The 5 Defensive Schemes that Dominate

What defensive innovations will we see in the next ten years? Probably not many – there’s nothing new in football. But there’ll be adjustments, tweaks, and without a doubt, cool new nicknames for the same idea. What is the best defense to use this season? Whatever you know best, or whatever fits your personnel best. Depends on who you are, how you operate, and what you believe. Here’s my Top 5 Defenses for 2010 and the decade to follow:

46 Defense vs I Formation5. 46 Bear Defense

I’m no expert on the true 46 Defense. I know enough to know that it is not a 4-6 Defense (46 was the number of Doug Plank – I had to double check that with the 46 Bear Wikipedia Article). What I consider to be a bear front is anything with two 3-Technique Defensive Tackles, and a head up Nose Guard. At least, that is the simplest way to identify the front.

The Bear Defense relies on Man Coverage most of the time. It is a great run-stopping front, there’s no question. But if you’re not a big time Man Cover guy, you may not be excited about running it against a passing team. The true Buddy Ryan-created Bear Front also does some funky things with the backers and Strong Safety that I’m not going to get into. A great resource is Rex Ryan’s book, Coaching Football’s 46 Defense. Go ahead, click on it… buy it, I need the 40 cent sales commission.

With a version of this still being run in the NFL (Rex Ryan with the Jets), and a huge number of teams having it as a change-up front, I would put this as the 5th most effective defense around.

4. 3-4 Defense

Slanting 3-4 DefenseNo question that this is a great defense. But I don’t see much of it. The 3-4 Defense is a version of the old 5-2 Defense, but there are enough significant differences to make it a separate defense. The defense is centered around 3 down linemen – normally a head up Nose Guard and two head up Defensive Ends over top of the Tackles (4-tech).

It also features two middle backers, lined up somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 yards off the ball, over the Guards. Finally, the front features two Outside Linebackers. These guys are going to be more athletic than the old stand-up 5-2 Defensive Ends. They are the natural fit for being contain-responsible, as well as handling the flats in pass coverage.

This is a good fit for a Cover 2 defense, or a Quarters/cover 4 defense. It makes a nice match-up for today’s Spread Offenses because you’ve got a lot of speed on the field. Whether you slant the defensive front, or two gap them all the way across, will be dependent on your experiences and the talent on your roster, of course.

Modern defenses need to get the maximum number of athletes on the field, and be completely adaptable. The 3-4 Defense fits the bill, so we’ll put it at #4 best defensive scheme.

3. 4-3 Defense

Quarters Coverage AlignmentThe greatest defense there is, in my opinion. The 4-man front is the way to go, in my opinion. And the 4-man front of the 4-3 Over/Under Front is awesome. You really need one true Defensive Lineman, the 3-Technique strong side Tackle in the Over Front. On the weak side, you can play another DT if you’ve got him, or a wrestler-type kid at the 1-tech Nose, a weak shade on the Center.

The ends are aligned outside shade of the end man on the line, either an Offensive Tackle or a Tight End. They’re crashing hard, spilling everything to the outside, rushing the passer, and causing havoc. These guys are linebackers, freakishly fast for the defensive line.

The other linebacker-type on the field is in the middle, at the Mike Backer. He’s over top of the Nose Guard, two-gapping the weak side B-Gap and the strong side A-Gap.

The strong and weak backers are more like Strong Safeties, that hybrid position everyone loves. One is probably more of a backer than the other. They, along with the two-deep safeties, make this defense so adaptable.

Any coverage, any time. Any blitz, any time. You can do it all. Check out Installing Football’s 4-3 Over Front for all about how to run it.

Yes, I love the 4-3 Defense. I understand it better than anything else and can adapt it however it needs to be adapted. It works great with any coverage, but most importantly Quarters. I still feel you can get more speed on the field in a 4-3 (or 4-2-5) than you can with a 3-man front, because of the way the Ends play.

But I put it at #3 because this isn’t about me, its about football. And while there may still be more teams running the 4-3 today, there are a couple of other defenses that are gaining popularity much more quickly.

2. 3-5-3 Defense

20131029123817Pro I_3-3-5_Cover 3For today’s Spread Offenses that are putting so many speed threats on the field, the 3-5-3 (or the 3-3-5, same thing) is a great way to answer. And whenever someone is looking for the best defense to run with their undersized defense, they seem to always turn to the 3-5-3.

Just like the 3-4 Defense, you’ve got a head up Nose Guard, and two guys lined up head up on the OTs, usually called Ends. The defense is also called the “Odd Stack” because of the alignment of the Linebackers – 3 of them, directly behind the Defensive Linemen, or stacked. The two outside backers, or overhangs, are going to be 3 yards deep and 3 yards outside the end man on the line of scrimmage. They’re the contain guys, and responsible for the flats – the natural fit, once again.

