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Football Schemes and Concepts Chapter 3: The 4-3 Under

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Football Theory 1: Gaps and Techniques 1

At this point, we've covered the concepts of defensive gaps and techniques, and then we applied those concepts to the fundamental 4-3 defensive base formation: the 4-3 over. If you haven't read the first two chapters, I would advise you do so, given that we'll be using and comparing information from them in this post. Chapter One | Two.

The 4-3 Under

The 4-3 under formation has several similarities to its over counterpart, but also some stark differences that allow it to be more useful in certain situations. Let's start with what remains the same between the two.

Both packages have the same personnel. That is, both packages have two defensive tackles, two defensive ends, three stand-up linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties. In both formations, the members of the secondary will line up in the same spot for a particular coverage. For example, in a cover-2, the corners will line up on the receivers and the safeties will each cover one half of the deep part of the defensive backfield.

The last similarity between the two formations comes with the weak side defensive end (weak vs. strong sides were covered in chapter two). With both the 4-3 over and under, the weak side end will line up in the 5-technique, just off the outside shoulder of the weak side offensive tackle.

Where the formations differ is when it comes to the linebackers, and remaining three defensive linemen.

For a quick recap of the 4-3 over, the 1-technique will line up on the weak side shoulder of the offensive center, the 3-technique will take the outside shoulder of the strong side offensive guard, and the strong side defensive end will take the outside shoulder of the outermost offensive linemen (either the offensive tackle, or the tight end).

The linebackers will line up according to the defensive linemen, with the 3-technique being an "anchor" of sorts. The WILL linebacker lines up behind the 3-technique, the MIKE goes inside the 1-technique (essentially straight on with the center), and the SAM gets behind the weak wide B gap.

Alignments

We can throw all of that out when it comes to the 4-3 under alignments for our front seven (excluding the weak side end).

In the 4-3 under, the 3-technique will align to the outside shoulder of the weak side offensive guard, and the 1-technique will man the outside shoulder of the center. From here, the strong side defensive end will man the 5-technique position on the outside shoulder of the offensive right tackle.

This gives us the following defensive linemen alignments:

Football Schemes and Concepts Chapter 3: The 4-3 Under 1

Image courtesy of BigBlueView blog via Google images.

You may be asking yourself, what about the tight end? This is where we get the major difference between the over and under formations.

By now it should be fairly straight forward to recognize the gap assignments for each of the defensive linemen. The weak side end will contain the weak side C gap, the 3-technique has the weak side B gap, the 1-technique has the strong side A gap, and the strong side end will take the strong side C gap:

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

Given that there are seven gaps total, let's examine the gap responsibilities of the remaining members of the front seven.

We know that the WILL linebacker always follows the 3-technique. This means that whichever side of the formation the 3-technique is on, the WILL will be about five yards behind him. Looking at the image above, we can then see that the WILL is responsible for the weak side A gap.

We also know that the MIKE plays the middle assignment, between the WILL and SAM. Thus, our MIKE will line up just inside the strong side end, about five yards off the line of scrimmage. So which gap is he responsible for? Exactly; the strong side B gap.

Last, but not least, we have the alignment of the SAM linebacker. This is where things get shaken up the most.

Up to this point, we're used to the linebackers playing about five yards off the line of scrimmage. That's not the case with the SAM linebacker in the 4-3 under. Because of the shifted formation, we're actually going to line the SAM up in a two-point (no hand on the ground) stance, in the 7-technique alignment, just off the shoulder of the tight end. This results in the SAM retaining the strong side D gap assignment:

Football Schemes and Concepts Chapter 3: The 4-3 Under 3

So you may be thinking, why put the SAM down on the line? He can just cover the D gap from five yards off the line, similar to his B gap responsibilities in the 4-3 over. Let's dive into that.

Why the shift?

Let's take the most obvious perspective first: the 4-3 under allows you to have another player on the line of scrimmage, which raises your odds of a negative or neutral gain on a run play.

