3-4 101: The Basics


May 23, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan talks with defensive tackle Issako Aaitui and defensive end Greg Romeus and defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker during organized team activities at the Saints training facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints are switching to a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. You probably already knew that. What you might not know (outside of now there will be four linebackers on the field instead of three) is what exactly is the 3-4 defense? Why will it make us a better defense?

Well your friends at Who Dat Dish have you covered. We will be rolling out a “3-4 101” article series to bring you up to speed on the new defense, the different roles of the players, and most importantly how it will make our defense better.

Right out the gate, let me tell you that the 3-4 defense is complicated. There are a couple different variations that have been tweaked by many great defensive coaches throughout NFL history and several different terms that mean exactly the same thing. We will stick to the Ryan 3-4 defense as much possible for the sake of clarity.

The 3-4 defense consists of three down linemen; the two defensive ends and a nose tackle. Their regular job is to engage as many offensive linemen and try to diagnose the play so they can make the defensive stop.These guys are normally larger defensive ends or defensive tackles depending on the team’s personnel.

Image from Boston.com article on “Front Seven”  by Greg A. Bedard and Daigo Fujiwara | Globe Staff

Next are the four linebackers who play a variety of different roles and are therefore the most versatile players on the defense. They may be asked to blitz, stunt (a blitz meant to confuse offensive linemen on a passing play), play zone pass coverage, and sometimes play man coverage. Speed, athleticism, and size are great traits for a 3-4 linebacker.

The secondary in the 3-4 is lined up in their traditional spots with the corners across from the wide receivers and the strong safety and free safety behind the linebackers.

The corners play man-coverage in the Ryan scheme with some zone coverage mixed in. The strong safety acts like an extra linebacker at times and can creep into the box to blitz on certain plays. The free safety helps corners cover deep passing plays.

In theory, the 3-4 defense is strong against the run and weak against the pass. It all depends on each defensive coordinator’s philosophy in implementing the defense and the personnel on the field.

Questions, Comments, Suggestions? Put them in the comments below! Stay tuned for more updates on this series!