The limitation of the 3-5-3 Defense is that it really fits with Cover 3, and running it with Cover 4 or Cover 2 is more difficult than doing it with the 3-4 Defense (or the 4-3). Don’t get me wrong, it can be done and lots of folks do it, but it isn’t the natural fit. The advantage is that you can bring blitzes from all over the place.

Most teams running the 3-5-3 are blitzing on every play – at least bringing one guy. Those who know what they’re doing don’t just blitz at random, either. They’re creating fronts. With a combination of slants on the defensive line, and blitzing backers, you can create almost any of the other defensive line fronts under the sun – but do it all from the same initial alignment. The masters of the 3-5-3 are playing the ultimate head game with the offensive coordinator.

It’s a great defense, and it easily adapts to the 5-3 if you play a heavy run team. I’m not a huge odd-front guy though, at the moment, so my vote for the #1 Defensive Scheme in Football today goes to…

1. 4-2-5 Defense (4-4 Defense)

4-2-5 Defense Cover 3If I had to install a defense from scratch tomorrow, train some assistants, teach the kids, and have them going in a week – this is what I’m going to run. There’s nothing simpler, and nothing more effective. You’ve got the advantages of the 4 down linemen, with the ability to plug in those faster defensive ends mentioned in the 4-3.

The responsibilities for the backers are simpler. The overhangs (if you want to call it a 4-4, call your overhangs Linebackers instead of Safeties) have contain responsibility, and cover the flats. Plus you’ve got a Free Safety screaming downhill on outside runs.

The only difference between the 4-2-5 and the 4-3 Defensive Line is that the strong side Defensive End will play head up or shaded inside against a Tight End, handling the C-Gap, as opposed to crashing from the outside of the Tight End. Otherwise, you’ve got your athletic weak side End, crashing hard on the play.

You need one true Defensive Lineman, your strong-side 3-Technique, along with another Defensive Linemen that can also be a smaller and quicker guy, playing the weak shaded nose. The backers are aligned 5 yards off the ball, outside shade of the Guards, playing the open gap to their side. Everyone plays one gap, unlike the 4-3 Defense. That 6-man box is solid, and doesn’t have to change versus any offensive formation.

The coverage in the 4-2-5 is the same as the 3-5-3. Its not impossible to run a 2-high coverage, but the natural fit is the Cover 3. The blitz possibilities aren’t as varied as they are with the 3-5-3, but the presence of a consistent 4-man front lends itself to better run stopping ability.

Most teams are going to face everything from Spread Offensive attacks, to Wing-T, Double Wing, I-Formation and anything else. The 4-2-5 is easy to adapt to all of these, while that 6-man box never has to change a bit. You can use a wide variety of blitzes, as well as any coverage under the sun (though I’d still base out of Cover 3, but thats just me).

Simple for your guys, complex for the opponent, and adaptable to anybody… the #1 Defense in Football today is the 4-2-5 Defense. Strengthen your defense with our #1 Defensive Scheme. Get Coaching Football’s 4-2-5 Defense eBook.

Honorable Mention:

5-2 Monster Defense – Who still runs this? I don’t know. But they’re out there. After all, its not that different from the 3-4, so you can adapt it. I like the “Monster” part.

Double Eagle Flex
– Who runs this? I don’t know that either, but when I read the book on this one (Coaching Football’s Double Eagle Flex Defense), I was completely fascinated. Its got some cool stuff going on. And it also has a cool nickname, the “Desert Swarm.”


Coaching Football’s 4-2-5 Defensive Front

Free Video Series: Multiple 3-5-3 Defense Video Playbook

Installing Football’s 4-3 Over Defensive Front



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  • メンズ ファッション 非常にワークシャツ長袖

    There’s definately a great deal to learn about this
    subject. I really like all of the points you made.

  • Jack

    It isn’t the front ou run. It is about playing multiple coverages in the defensive backfied.

  • Coach Eric

    I actually run a variation of the 5-2/3-4 defense with my guys in Yorktown, VA. Instead of a definate DE or OLB setup, I have at least 1 of each on the field, with my stud playing head up onthe TE, a nd the OLB playing a cocked 5 or a wide 7 depending on his speed. It allows me to virtually e.liminate the TE from the Passing game, and a very fast backside persuit from the OLB

  • Joe

    It’s a good way to go. You still get the run-stopping ability of the 4-4, 8-man front, with the flexibility of those two overhang safeties.

  • Chris M.

    I have coached little league football for 5 years as a defensive coach. My personal experience was playing in a 4 6 defense (TX).

    In little league I have coached the Gap air mirror defense and had some good success.

    As of late I have been looking for a defense to use that is good against multiple looks. So far i am leaning towards the 4 2 5 defense.

