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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!

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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!!

Game Notes

DAL 20, OAK 17: Cowboys and Playoff Hopes Survive Wild Game

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten, Dak Prescott

On a night when almost everything seemed to bounce the Raiders’ way, the final crucial play went in Dallas’ favor. That proved to be all the difference, allowing the Cowboys to improve to 8-6 and keep their playoff hopes alive in a pivotal road game in Oakland.

After a 55-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Jourdan Lewis moved Oakland 15 yards from the endzone, Oakland had a few shots at a game-winning touchdown before they’d attempt a tying field goal. On 3rd-and-3, Derek Carr scrambled and went for the score. He dived along the sideline and stretched the ball out toward the pylon, only to lose control. The ball left his hands, crossed the goal line, and went out the side of the endzone.

Cowboys ball. Cowboys wins.

That fumble was Oakland’s fourth of the night. Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled on two of his kick returns but both times the ball rolled out of bounds. Michael Crabtree also fumbled after a catch, but Dallas failed to recover it before the receiver could get back on top of the ball.

Both teams were playing for their playoff lives. When the game was tied 10-10 in the 3rd quarter, Dallas faked a punt from their own 24-yard-line as Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards. The very next play, the Cowboys attempted a flea-flicker to Terrance Williams that was incomplete. It was perhaps the most aggressive series of calls we’ve seen from Dallas all year.

It was a tough, ugly game. There were 21 total penalties, 14 of which surprisingly belonged to the Raiders. Oakland’s offense executed more consistently while the Cowboys still made crucial stops when needed.

In the end, Dallas survived and advanced in their efforts to sneak back into the NFC playoffs.

Other Notes

  • Dak Prescott had a rough night with two interceptions and no passing touchdowns. One of those picks was due to contact on the throw, but he also missed some opportunities with errant throws and bad reads. He did run one in, though, and had 32 rushing yards total for the game.
  • Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for a woeful 74 yards on 23 carries. After a few weeks of big production, this was a good reminder of why we’re so happy to have Ezekiel Elliott returning next week.
  • While Dallas was unable to sack Derek Carr tonight, they applied a lot of pressure and forced several bad throws. Carr only completed 55% of his passes thanks to consistent heat from DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, and even Taco Charlton on a few plays.
  • It was another solid night from the Cowboys’ young cornerbacks. Despite the big penalty on Oakland’s final drive, Lewis had a solid night all around along with Chidobe Awuzie. Anthony Brown also showed up, having a few nice deflections in crunch time.
  • The Cowboys will head back to Dallas to reunite to with Ezekiel Elliott and prepare a welcoming party for the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. Seattle was humiliated at home today, losing 42-7 to the visiting Rams. With the Cowboys and Seahawks now tied at 8-6, Dallas can bury them next week with a victory.

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Game Notes

Cowboys and Raiders Offer Many Parallels

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Derek Carr

For only the 12th time since their first meeting in 1974, the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders will face off tonight in what will likely be a season-ending game for the loser. Two of the NFL’s premiere franchises, the Cowboys and Raiders have lived almost entirely separate lives throughout their history. Despite that, the two organizations in many ways seem like mirror images of each other.

The Raiders are up by one game, 6-5, in the previous 11 games between Dallas and Oakland. The Cowboys have won the last two matchups, both of which were in Dallas. This will be the first they’ve played in the Raiders’ stadium since 2005.

Oakland is one of only a few NFL franchises the Cowboys have a losing record against. Dallas is .500 or better against 26 the 31 other teams in the league. The only other franchises with winning records against the Cowboys are the Baltimore Ravens (4-1), Cleveland Browns (17-14). Denver Broncos (8-5), and the Green Bay Packers (19-17).

Throughout NFL history, perhaps now two owners have challenged the establishment more than the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis of the Raiders. Davis sued the NFL in 1980 when his efforts to most the team to Los Angeles were blocked. This year, Jerry Jones threatened litigation against the league for how the commissioner’s contract negotiations were being handled.

in 2017, the Cowboys and Raiders were both Super Bowl contenders who have had disappointing the seasons. They go into this week at 7-6 and 6-7 respectively, nearly even, and with similarly slim hopes of still making the playoffs. Both may be still be able to sneak in if they keep winning, but help from other teams is also needed.

Even their quarterbacks can be compared. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are two of the top young stars at QB in the game but have had adversity this year.  Carr has been trying to bounce back from a major leg injury last year that cut short his breakout season. Prescott, a rookie sensation in 2016, has had to fight the sophomore slump while also dealing with the loss of offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott.

If that wasn’t enough, both their first names start with a “D” and end with a “K.” Mind-blowing stuff, huh?

All kidding aside, both Dallas and Oakland entered 2017 with championship goals and have had tough blows along the way. Both will be without key players tonight; Dallas still missing Elliott while the Raiders won’t have franchise receiver Amari Cooper. These personnel issues have plagued their seasons and left both on the brink of playoff elimination.

Who stays alive tonight? For two teams that only see each other every four years, this reunion is of incredible importance to both their immediate futures.

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Game Notes

Cowboys, Raiders Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

Tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders features two teams still hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Both will have to try to keep their seasons alive without some key players, according the final injury report for Week 15.

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Brice Butler (foot) – OUT
  • TE James Hanna (knee) – Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (back) – Questionable
  • OT La’el Collins (back) – Questionable
  • DL David Irving (concussion) – OUT
  • DT Maliek Collins (foot) – Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring/back) – Questionable
  • LB Justin Durant (concussion) – OUT
  • CB Orlando Scandrick (back) – OUT

Don’t be worried by any of the key “questionable” players. They’re all dealing with nagging injuries and will likely be on the injury report the rest of the year. There is no indication that Sean Lee, Maliek Collins, or either of the starting offensive tackles will miss the game.

Brice Butler will miss his return game against his former team, which is more sad for him than any real issue for the Cowboys. Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown could see some more usage on offensive as a result.

Missing David Irving will hurt as Dallas needs to get pressure on Derek Carr. Coupled with Orlando Scandrick’s absence, the Raiders could be dangerous with their passing game. Thankfully, some of this is offset by their star receiving also missing the game.

Oakland Raiders

  • WR Amari Cooper (ankle) – OUT
  • TE Clive Walford (concussion/neck) – OUT
  • C/G Jon Feliciano (concussion) – Questionable
  • DL Mario Edwards Jr (ankle) – OUT
  • DL Denico Autry (hand/ankle) – Questionable
  • CB David Amerson (foot) – Questionable
  • S Ofi Melifonwu (hip) – OUT
  • DB Keith McGill (knee) – Questionable

The big news here is obviously Cooper being out. Michael Crabtree can still ball but Cooper is one of the top receivers in the game. Dallas’ young corners can breathe easier now.

The big injury on defense is Edwards, the son of the former Cowboys cornerback. He’s started all 13 games this year for Oakland. They also could be without starting corner David Amerson due to a foot injury. That could help Dak Prescott to keep the momentum going from his statistical breakthrough last week.

The rest of the players on the Raiders’ report are all backups.

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