46 Defense Basics

The 46 Defense was designed in the early 1980s by Buddy Ryan with the Chicago Bears. Most folks know that – and hence, the nickname, “Bear” Defense. It was the defense of the dominant 1985 Bears team.

The defense has its basis in the old 5-2 Double Eagle front and is easy to adapt from the 4-3 Defense. It is an 8-man, run-stopping from that works well with man coverages and with Cover 3.

Every defensive package should have some sort of 46 Defense – or Bear Front – in its package, and it isn’t hard to add to your package because it works with Odd Front and Even Front packages.


Alignment of the 46 DefenseAll of my information on the 46 Defense comes from Rex Ryan and Jeff Walker’s Coaching Football’s 46 Defense book. I’ve used variations of the front with different packages, but never as the base defense.

The alignment of the 46 Defense centers around the 3-0-3 alignment in the middle. This means we have a Defensive Lineman aligned on the outside shoulder of each of the Guards, and a head up Nose Guard. In the diagram above I’m showing the 43 Defense adapted to the Bear Front, where the Strong End slides down to a 3-tech.

I refer to any front with this 3-0-3 alignment as a Bear Front, mainly because of the effect it has on the offensive blocking schemes. The biggest advantage of this front is its almost impossible to create double teams, especially on your Nose Guard. If you have a dominant defensive lineman that can play that 0-technique Nose position, this is a big advantage.The weak side Defensive End stays in a 5-Technique. On the strong side, one Linebacker is going to walk up on the inside foot of the Tight End while another Linebacker or Safety is going to walk up on the outside foot of the Tight End. Who you want to do this is going to be based on your own personnel, so don’t get caught up in the letters!

The two Linebackers remaining are going to line up in 40-techniques, 5 yards off the ball and head up over the Offensive Tackles.

Run Fits

There’s no better front for stopping the run than the 46 Defense. Here are the run responsibilities for the front 8:

Nose Guard: The 0-tech nose is going to handle the play side A-Gap. He’s a 2-gap player.

Tackles: The two 3-tech Tackles handle the B-Gaps. They’re attacking the outside shoulder of the Guard.

Weak End: The weak side end plays a 5-technique and handles the outside and contains the play. He needs to hold the point on that tackle and not let the B-gap widen. Its more likely that he’ll just be forcing plays to the sideline than necessarily turning them back inside.

Sam Linebacker: The Sam Linebacker walks up on the inside foot of the Tight End and hammers him, reading the footwork of the Tackle with his eyes. If the Tackle goes down, he’s going to squeeze down expecting a pulling Guard or Fullback.

Strong Safety: The Safety (or whoever you choose) is walked up on the outside foot of the Tight End. He’s hammering him and controlling the outside. He is the box/contain player on the strong side.

Linebackers: The 40-tech Linebackers are reading backfield action. All of the gaps are controlled except the A-Gap the Nose does not control. On outside flow, the backside linebacker works over to play cut-back to that open A-Gap.

The Play side linebacker plays off of the Defensive End or Safety, expecting him to either force the play back inside or force it to bounce. He needs to make this guy right.

On hard flow, inside flow runs the backers are filling up any open space. There’s just no real bubble to run an Iso to, and defending Power and Counter is going to be based off of how the player being kicked out plays it. The DL will be looking to wrong arm, so plays should bounce.

Free Safety: We need a stud at Free Safety. Someone who can play center field on Cover 1 or Cover 3, but also run the alleys and clean up outside runs. Here’s a simple Alley Press drill from Coach Albaugh at ChiefPigskin.com.


As I mentioned, the coverage for the 46 Defense is mostly going to be Cover 0, Cover 1 or Cover 3 – which should be the case with any 8-man front defense. You can come up with all of the exotic looks you want, but that’s going to be the basic look. Click here for 46 Defense Coverages.

Do you run the 46 Defense? Add a comment and give us some tips!

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  • Christian

    We used the 46 last year as one of our base fronts. Depending on down and distance tendency added fire zones. The most basic was to drop Charlie to curl, Mike to middle, and the SS to curl. The next is what we called Charlie/tackle stunt jack was the curl dropper tackle would slant out Charlie would loop in mike and S’s were middle and curl droppers. Then we got a little tricky and dropped our Tnt and blitzed overloads at the flanks. We still used a ton of traditional 46 plays but liked the added confusion. We averaged 4.4 points a game and finished undefeated and champs. So something worked. Oh yeah the team we took over was 2 and 7 the year before.

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  • Victor

    I’m looking into a coaching job with arena football, which plays with fewer men. I am very familiar with the 46 and it’s ability to get into the offensive backfield quickly and apply pressure with the front 5-7 men, but this isn’t always the case available in arena. To that end, I’ve been trying to come up with an effective way to use a 46 type front, but still have to account for up to three receivers, one of which is a swing man, and the lack of an effective blitzer that can be at the line. Any way I could do this without selling out to an obvious blitz front or do I have to drop the front from my scheme?

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    Awesome idea coach, thanks!

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  • Coach Rod

    I’ve run the 46 for many years and have morphed into what I now call the “Flex”. We have a package where we slide the outside backer (we call Jack) to the weak side. So we have the SAM over the TE and the Jack now Outside the Speed End. It gives us the the same run fits on the inside run, but allows us the ability to bring extra speed and pass rush from the backside. The OT can’t handle the End and the Jack therefore someone else must stay home.

    We call this adjustment “Phazer”.

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  • Seb

    Hi, I´m Seb from Uruguay (South America). We have a small, amateur, 5-team football league here and I´ve been playing football for 5 years, 2 years ago we founded Spartans Football, one of the current teams of the Uruguayan American Football League (LUFA – http://www.lufa.com.uy).

    I´ve always been fascinated with this great sport, not to mention the defensive side. Right now I´m 22 and I´m in charge of the defense (I play FS, and also do the defensive coordinator part…remember it´s an amateur league!), this year I´m hoping to run a 46 as the base defense.

    I really enjoyed reading this post, my congrats to the writer!

    I made the playbook with a few variations though, but it´s a 46 defense all the way. For example, the TNT front are all lined up in front of the off linemen, and every linemen and linebacker are responsible of just 1 gap control that varies according to the play, blitzes or stunts made.

    I would like to get in touch with somebody that wouldn´t mind giving some tips and advice on the defense (and maybe even arrange a future friendly international game), my email is fuser13@gmail.com

    Regards from Uruguay!!!

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