If the SAM has less distance to travel, he will be able to get to the point of attack (where the ball carrier crosses the line of scrimmage) in less time. This is helpful when your SAM (like most SAMs) is a slower or sluggish mover, and won't get to his gap in time.

A similar reason for moving the SAM to the line of scrimmage is down and distance. If the offense only needs a yard (or less) to gain a first down, you want to move more players closer to the point of attack to minimize the distance they need to travel to make contact and prevent the conversion.

When they say football is a game of inches, they aren't kidding.

Finally, sometimes you may have a SAM who isn't necessarily the most athletic player moving in a direction, but is big, strong, and is able to hold up against a big, 6'3"+ tight end looking to mow him over. In this case, you like your odds of sticking the SAM on him for a run play.

You have to be careful here, though, because if you're playing man coverage and the offense runs a passing play, your less athletic SAM will potentially be tasked with covering a tight end, which may be a losing battle.

It's all about match-ups.

So which do I choose?

Over the course of a normal week in the fall, the team's coaches will review tape on the upcoming opponent. They scout strengths and weaknesses, plays the offense and defense will run, personnel changes, etc.

Another thing they'll look for, is what type of play a team likes to run from a particular personnel grouping. They'll look at what type of tight end the opposing team has, and whether they like the match-up with their SAM.

The formations used all depend on the offense's tendencies, the down and distance, SAM vs. TE matchup, and the type of SAM you've got. The coaches will figure all this into the game plan for a given week, and make the formation determination throughout the course of the game.

In next week's post, we're going to dive into the "Nickel" formation, some of the similarities and differences it has to the base 4-3, and situations in which you'll run it. This is perhaps the most commonly used pass coverage that teams employ today, so next week's post is very important towards understanding defensive schemes.

Feel free to drop a comment below, or reach out to me on twitter @TheLandryTrophy. As usual, I've 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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3 Biggest Non-Divisional Games on the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule

John Williams

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The Dallas Cowboys Are Legit Contenders

There hasn't been a repeat champion of the NFC East since the early 2000's when the Philadelphia Eagles won three in a row from 2002-2004. Unfortunately, history is already against the Dallas Cowboys repeating as division champions again in 2019. For the Cowboys to repeat as NFC East champs, they'll have to navigate a tough slate of opponents.

That's the reward of winning your division.

Though much can change in the next five months as the NFL prepares to play football games that matter in September, there are already key matchups for this young Dallas Cowboys team. We know the NFC East is always a difficult division to play in. The rivalries make for a lot of close games. The Cowboys have to play well in the division to have a shot at winning the division. But with the schedule they have, they'll have to win some contests that they probably shouldn't to stake their claim as Super Bowl contenders.

Divisional games are always important, but let's take a look at the three games outside the division that will have the greatest impact on the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys 2019 season.

1. Week 4 - Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints

The Cowboys have an opportunity to get off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season with games at home against the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, and a road game against the Washington Redskins. There's a legitimate chance for them to start the season 3-0.

Whatever momentum they do gain in the first three games of the season could all come to a screeching halt with a tough week four matchup in New Orleans.

New Orleans has been a tough place to play in the Sean Payton and Drew Brees eras. The Dallas Cowboys defense will have a tough test attempting to slow down the high scoring Saints offense two years in a row.

When the two teams met in 2018, the Dallas Cowboys defense completely dominated the Saints. On that day, they held the Saints to 176 total yards (111 passing and 65 rushing) and an amazing 3 for 11 on third downs. It was especially impressive because the Cowboys only had two sacks and one turnover in the game. The Saints just couldn't find a rhythm as the Cowboys came with a lot of energy and physicality. It was a defining moment for this young defense and gave us a picture of what they could possibly be.

If the Dallas Cowboys can find a way to win this game and potentially start the season 4-0, it would be huge for their playoff hopes.

On the flip side, if the Dallas Cowboys start the season 2-1, they could be going into New Orleans with the possibility of starting the season 2-2. The pressure would be incredible for the Cowboys the rest of the way with the slate of teams they have at the end of the season.

