Football 101 – 3-4 Defense

“Football 101” is a series by Joel Bishop that will take an in-depth look at formations, coverages, passing concepts and much more to give fans a better knowledge and understanding of the game.

Welcome back to another edition of “Football 101”, last week was the in-depth look at the 4-3 defense but this week it will be the 3-4 defense.

If you missed last week, here is the link:

The 3-4 defensive front has three defensive lineman and four linebackers, you can see many variations of the 3-4 with one-gap and two-gap schemes. This week I am going to slow everything down a little bit and cover some things that you might not have understood last week which also implies to this week’s edition of the series.

I use the term “technique” a lot when describing where the defensive lineman lines up. Here is in an image from


You often hear of the “3-technique” which as you see above is lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard. “5-technique” opposite the tackle and “0-technique” opposite the center which are two common alignments in the 3-4 scheme.


In some defensive schemes, certain positions are very important. In the 4-3 we looked at the weak-side defensive end, 3-technique defensive tackle and the weak-side linebacker for examples which are important pieces to that scheme. In the 3-4, the outside linebackers are considered a premium position. They are expected to be able to rush the passer, defend the run and drop back in coverage. The nose tackle is the anchor of the defensive line and along with the defensive ends, must be able to play with size and strength. They will be asked at times to play the “2-gap” technique and the defensive ends should be athletic enough to play the “1-gap”. Here at the individual positions in the base 3-4 scheme:


Defensive Line

Two Defensive Ends (playing a range of techniques)

Nose Tackle



Weak-side outside linebacker (W)

Strong-side outside linebacker (S)

Two inside linebackers


Now here are some 3-4 defensive fronts against the run:


3-4 Okie Front


This is a classic old-school front in the 3-4 scheme, using the “2-gap” technique. The nose tackle (highlighted by a blue circle) is playing the “0-technique” and will take on both A-gaps (see technique image earlier). The defensive ends (highlighted by a red circle) are both lined at the “5-technique” positions and will take on the B/C-gaps. The linebackers (highlighted by a black circle) are aligned with the uncovered guards (“bubbles”) and will fill in the A/B-gaps or scrape to the outside. The weak-side outside linebacker (to the right side of image) will have cutback responsibilities against the run and a possible quarterback boot. The strong-side outside linebacker (to the left side of image) will have to contain against the run.


3-4 Under Front


A very popular front these days against both pass and run is the “under front” which is a “1-gap” scheme. In this scheme, on the weak side of the defensive line you have a defensive end move inside at the “3-technique” position (highlighted with a red circle). In this image I have suggested that the “3-technique” defensive end could possibly “2-gap”, usually when lined up as a “2-technique” opposite the guard. The nose tackle in this front aligns in a “0-shade” (slightly off the centre) or as a “1-technique” and the defensive end on the strong-side playing as a “5/6-technique”. The outside linebackers on both sides of the line share the same responsibility as the previous “okie” front. The inside “Mike” linebacker (M) will take on the B-gap and the inside Jack (J) will fill/scrape.


That is the basic look at the 3-4 scheme. It’s a very versatile scheme that can show different pass rush/coverage changes with its personnel, you see a lot of hybrid schemes today with 3-4 defenses using 4-3 elements. Here is an example of a 3-4 scheme playing a “double eagle” front using a “303” alignment (3-technique, 0-technique, 3-technique):


This is the New York Jets defense against the Buffalo Bills. They line up their defensive ends at the “3-technique” (highlighted in the red circles) and their nose tackle at the “0-technique” (highlighted in the blue circle). This defensive line is putting stress on the interior of the offensive line but using the outside linebackers can also give you a 5-2 front and will create 1-on-1 match-ups. In the run game, exposed gaps will be filled with the linebackers. In the passing game, the 1-on-1 match-ups could limit the time for pass protection and may need to sacrifice a player pre-snap to be a pass protector.

One thought on “Football 101 – 3-4 Defense

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