10 Basic Defensive Football Plays

If you expect to be successful in football, these are ten basic defensive football plays you need to know. Whether coaching a team or trying to better understand your assignments, these plays will provide the groundwork for your defense to throw everything you have at opposing offenses.

  1. 4-3 Defense. This is the most basic defensive football play that most college and pro teams use. In a 4-3 Defense, you put four defenders on the line and three linebackers in the front seven. This provides basic defense for both run and pass situations and is particularly stout against the run since there are more options for one-gap and two-gap coverage.
  2. 3-4 Defense. The cousin of the 4-3, the 3-4 features three down linemen and four linebackers. The centerpiece of this basic defensive football play is the nose tackle. Nose tackles are usually the biggest, strongest player on the defense. The nose tackle lines up in front of the center and, because of his bulk, requires more than one offensive lineman to guard him. This opens up gaps and allows the linebackers to “shoot the gaps,” meaning they can pursue the quarterback and/or running back.
  3. 4-4 Defense. The 4-4 is a basic defensive football play most often used when the defense is expecting a run or wants to blitz. There are four down linemen and four linebackers positioned behind them. When the ball is snapped, if the defense wants to blitz then all four linebackers will pursue the quarterback through the gaps provided by the defensive line. Occasionally, cornerbacks and safeties will join the linebackers on the blitz.
  4. Nickel Defense. This basic defensive football play is built to stop the pass. You have four down linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs (safeties, cornerbacks, and nickelback). It is called Nickel due to the five backs in the secondary.
  5. Dime Defense. Another basic defensive football play that is used when it is clear the offense really has no choice than to pass the ball in long-yardage situations. It is so-called because of the presence of a sixth defensive back, called the dime back, that fills up the secondary. The defensive line then consists of either two or three down linemen and two or three linebackers, depending on how the coach wants the coverage. The Dime is vulnerable to run plays.
  6. Quarter Defense. Also called Prevent Defense, the Quarter features seven or eight defensive backs in the secondary with three down linemen up front. The Quarter is used in long pass situations, especially toward the end of a game when a team is attempting to come from behind and require high-yardage plays.
  7. Man-to-man. Much like basketball, in football a man-to-man defense means that each defensive player is assigned an offensive player to guard for the duration of the play.
  8. Zone Defense. The zone defense is a basic defensive football play wherein each defensive player is assigned a “zone” on the field. If an opposing player enters a particular zone, then the defensive player assigned to that area picks the player up in coverage.
  9. Cover 2 Defense. The Cover 2 is a type of zone defense. In it, the free safety and strong safety each cover one-half of the playing field in the secondary. As the receivers run their routes, the cornerbacks provide coverage and either the free safety or strong safety (depending on which side of the field the receiver is on) comes over to assist.
  10. Zone Blitz. Created and perfected by Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the zone blitz is a formation that gives a look as if the defensive linemen, and not the defensive backs, will rush the quarterback. The offensive linemen then modify their assignments. Because the offense is confused, the linebackers are then open to blitz the quarterback and/or drop into coverage.



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