'm looking to cover the 4-3 under defense, how it differs from the 4-3 over, and why the defensive coordinator might choose one formation over another.

For some, this lesson is too rudimentary. To others, it may bring about a good eye opener to the base defensive formation that the Cowboys run. In future posts, I'll dive deeper into what I've learned and researched, and hope that you will learn along with me.

Feel free to drop a comment or reach out to me on twitter @TheLandryTrophy. I've also gotten a ton of insight from @JoeyIckes, who I strongly encourage you follow!



Dallas Cowboys fan since the Drew Bledsoe "era." I love Tony AND Dak. I like to think that I'm the most objective that a fan can get, while still being a diehard, which I truly believe is the 8th wonder of the world. Go Cowboys!!

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Where In The World Is DE Taco Charlton?

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams 2
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Over pretty much the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys have been rock solid with their first round picks. With selections of Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Frederick, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Leighton Vander Esch (just to name a handful), Dallas has rebuilt the core of their roster through the NFL Draft.

It's nearly impossible to bat .1000 in any round of the draft, however, and this appears to be the current case with the Cowboys' 2017 first round pick.

Defensive end Taco Charlton has not had the sophomore season that he, or anyone, had hoped for. A healthy scratch last Sunday, Charlton has only been active for 1 of the Cowboys' last 5 games, and has not recorded a sack or tackle since week 9.

Prior to disappearing with injuries and "attitude issues," Charlton had only recorded 1 sack on the season and was beginning to fall behind his Hot Boy-brethren. Defensive end Randy Gregory has reached his form over the last few weeks, Tyrone Crawford is having arguably a career year, and DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best ends in all of football.

This doesn't leave much room for Charlton, who's now having issues even getting on the gameday roster. Rod Marinelli dodged questions about Taco Charlton earlier this week, vaguely saying they are "moving forward" and that he'd like to talk about other players on his defensive line who are performing.

Calvin Watkins on Twitter

Rod Marinelli on Taco Charlton's benching and being inactive last week: "We just keep moving along keep going forward. It's kinda been out there I'd leave it at that. I'd rather talk about our two tackles.

Charlton has not been quiet about his displeasure as of late, either. He's taken to Twitter to voice his frustrations, saying that not only is his shoulder fine but that the Dallas media is making up stories about his absence. He's also posted some cryptic tweets such as this one, with a picture of Allen Iverson and a caption reading "Every players needs that one coach to believe in them."

https://twitter.com/TheSupremeTaco/status/1072203745868554240

Maybe Taco is right. Maybe he just needs increased opportunity and a support system/coach that believes in him whole-heartedly. After all, Charlton has faced nothing but doubters and detractors since the second he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.

But in the NFL, the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport, it's hard to imagine he'll get that unwavering support anywhere in the league. He's going to have to "earn" his playing time, as head coach Jason Garrett spoke to earlier in the week. But with the plethora of talent the Cowboys are already putting out there on the defensive line, it's becoming difficult to see exactly where Taco Charlton can fit in on this defense.

It's possible, and fine, if it is simply not a fit between Charlton and the Cowboys at this point. But I'd also be wary of giving up on your first round pick in just his second NFL season. Another offseason with the team, working on his craft and getting fully healthy, should do Charlton wonders, and hopefully allow us to get a better read on his future with the Cowboys going forward.

Until then, we are all left to scratch out heads and wonder what in the world is going on with the Cowboys and Taco Charlton, and if the former first round pick will have a future in Dallas at all.



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Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

2018 has seen the emergence of high-powered offenses in both NFL conferences. The Kansas City Chiefs sit atop the AFC and the NFC is spearheaded by the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Through 14 weeks, these three teams are the top three offenses in the NFL, each averaging over 30 points per game. This year, for the first time in NFL history, two teams scored more than 50 in the same game.

Thanks to this consistent impressive offensive performances, you would think "offense" is the name of the game for the 2018 NFL season. Well, not so fast, my friend. Despite sitting atop the NFC, the Saints and the Rams have recently suffered losses that indicate hope is anything but lost for defensive teams in the league.

The Chicago Bears were able to bring down the Rams last Sunday Night 15-6. The same offense that averages 33 points per game was limited to six points. Sean McVay's remarkable offense went home with no touchdowns to talk about on the plane back home. Instead, they probably discussed Jared Goff's four interceptions.

Weeks earlier, the Dallas Cowboys shocked the world when they brought down the Saints. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas simply couldn't move the ball against Leighton Vander Esch, DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones. 13 points were all the Cowboys needed to score to beat an offense that was averaging 37 per game heading into week 13 but was only able to put up 10 in Dallas.

