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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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Game Notes

DAL 37, PHI 10: Cowboys Correct Course by Crushing Eagles

Jess Haynie

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Randall Cobb, Eagles
AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

The Dallas Cowboys will need plenty more games like this one to undo some of the damage from their recent three-game losing streak. But with a 37-10 rout of the division rival Philadelphia Eagles tonight, Dallas took a big step toward redemption and restoring order in their season.

The game got ugly in a hurry for the Eagles, who fumbled on their first two possessions and set the Cowboys up for touchdowns on each. Philadelphia would answer with a score on their next drive to make it 14-7, but it was all Dallas from there.

It was a joint effort from all parts of the Cowboys roster tonight. Ezekiel Elliott had 111 yards rushing and another 36 receiving, plus one touchdown on the ground. Dak Prescott threw for 239 yards and one score and ran for another touchdown.


Dallas' defense limited Philadelphia to just 283 total yards. DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and Jourdan Lewis each recorded sacks while Xavier Woods had a rare interception for the Cowboys secondary.

Even special teams contributed; Brett Maher nailed a 63-yard field goal to end the first half and made his two other FG attempts as well.

The Eagles were missing several key players on both sides of the ball, giving them a bit of an excuse for how lopsided this game got. But with Dallas now getting bye week rest while Philadelphia has to stay on the road in Buffalo, is this the beginning of the end for the Eagles' season?

Other Notes

  • Amari Cooper led the receivers tonight with 106 yards on five catches. He did not appear to be hampered by any injury despite our worries earlier in the week.
  • Maher's 63-yard field goal put him in the NFL record books as the only kicker to ever hit three career FGs from 60 or more.
  • Prescott's 21st career rushing touchdown broke Roger Staubach's record for most all-time rushing TDs by a Cowboys quarterback.
  • Some negative injury news coming out of the game; Leighton Vander Esch (neck) and Robert Quinn (ribs) both had to leave and didn't return. No word yet on severity for either, but hopefully the bye week is all they need to recover.
  • Jeff Heath was also shaken up toward the end of the game but appeared to be okay on the sideline.
  • No injury setbacks for any of the Cowboys' previously concerning players. Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Tyron Smith, and La'el Collins all made it through without incident.
  • Dallas now gets a long rest with the bye week and their next game not coming until Monday, Nov. 4th, against the New York Giants. While the Cowboys are healing up, the Giants will be traveling to Detroit next Sunday.


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Game Notes

DAL 27, PHI 7: Cowboys Winning Every Phase, Build Big Halftime Lead

Jess Haynie

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Report: Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott Agree in Principle on Contract Extension

The Dallas Cowboys certainly heard about Doug Pederson's win guarantee, but did anyone tell Pederson's team? The Philadelphia Eagles have fumbled and flopped their way into a 24-7 halftime deficit in this pivotal Week 7 rivalry game.

Two early fumbles by Dallas Goedert and Carson Wentz helped set up the Cowboys for short fields and touchdowns. Dallas has scored points on all but one of their drives in the first half.

Ezekiel Elliott is on pace for his best game of 2019 so far. He has 65 rushing yards and another 25 through the air, with one touchdown coming on the ground.

Dak Prescott has been sharp with 161 passing yards on 15-of-20 passing. He connected with Blake Jarwin on the team's second touchdown of the night.

Dallas' other touchdown came on a pretty toss play to Tavon Austin, who used his athletic skills to juke one Eagle and then outrace the rest to the endzone.


Brett Maher finished the half with an amazing 63-yard field goal. He also made one from 26 yards earlier.

Standouts on defense so far include DeMarcus Lawrence, who is playing up to his verbal response to the Eagles' head coach earlier this week. We've also some big plays from Maliek Collins, Jourdan Lewis, and Robert Quinn.

Leighton Vander Esch had to leave the game with a neck injury and is questionable to return. Hopefully, the Cowboys won't need him.

Great start by the good guys! Let's keep it going!


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Game Notes

Eagles @ Cowboys 2019: Gameday Inactives for Both Teams

Jess Haynie

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Seldom-Used CB Jourdan Lewis Could Play Big Role Against Saints

Kickoff between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7 of the 2019 season is almost upon us. The teams have now officially declared their inactive players for tonight, and the Cowboys' list comes with many sighs of relief.

After a week of worrying that several starters and other key players could miss this pivotal game, Dallas should have most of them on hand.

David Helman on Twitter

Cowboys inactives: Devin Smith, Anthony Brown, Luke Gifford, Adam Redmond, Brandon Knight, Justin Hamilton, Dorance Armstrong.

Losing Anthony Brown, who is essentially a starter as the nickel corner, isn't great. But it will mean more playing time for Jourdan Lewis, and to some that could be a blessing in disguise.

Not on this list are Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, and Byron Jones, all of whom had concerns earlier in the week about their availability to play.


As for Philadelphia, their inactive list features several key names

Jeff McLane on Twitter

Ronald Darby is active for the #Eagles. Rookie Shareef Miller active for the first time. The inactives for tonight's game against the Cowboys: DeSean Jackson, Avonte Maddox, Darren Sproles, Nigel Bradham, Nate Herbig, Jason Peters, Tim Jernigan.

You can read more analysis of the Eagles' missing players here. But just to summarize, that's two offensive starters(Jackson, Peters) and three from the defense (Jernigan, Bradham, Maddox) who won't be playing in Dallas tonight.

Will these injuries decide the game? Will Dallas take advantage or will Philly overcome?

We're about to find out!


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