The Cowboys have to leave the first quarter of the season at worst 3-1 to have a shot at the playoffs in 2019.

2. Week 14 - Dallas Cowboys @ the Chicago Bears

The toughest part of the Dallas Cowboys schedule always comes around the Thanksgiving day game, and this season is no different. Starting with their week 12 game at the New England Patriots, the Cowboys will play three games in 12 days culminating with their week 14 game against the Chicago Bears.

The Bears, coming off an NFC North title in 2018, are similar to the Dallas Cowboys. They boast an incredible defense with one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and a young an improving offense.

Playing in Chicago is always a tough task, but doing so in December is a tall order. Doing so after going to New England, then playing at home, then going back on the road seems like an impossible task.

It's a game that will likely be a grind-it-out affair, as both teams want to run the ball and play defense. Depending on what happens in the previous two games, this could be a must-win to start the final quarter of the season.

3. Week 15 - Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys

The rematch of the NFC Divisional round matchup is just another in a long line of important conference matchups for the Dallas Cowboys. It will be a very important game for the Cowboys because it will be a home game after their three games in 12 days stretch. They'll have to go to Foxboro and Chicago in a span of 12 days, which makes for tough travel.

Facing a Los Angeles Rams team that absolutely dominated the Dallas Cowboys defense is an opportunity for redemption, but will have huge implications on the playoff standings for the NFC.

The Cowboys and Rams could both be leading their divisions at this point in the season, which would make this game important for seeding. Or, they could be fighting for a wild card berth. Either way, a conference game this late in the season has huge consequences in the way the tie breakers shake out.

This one will carry an emotional importance as well.

The way the 2018 season ended for this club, especially on the defensive side of the ball, left a lot of players -- and fans -- with a bad taste in their mouths. It completely changed the way a lot of people view a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major defensive categories. The loss to the Rams was one of the worst defensive performances of the season and it came at the worst time of the season.

Not only was the defense bad, but the running game was terrible that day too. Ezekiel Elliott only managed 47 yards on 20 carries for one of the worst rushing performances of his career. It took a really good second half from Dak Prescott and the passing game to get the Cowboys within one score with a shot to get the ball back at the end of the game.

If the Cowboys can get revenge for that playoff loss, it would do a lot for the morale of this team heading into the final two weeks of the season.

These conference games will have huge implications for the Cowboys and their playoff hopes. Though the NFC East will have a bigger impact on their ability to win the division, how they fare in these three games will give us a better understanding of the legitimacy of their contender status. Each of these games is against the team that won the division the previous season. If they can go 2-1 against this quality of competition, then we'll know this is a team to be reckoned with heading into January.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule: Reaction and Analysis

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There's Only One Side To Blame

The full NFL 2019 regular season schedule was released last night. Here is my reaction to the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and analysis of how what I think it means for them next season.

Of course, a schedule can have a very different feel come September-December than it does in April. The teams don't change, but their circumstances can be wildly altered by the time they actually have to take the field.

Just ask the Cowboys' opponents from the 2015 season. Nobody was looking forward to playing that Dallas team coming off its 12-4 playoff run the year before. But all it took was a Tony Romo injury in the preseason to suddenly make the Cowboys a cupcake.

But for now, we can only react to what we know. Before we dive in, here's a quick reminder of the complete 2019 regular season schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.

    • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints (SNF)
    • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys (SNF)
    • Week 8: BYE
    • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants  (SNF)
    • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys (MNF)
    • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys (T'giving)
    • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears (TNF)
    • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys

We already knew this wasn't going to be an easy slate. The Cowboys won the NFC East last year, meaning they were guaranteed to play against four division winners this season; Bears, Patriots, Rams, and Saints. They also get the regular two games against the Eagles, who were a Wild Card team last year.

Let's just talk about those six games for a minute. New England is still New England; Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will ensure that it's one of the toughest games of the year, and especially on the road. The Patriots have won 12-straight home games going back to 2017.