  • Joe

    Coach, if you have limited time with the 4-2-5 I would probably recommend a Cover 3, or perhaps the Robber coverage if your Free Safety can pick it up. Glad the materials helped, good luck to you and your team!

  • John Anderson


    I am the defensive coordinator for the Zagreb Raiders. We were hit with suspension and injuries and I was minus a linebacker, defensive end and strong safety. What was left was 6 defensive backs. I found your 4-2-5 defensive to be amazing. We were able to shut down the run instantly in our second game. My biggest goal in the next week is creating coming up with the secondary coverage that will keep us from giving up touch down passes. Also, you online manuals on zone blitzes and changing defense are quick, informative reads.
    Thanks John

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  • Joe

    Coach, do a quick search for the over/under fronts, there are lots of posts on the blog on the alignments of the Over Front and Under Front. Over is the Miami 4-3 defense.

  • http://Top5Defensiveschemes Ryan Soderquist

    Coach we used to run the 4-3, still my fav as well. Could you send me info about the over/under part of it, I dont think we used that? Would like to learn about it if you have the time. Thanks

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  • rock

    Im a Linebackers Coach at the H.S. Level and we run a 4-3 with tons of stunts, Las Vegas has a few schools that run the doublewing Offense, and it really seems to be an offense that will never help their kids adapt and or prepare for the next level, however we play a stack 4/4 where we walk up a SS into the outside backer/ in the loose 90 tech and the opposite overhang or willbacker is at a loose 60 then our inside stacked backers will play the opposite shade of the tackle in front of them, if we are in an over front, then that backer is in a 10 tech and vise versa……….we have won 2 state titles in 3 yrs and are working on a 3rd, our team got a ranking in the Nations top 20 for the first time ever… And last year our Offense finsihed the season as the Nations # 1 highest scoring Offense, I think our Offense owes our DEFENSE all the cudo’s because if we didnt 3 & out so often, they would not have ever had the chance to be on Offense all the time…….. Think about it, and if anyone ever wants to get some great Defensive schemes, and or drills, etc. look me up….backerzcoach at faithshield714atyahoo

  • Joe

    Tony, sounds like good stuff, thanks! And I’m actually looking into some run-n-shoot stuff right now!

  • Tony Myers

    Great read. We ran a 5-2 in High School and it’s probably the best defense ever to stop the old, “Woody Hayes” 3 yards and a cloud of dust days. Yes, I’m from Ohio! Also, you are right in saying it’s the same as a 3-5. The difference is the ends never drop into coverage and there only job is outside contain. They will fight to the outside and turn everything back into the middle. Great defense back in the day but you get killed in the flats with the modern spead offenses….

    My kids school is running a new offense you would be interested in. I personally love it AND it does have a “MONSTER” in it… Call it a 5-3 or 5-2 with a monster. They run an odd defensive front with two inside linebackers and one monster to the strong side. The monster also covers the flat area. Against run offenses they mostly run it like a 5-3 with the ends fighting to the ouside for contain. They adapt to spread offenses by dropping the ends in coverage at time like a 3-5. The ends must be like small linebackers and obviously athletic. They’re school is famous for small, fast, athelets and most famous for their offense “The run-n-shoot”. They average 42 points a game! Go Huron Tigers!

  • http://none roger clark

    p.s now in el paso texas

  • http://none roger clark

    i have coached as defense back coach for fort wingate high, new mexico. problem-that has been 17 years ago. am inconsideration as history teacher and 9th grade defense coordinater . never coached the beginners before. would like some visual schemes for kids just starting . don’t want to blow their little heads with too much to think about. appriciate any advice and your articles helped to pull up some old memories. thanks for the info.

  • David

    Army Head Coach Rich Ellerson – one of the coaches who ran the Desert Swarm defense at Arizona – installed the Double Eagle Flex last year.

  • Steve Morris

    We’re using the 3-5-3 right now with good success, though, if your OLB’s get sucked in (as ours often do) look out!

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  • Joe

    I’ve been considering a sort of hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense that I know a lot of teams are running. I would probably spend most of my time in the 4-3 though so I’m not sure if it will be worth the teaching, but it does make you much more versatile. You’re right about aggressiveness when not blitzing though!

  • Coach JH

    This is a great summary of the basic offensive choices teams really have to choose from in today’s game. The one thing I really like though about the odd front 3-4 or 3-5 is that adjusting to formations is simplified. At the most, walking out a backer and sliding over inside backers is all that needed. No adjustments to strength necessary. A player can line up head up on the Right Tackle the entire game if a coach so desires. A Defensive Coordinator can also look to play around with positioning players with a variety of calls to get them into the best position possible. It make the defense very simple to install. The most difficult of odd 3 man fronts in my book is teaching aggressiveness when not blitzing!

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