Every defensive scheme has its strengths and weaknesses. The base 4-3, with four down lineman and three linebackers, is standard against stopping the run on first and second down. Each defender in this front has a gap assignment, in which the inside lineman take on a double team. The outside defensive ends set the edge, and the outside linebackers play the B and C gaps, depending on the strong side (side with the tight end). The outside backers can also rush the passer or drop into short coverage on passing plays. The middle linebacker is the playmaker in this setup, usually bigger and stronger than the other linebackers; his size and strength enables him to take on blockers and ball carriers. In addition, he must also be able to read the play presnap and drop into coverage occasionally.
The 4-3 is ideal in stopping both the run and the pass on early downs. The gap assignments are simple to read and the players have limited responsibility.
This defense has many holes for teams with short passing packages. In addition, mismatches can easily be created using a spread offense, as defensive ends and linebackers are lined up against speedy backs and slot receivers.
As with any defensive alignment, the power of the 4-3 lies in the personnel. Athleticism up front and good awareness by linebackers is a must for this defensive scheme to work effectively. Coaches looking to maximize the 4-3 should look to adjust in passing situations and complex alignments by the offense.
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