September 25, 2018

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Formation: 3-4 Defense


You hear about teams employing a “3-4” defense. But what does this mean? Let’s try explain what this means and why teams would be using this formation.

What does “3-4” mean?

“3-4” refers to the arrangement of the front 7 on the defense.  It consists of 3 down line men and 4 linebackers, hence 3-4.  There area also the usual 4 defensive backs.  So how does this look?


So what’s going on here.  Let’s talk this through.

The defensive line consists of 2 defensive ends (DE).  In this type of formation, the job of the defensive ends is to control gaps and to push the pocket.  This formation also sees 2 defensive tackles replaced by a single nose tackle (NT).

With other formations, such as the 4-3, the pass rush duties fall on the DEs.  With the 3-4, it’s the job of the outside linebacker (OLB) that lines up on the weak side of the field (the quarterbacks blind site, usually to the left).  The strong OLB is usually in charge of blocking or covering the tight end (TE) or running backs.  The inside linebackers (ILB) have the job of rushing the quarterback or attacking run plays by clogging up holes in the line.

What are the advantages to this formation?

The one key advantage of this formation is that it can be used to confuse the quarterback.  The defense can utilise the dual ILBs and alternate which covers the middle of the field and which rushes the quarterback.  With the quarterback not sure which linebacker may be rushing him, it can force him into an uncomfortable position where they may make mistakes.

Another advantage to this formation is that there is more speed on the defense against spread offenses.  This is due to extra linebackers on the field that are generally quicker than lineman.

Who uses this defense?

There are a number of teams in the NFL who utilise the 3-4 defense;  teams such as Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers.  Infact, the Steelers have used this formation as their base scheme since 1982.  In 2001, they finished the season with the #1 defense in the league.

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