The Bears and Rams are both rising teams that shouldn't suffer any drop off next year. Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky is entering his third year and LA's Jared Goff will be in his fourth season, but only third in Sean McVay's offense. Both have starting QBs with rookie contacts, which means having the resources to load up on talent elsewhere on the roster.

Much like the Patriots, the Saints still have their franchise QB and coach and should remain a top team. They will also be out for blood after the Cowboys humiliated them last season, as will their fans, and that could make for a very tough road game in New Orleans.

Then, of course, there are the Eagles.

Eagles vs Redskins Tonight; What Outcome is Best for Cowboys?

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

The NFC East appears to be a two-horse race in 2019. The Giants are arguably the worst team in the NFL right now and the Redskins are dealing with major QB problems. It should be Dallas and Philadelphia once again battling for the top spot.

The Cowboys and Eagles should both get some cushy wins against their fellow division opponents. It could come down to their games against each other, and so far Dallas has dominated Philly when Carson Wentz is playing QB. With Nick Foles gone, how will that impact the Eagles going forward?

As for the rest of the schedule, the only other game that seems easy on paper is against the Miami Dolphins. Teams like the Bills, Jets, and Lions could go either way. The Packers and Vikings should both be tough opponents.

The teams aside, the general layout of the schedule isn't bad. The Week 8 bye is nice for a break right in the middle of the season. Dallas only has to play back-to-back road games one time, Weeks 11 and 12 against the Lions and Patriots.

The first three games against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins give Dallas a great opportunity to start the year right and build momentum. They will definitely need to go into December with some cushion, because that stretch against the Bears, Rams, and Eagles could be very difficult.

Overall it's a solid schedule. It's got some tough spots because of the Cowboys' performance last year, but that means they were a good team then and they stand to be even better now. There's nothing here that prevents Dallas from building on the success of 2018 and making then an ever better season.



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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys against Philadelphia

Although we're still months away from the 2019 NFL season, we finally know how the Dallas Cowboys' games will line up this year. The entire league schedule was just released. I know just how much you want to know who the Cowboys will be playing each week so don't let me keep you.

Here's the full 2019 Dallas Cowboys schedule and a few notes at the end. Enjoy!

  • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Sep 8th, 3:25p
  • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Sun, Sep 15th, 12:00p
  • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Sun, Sep 22nd, 12:00p
  • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
    • Sunday Night Football
    • Sep, 29th, 7:20p
  • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 6th, 3:25p
  • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Sun, Oct 13th, 3:25p
  • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 20th, 7:20p
  • Week 8: Bye
  • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants 
    • Monday Night Football
    • Mon, Nov 4th, 7:15p
  • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Nov 10th, 7:20p
  • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Sun, Nov 17th, 12:00p
  • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Sun, Nov 24th, 3:25p
  • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys
    • Thanksgiving Day
    • Thu, Nov 28th, 3:30p
  • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
    • Thursday Night Football
    • Thu, Dec 4th, 7:20p
  • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 15th, 3:25p
  • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Sun, Dec 22nd, 3:25p
  • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 29th, 12:00p

A few notes and thoughts...

  • It feels like the Cowboys play the Giants on week 1 just about every year. In 2018 it was the Carolina Panthers, but now we're back to watching this divisional matchup early on.
  • I love that the Cowboys and Saints will matchup against each other on primetime on week 3. Last season's Thursday Night game between the two was one of the best games of the season.
  • Having a bye week right in the middle of the season is pretty ideal, and the Cowboys have been lucky in this regard lately. This time they'll rest on the eight week of the season.
  • Overall, this seems like a tougher calendar than last year's. This only makes sense given that the Cowboys are the current NFC East champions and are bound to face tougher opponents.
  • A particularly tough stretch might take place from week 12 to week 17. The Patriots, Bears and Rams will be on the list as well as two divisional rivals in the Eagles and Redskins.

Tell me what you think about "BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced" 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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