Aggressive Linebacker Play for Stopping the Inside Zone in the 4-2-5 Defense

4-2-5 Defense vs Inside Zone
How your Defensive Line attacks and defeats their blockers is crucial to defending the Inside Zone. Regardless of what front you choose, the Linebackers are going to be expected to make a majority of the tackles.

Our Linebackers in the 4-2-5 Defense are going to use  the running backs as their primary key. Backfield flow normally tell them what play they are seeing. Split flow is common in Inside Zone schemes, with the Fullback kicking out the back side Defensive End (or the QB reading him in Zone Read), so we have to work that look during the week in practice.

He’ll need to pick up the movement of the Offensive Line opposite the steps of the back. The path of the Offensive Line should match the path of the back. If he sees anything out of place, like pullers, they will take him to the play.

The key is for the Linebackers to be patient with their feet while their eyes recognize the play. Once they recognize the play, they need to be extremely fast and aggressive in their attack. As long as the Defensive Line is doing their job, occupying the Defensive Line and commanding double teams, we can take our time to read the play.

If the backers are sitting back and letting linemen work up to them, they will be unable to stop the play. As soon as they diagnose the play, they need to be fast to their gap responsibility. It has to become reaction.

In our defense, no matter what front, the Inside Linebackers are spill players. So when they attack their gap, they need to take away the inside half of the gap. He should be attacking the Offensive Lineman on the inside half of his gap. Linebackers cannot run around blocks.

Linebackers have to be smart, too. They cannot fill a gap just because it’s their gap. If the movement of the Defensive Line or the blocking scheme of the Offense closes up his gap, he should be scraping to fit the first open window he sees. Linebackers have to make the Defensive Linemen right, and Safeties have to make the Linebackers right.

The backside linebacker will be crucial in stopping the play. We teach him to shuffle at the 4-Yard Fight Line, a great concept I got from Ricky Coon when I was at Ellsworth College. The backside backer is going to take his read steps, and on reading flow away, shuffle at a depth of 4 yards off the ball, not passing the center, until the ball declares to play side. If he sees the cutback off the Inside Zone by the Tailback, he’s in position to fill downhill now, shutting off the cutback lane.

If your backside backer is ever having to come BACK for the cut-back, he’s out of position. At the same time, if your linemen are giving you any help at all, he can still get over the top to help on the play side. The 4-Yard Fight Line teaches him to stay out of the mess up front while keeping his eyes up for oncoming blockers.

4-2-5 Under vs Inside Zone

The more dominant and demanding the Defensive Line is, the longer it takes for Offensive Linemen to work up to the backers. The DL plays a huge role in stopping the play and making life simple for the backers. They can grab those guys and hold them back.

If you have trouble with the Inside Zone attacking your weak side, you can adjust your 4-3 Defense or 4-2-5 Defense to an Under Front. We play the weak side Tackle in a 3-Technique, outside shade of the Guard. The strong tackle plays a 1-Technique, shaded strong on the Center (or a 2i, inside shade of the Guard).

That adjustment will help if you are using a smaller player for your weak side backer.

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  • Coach Daniel

    Without seeing them, I’d use the smaller guy. BUT why do you have to pick one? Can’t you play them both? We rotate our Defensive Line a ton to keep them fresh.

  • Robert

    Coach we are in big debate on our staff about the 4 2 defense. I want to use a smaller, quick 175lb nose but some of the coaches think he is too small. We are a high school team in Ohio. They want to use a bigger traditional d lineman. The smaller kid is a relentless tough player while the other d lineman are not very good except for our 3 technique guy on the strong side. He is a stud. . We are division two so we will see some big o lineman but not every game. Could use your advice.

  • Nickel Rover

    Texas has been hammered by the inside-zone cutback running the “50 defense” or 4-3 over with a stand-up end/9-tech and a nickel corner instead of a weakside LB.
    My understanding is that in the 50 it’s on the backside end to collapse the backside B-gap with the OL’s body and Texas’ failures are not on the WLB but on the defensive end and the safeties for not making the stop at 5 yards or so.

    Do I have it right in saying that the “50” is vulnerable to the cutback by getting the 2 linebackers too close where they get caught in blocks and putting too much on a power move from the backside end? The under and 3-4 seem like better options for I-zone teams that cutback well.

  • FITE

    Please send me a detailed email on how to defend the inside and outside zone play with a stress on the defensive line and linebackes.

  • Joe

    Sounds good, I’ve used the terminology of “showing color” in the open gap. Same concept, if we can fill up that open gap in a hurry we force the cutback, and since we’re doing that the backside guys should be expecting the cutback and be ready to take care of it. Alternatively we force the back to bounce it, which is perfect because the Safeties are unaccounted for many times in an inside zone play. Good stuff coach!

  • Layke

    Hi mate how are you.

    OK so I coach in Australia and I have always tought my guys a little differently to you. Basically we run a 4-3 defence and I teach the Play Side linebacker to hit or “Force” the uncovered lineman (TE’s not included) at the LOS as soon as they recognise the zone is coming there way. This forces the cut back straight away and the running back is forced to cut back into the flowing DT, DE, LB or risk taking the outside to the play side and the Forcing LB will 95% of the time make the play.

    What i mean by the “uncovered” lineman is:

    If we are running a 43 over (Strong Side DE in the C Gap – DT in the B Gap – NT in the weak A gap – DE Weak C Gap – MLB Strong A – WOL Weak B – SOL Strong D) and they zone run to the strong side.
    The centre is the uncovered lineman in this formation. If the DT is in the Strong A Gap and the MLB in the Strong B Gap then the Guard would be the uncovered man.

    The Strong side outside LB “SOL” is never the Force Man unless the DE is in the Strong D and the SOL in the Strong C in this instance the SOL would force the guard.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  • Joe

    Send me an email with a little more detail on what you’re looking for Coach, I’ll be happy to do what I can for you

  • John Corbett

    I am wondering if you can send me a more detailed illustration of defending the inside/outside run with the focue being on the DL