Sacksonville lead the league because their 4-3 defense had all the pieces. Football 101

In our Football 101 series, we’ve talked often about a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme and the many formations/concepts that teams use based upon them. Jacksonville uses a 4-3 (four linemen, three linebackers).

There are equal pros and cons to both systems and each are dependent on talent and coaching preference. When a team has four defensive guys on the line, it’s much easier for players like DT Calais Campbell to get to the passer because it’s more a 4 vs 4 match-up and the T/E (tackle/defensive end) can team up or run alone and often ignore the center.

In addition, by having four, not three, guys on the line it opens up more “games”. The T/E can look as though they’re attacking a specific T/G (guard), but they switch. Or, they act as if they’re alone, but they team up to remove the T/G. Or a DT looks as if he’s going through the B gap, but he drops behind the DE and hits the C. It’s all about gaming the other players.

offensive line gaps

defensive line techniques

4-3 Defense with a Middle Line Backer coming up to help stop the run.

If you have four DL who are smart and fast, they can get to the QB before he has a chance to release the ball and splat, you have 55 sacks. The OL can win the match-ups IF they can get their hands on the guy across him, but facing 4 DL who can change the gaps they attack and hide the techniques, you’ve got to have a QB who dumps the ball quickly.

A team with a dominant OL who’s savvy, they can win the match-up, provided the QB is helping. In a 4-3, there’s often one less linebacker to come screaming around the edge, so you’ll generally see 4-3 teams have their T or E be their sack leaders and not a LB. Plus, they’ll tend to have more players get them.

In a 3-4 defense, there are only 3 guys to take on 5 which is why they don’t get as many sacks, they’re focused on plugging the gaps and stopping the run. The sacks are left to the rest of the team, predominately the edge rushers. Which leads us to…

When you have three up front, it allows two (or more depending on the play) to rush the passer from the C gap, or even the D. Almost every play, that’s what they’re doing, making a bead to the QB. This works like a charm if you have two guys who are both menaces.

If only one side is a true threat, then you can put two guys on him, and now your five OL can easily take away their front three. If you have a good blocking TE, all the better.
Jacksonville had four DL who kicked butt because they also had a good edge rusher and when you have 5 on 5, the defense has the advantage because those guys are quicker.

The downside to a 4-3 is if the DL isn’t stout, the team is left with one less linebacker to stop the run, pass, or rush the QB. QB’s who can get the ball out quickly, and can read the field well, can eat up a 4-3 defense.

However, if they can pressure the QB to dump the ball quickly, they can force him into bad decisions. He wants to avoid being sacked, so he tosses the ball too quickly to the wrong guy. Which is why Jax had 21 interceptions.

When a 3-4 team lacks two pass rushers, things can get ugly. QB’s have time to be creative and target the open guy.  However, if they do have two good rushing LB’s, offenses can’t bunch up because they need all hands on deck to block. When that happens, when the focus is on stopping the guys coming from around the tackles, the ends or sometimes the Nose Tackle has a free lane to the QB.

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