Soccer Defensive Systems: The Basics You Should Know (2023)

Naming a defense is one of the biggest challenges in football. Game plans are entirely predictive - they predict what formations an offensive will line up in, what types of personnel they will use, and what types of plays they will make. These predictions are based on offensive tendencies.

Schemes are introduced to defend against suspected offensive play, which differs depending on the situation - an offensive has a different bias on the 1st and 10th than on the 3rd and long. For example, the offense might tend to throw deep in a third and long situation. In this case, a defensive game with a view to deep routes is announced.

A coordinator will select fronts, covers, and pressure packs in hopes of stopping an offensive attack. The coordinator then adjusts the defensive scheme based on offense tendencies and adjustments made by offense over the course of the game.

It's a strategic battle, back and forth, throughout the competition. To understand this better, start at the beginning or on the defensivefront, so to speak.

defensive fronts

Diefrontis the first line of defense against an opponent's offense. The players closest to the line of scrimmage are - aptly - called defensivelineMen. A little off the line of scrimmage, directly behind the linemen, are the linebackers. They support the linemen. The orientation of these players determines the defensive front.

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Traditional defensive lines are named for the number of defenders followed by the number of linebackers. For example, the 3-4 has three defenders on the line of scrimmage and four linebackers behind them.

Soccer Defensive Systems: The Basics You Should Know (1)

The 4-3 front consists of four defenders and three linebackers. Defensive linemen on this front are commonly divided into two categories: defensive tackles and defensive ends. Defensive tackles are usually aimed anywhere from the center's outside shoulder (what is called the 1 technique) to the offensive guard's outside shoulder (what is called the 3 technique). The defensive ends usually line up somewhere between the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle and the outside shoulder of the tight end.

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Coaches often vary the alignment of defenders to confuse offensive blocking schemes. A defense scheme often includes the ability to switch from one front to another -Change from 3-4 to 4-3has become common practice allowing a defense to trip another player at the line of scrimmage.

Typical defensive fronts are:

  • 4-3: 4 downlinemen and 3 linebackers
  • 3-4: 3 downlinemen and 4 linebackers
  • 5-2: 5 down linemen and 2 inside linebackers
  • 3-3 Stack: 3 down linemen and 3 linebackers "stacked" directly behind them.

This is the most common and common way to call a defensive front. However, one should be wary of inventions that don't follow this standard, as they can turn off even seasoned football fans. For example, the 46 defense popularized by Chicago Bears defense coordinator Buddy Ryan during the 1985 championship season has nothing to do with player alignment. The 46 defense wasnamed after Doug Plank, who wore shirt number 46 - this was named after a style of play rather than a defensive bias.

Defensive Covers

Defensive Coversare determined by the deployments of the defenders. Linebackers also have coverage responsibilities, but defensive backfield schemes dictate the call. For example, man-marking is perhaps the most obvious: defensive players go head-to-head against offensive players.

Most covers are identified by how the deepest part of the field is defended. For example, a Cover 2 defense features two deep safeties, each responsible for their deep half of the field. Two people cover themselves deeply. In this case, the cornerbacks and linebackers divide up areas of the field closer to the line of scrimmage, with the two safeties serving as the last line of defense.

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In Cover 4, the corners drop back and, along with the safes, account for a deep fourth of the field. Now the deepest part of the defense is divided into 4 parts, with each zone covered by a different player.

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Typical defense covers are:

  • 0/1: Man coverage with either 0 deep zone players or 1 deep zone player (often referred to as "man free")
  • 2: The deepest part of the field is divided into 2 zones
  • 3: The deepest part of the field is divided into 3 zones
  • 4: The deepest part of the field is divided into 4 zones

Again, there are always adjustments to the rules as defensive and offensive coordinators try to outsmart each other. For example, the Nickel Defense is so named because a 5th defender comes on into the game. This is usually an extra security built in to cover a slotted receiver or tight end, although they can be used in a variety of ways. The pass-heavy modern offensive hasmade the nickel defense one of the most widely used todaystaff packs.

A coordinator can also invoke combo coverage using more than one coverage strategy. Cover 3 lock, as a totally hypothetical example, could involve three deep players with backside corner playing man coverage locked on the backside receiver.

The combination of front and coverage creates the standard way to call a defense. For example, 4-3 Cover 2 would include 4 defenders, 3 linebackers, and 2 safeties covering deep zones (with 2 cornerbacks covering "shallow" zones under the deep cover). Fronts and covers must be solid. Once they are, defensive coordinators can get creative and start attacking an offense.

stunts and flashes

Stunts and Blitzes make up what many refer to as "pressure" packs, and contribute to a defensive scheme in unpredictable ways. If a defense lines up the same way every time, an opposing offense will tear apart their predictable scheme. The answer to predictability is Stunt and Blitz - moving players around and attacking the offense.

Asleight of handrefers to a variation of a gap exchange involving at least one defender. "Gap Swap" might sound like a complicated term, but it's pretty simple: Players on a defensive front are each assigned a gap that they must defend.

For example, a defensive tackle could be responsible for the B gap in a 4-3 formation, while the defensive end is responsible for the C gap. In a gap exchange stunt, the defensive end could tumble into the B gap while the defensive tackle loops to the C gap. This stunt makes offensive blocking missions more difficult.

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A Blitzoccurs when a linebacker or defender avoids their regular duties and attacks the line of scrimmage as soon as the ball is snapped. For example, when the middle linebacker in a 4-3 front is babbled about for a blitz, he often attacks the A gap:

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This was originally intended to create a discrepancy in the numbers, once again calling into question the offense's lockdown assignments. Flashing can be risky. A linebacker may have to sacrifice his coverage zone in a passing situation. When called, the defensive coordinator is betting that the extra pressure will be more valuable than regular coverage.

defense systems

Adefense schemeincludes all the components of a defense choreographed in hopes of stopping an offensive tendency. On the 1st and 10th, if the offensive bias is to run between tackles, a coordinator 4-3 Cover 2, Wil A might call (in this case, Wil A would be the weak inside linebacker blitzing through the A gap). This would fill almost any career in no time.

On the 3rd and 10th, when the offensive bias is to run between tackles, a coordinator could call 3-4 cover 4, leaving four players deep in cover and only three rushing.

There is no right way to call a defensive. There is no one-size-fits-all scheme for stopping a specific game, especially since the defense will never know what offensive game has been called until the ball is caught. The only choice a Coordinator has is to be careful when building a defense system.

Successful defense concepts identify which front, cover and pressure are best suited to stop an opposing offensive.

Photo credit: Kameleon007/iStock


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