Running the 3-4 Defense

The basic alignment of a 3-4 defense applies to the front seven defenders; it consists of three down lineman and four linebackers. Gap assignments vary depending on the style of the coach, but generally speaking, the nose tackle plays head up with the center and is responsible for both A gaps. The defensive ends usually line up between the guard and tackle.

The two inside/middle linebackers are bigger and stronger but lack the range and athleticism to play on the edge. The two outside linebackers are faster and smaller with the ability to drop in coverage.


If a defense has very big, strong defenders up front, they occupy multiple blockers and allow the linebackers to run free towards ball carriers. The four linebackers also allow more defenders in position for pass coverage.


A heavy offensive line that blocks well downhill has the numbers advantage on runs. Heavy run packages, like two tight ends and an impressive fullback cause problems for a defense that lacks the size to provide a backwards push at the line of scrimmage.

The 3-4 defense is ideal for coaches that possess the two appropriate personnel. The first is heavy, powerful defensive lineman that need to be double teamed nearly every play to stop penetration. The second is fast, athletic linebackers that can quickly set the edge, run down ballcarriers and drop into coverage. These two requirements are key to successfully playing a 3-4 defense.

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