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The 3-4 Defense has become a popular defense in football at all levels over the last couple of years –
mostly thanks to teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oregon Ducks.

The 3-4 Defense affords teams the luxury of disguising who will be their fourth rusher. Most 3-4
teams, however, have to have at least one two-gap linemen.

In the world of high school football, a lot of teams do not have the size on the defensive line to play a
3-4 Defense the way college and pro teams play their 3-4.

We have found, however, that if you slant your defensive line strong and weak, you can play a single-
gap 3-4 Defense that allows teams to use a 3-4 scheme with smaller linemen. It also allows teams to
use 3-4 principles, regardless of personnel.

The alignment of our one-gap 3-4 Defense allows the defensive linemen to use their speed and
quickness because they are lined up in a 4 technique, which discourages double-teams. The
alignment for this 3-4 is shown below in Diagram 1.

DIAGRAM 1: One-Gap 3-4 Defense (Alignment).

In this defense, there are two basic coverages that are teamed up with a reduction. In Cover 6, there
is a weak-side post-snap reduction (where the defensive line slants strong side, while the Bandit
blitzes the C-gap.)

In a Cover 3, there is a strong-side post-snap reduction (where the defensive line slants on the weak
side, while the Sam LB blitzes the C-gap.)

The safeties make force calls to their side to determine who the force player is. The outside
linebacker who is reducing spills the ball toward the appropriate force player.

Within our one-gap, 3-4 defense, we do not assign the Mike LB and Will LB a gap to fill, but rather,
we instruct them to read the offensive guard to the near back and attack the play while using the
appropriate technique.

The Mike LB and Will LB are taught to use the following techniques against specific reads.

Vs. Drive Block. If the inside LBs see a drive block, they “shock-and-lock” the linemen, locate the
football and use a rip move to disengage.

Vs. Down Block. If the inside LBs get a down block, they scrape to the next available gap unless
the B-gap opens up.

Vs. Reach Block. If the inside LBs see a reach block, they scrape to the next open gap.

Vs. Pulling. If the inside LBs see a pull, the inside LBs scrape in the direction of the pull, locate the
ball carrier and fill from the inside-out.

Vs. Down Block w/Iso-Block By FB. If they see a down block and an isolation block by the
fullback, they take it on with their inside shoulder and spill the football to the safeties and/or the
outside linebackers who are folding.


In our one-gap 3-4 Defense, the strong and free safeties are responsible for making a force call on
every play. The calls are backer (buzz/hold), cloud and sky. These calls designate who the force
player will be.

 “Backer” = Outside Linebacker is force.

 “Cloud” = Cornerback is force.
 “Sky” = Safety is force.

The force player in this one-gap 3-4 defense is responsible to turn the ball back inside, while also
responsible for the pitch player on an option.

In a Cover 6, “backer buzz” (outside linebacker buzzes the flats) is called by the strong safety if the
No. 2 receiver is lined up tight (we refer to “tight” as being less than 3 yards from the tackle), and the
strong safety has the freedom to make a lock call to the corner if the No. 1 receiver has a split of
more than 10 yards.

This would put the corner in off-man on the No. 1 receiver, while the strong safety plays man on any
vertical release by the No. 2 and looks to utilize a robber technique if the No. 2 receiver does not
release vertically.

“Backer hold” (outside linebacker holds the seam to the curl to the No. 3 receiver in the flat) is called if
the No. 2 receiver is removed farther than 3 yards.
“Cloud” is called by the free safety on the weak-side of Cover 6 and he has the freedom to make a
“sky/lock” call versus a large split by the No. 1 or No. 2 receivers (more than 10 yards). In this call, the
free safety now becomes the force player and plays off-man on the No. 2 receiver, while the weak-
side corner plays off-man on the No. 1 receiver.

In a Cover 3, the strong safety makes a “sky call” and the free safety makes a “backer buzz” call
versus a one-receiver side or a tight No. 2 receiver (less than three yards from the tackle). Backer
hold is called if the No. 2 is removed (more than three yards from the tackle).


The first coverage in our one gap 3-4 defense that we’ll take a look at is our Cover 6. This coverage is
in the “quarters coverage” family (quarter-quarter-half to be exact), that allows the strong safety to
engage in the run game and play cloud force on the weak-side. This is referred to as a MOFO (middle
of the field open) coverage that utilizes Cover 4 and Cover 2 concepts.

The safeties and corners read the No. 2 receiver and pattern-match based on his route. If the No. 2
receiver is vertical, the safety and corner sink and match the route of the man in their area.

If the No. 2 receiver goes in or out at the snap, the safety stems his peddle toward the No. 1 receiver
and the corner matches the route of No. 1 without getting out-leveraged by No. 2.

Below are diagrams that demonstrate Cover 6 against a pro formation and a spread offense

DIAGRAM 2: One Gap, 3-4 Defense Cover 6 (Vs Pro Set).

DIAGRAM 3: One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 6 (Vs Spread).


Within our one-gap 3-4 defense, our Cover 3 coverage is a traditional Cover 3 with sky force call to
the strength of the formation. This is referred to as a MOFC (middle of field closed) coverage that
utilizes a post defender (middle third player).

This coverage is great against run-heavy teams because it makes the football spill toward the strong

Below are diagrams of Cover 3 against a pro formation and a spread formation.

DIAGRAM 4: One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 3 (Vs Pro Set).

DIAGRAM 5: One Gap 3-4 Defense Cover 3 (Vs Spread).

We’ve had a lot of success over the years with the one-gap 3-4 defense. It is a simple defense to
learn and teach, and also allows your players to play fast and be confident in their assignments.

You can always add in different wrinkles to make this defense more diverse, but Cover 6 and Cover 3
are great starting points.

A scheme does not make a great defense. Great defenses play fast, fight to the whistle and finish
every play.

Zach Davis is the head football coach at Riverside High School in Belle, West Va.