The Cowboys are the #4 seed with the Bears slightly ahead of them as the #3 seed in the NFC. Together, these teams have defeated the top two in the conference. Now granted, playoffs will definitely be different.

For starters, if they are to advance to the divisional round, they'll be on the road. Chicago was surely benefited by playing in such a cold weather versus a Los Angeles team. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, few times has AT&T Stadium been as loud as when they beat the Saints.

Hopefully, we'll get to see both of these elite defenses advance to the Divisional Round to  square off against this couple of high-powered offenses again. We will not only be witnessing amazing football games, but a great discussion regarding the everlasting debate between offense and defense.

For years, "defense wins championships" has been a widely accepted statement in football. The Cowboys and Bears have made that same statement resound recently with their impressive wins.

Can they do it again in January football? Can they do it on the road?

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Cowboys en Español: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Al igual que el resto de la afición de los Dallas Cowboys, parte de mí se siente confiada respecto a este equipo visitando a Indianapolis Colts y resultando victoriosos. ¿El problema? Los Colts no son un rival sencillo de vencer. Si crees que la racha de los Cowboys los intimidará, piensa de nuevo. Los Houston Texans llevaban nueve victorias al hilo antes de enfrentarse a este equipo.

Siendo objetivos, este puede ser el partido que evite que los Cowboys cierren su temporada con ocho victorias al hilo para terminar el año con un récord de 11-5. Ni los Tampa Bay Buccaneers ni los New York Giants deberían presentar amenaza alguna contra Dallas. Lo mismo no se puede decir de Indianapolis.

Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, Andrew Luck está realmente de vuelta. Gracias a una reconstrucción de su línea ofensiva, su nivel de juego a regresado al nivel que conocíamos de él desde que llegó a la NFL. Afortunadamente para los Colts, Luck se ha mantenido sano toda la temporada y no se ve rastro alguno de sus lesiones anteriores en el emparrillado.

T.Y. Hilton está teniendo un muy buen año y sin duda alguna presentará un reto para Byron Jones y el resto de la secundaria de los Cowboys. Eric Ebron en la posición de tight end también será un dolor de cabeza para la defensiva.

Lo más interesante se dará en las trincheras. Los Cowboys han hecho un muy buen trabajo presionando quarterbacks opuestos en la temporada, pero si el centro de los Colts, Ryan Kelly está sano el domingo, se enfrentarán al mejor duo de centro-guardia en la liga actualmente. Con Quenton Nelson al lado, Luck estará muy bien protegido.

Sin embargo, Kelly no ha jugado debido a una lesión y aún está por verse si tomará el campo el domingo por la mañana. Los Cowboys hicieron un muy buen trabajo a la entonces ofensiva #1 de la liga, los New Orleans Saints, pero eso no significa que la ofensiva #8 que tienen los Colts no los retará.

Promediando 27 puntos por juego, la defensiva necesitará ayuda de Dak Prescott y compañía para ganar el partido. Dallas continúa moviendo el balón efectivamente, pero es tiempo de anotar touchdowns y no goles de campo.

Ezekiel Elliott será, una vez más, clave para la victoria. Enfrentándose a una defensiva Top 10 contra el juego terrestre, mover las cadenas con Zeke no será tan fácil. El novato Darius Leonard como linebacker ha sido algo espectacular otra temporada al igual que Leighton Vander Esch. Liderando a toda la NFL en tackleadas, estará listo para recibir a los Cowboys al Lucas Oil Stadium.

Lo más importante de este partido...

Por más impresionante que sea la racha de cinco victorias consecutivas, los Cowboys tienen que demostrar que pueden ganarle a un equipo fuerte estando de visita. Porque hay que admitirlo, Jason Garrett y su equipo no han tenido éxito fuera de casa. Claro, le ganaron a un equipo debilitado de Philadelphia Eagles y a unos Atlanta Falcons que va 4-9.

Este equipo "nuevo" de los Cowboys no ha ido contra un rival de calidad siendo el visitante. Es tiempo de demostrar que lo pueden hacer, ya que si quieren contender en postemporada, es justo lo que necesitarán... jugar bien de visita.

Sinceramente creo que los Cowboys ganan este partido. Principalmente gracias a su defensiva, pero también veo a la ofensiva dominar el tiempo de posesión en un juego de pocos puntos. Es tiempo de mantener esa racha.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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