Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 80

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Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 80

By Gir Todafunk
Special To The Daily Magi
August 18, 2056

Hey, what's going on, folks? It's Gir Todafunk once again with another weekly column for the Daily Magi and the Magi Football Blog. This week, I'll talk about the linebackers in the 3-4 defense and their role. n a 3–4 defense, four linebackers (LBs) are positioned behind the defensive line. The linebacker unit is made up of two inside linebackers (ILBs) flanked by two outside linebackers (OLBs). The OLBs often line up closer to the line of scrimmage than the ILBs, but may also be positioned at the same depth or deeper in coverage than the ILBs (though this is somewhat rare).

There are two types of ILB's, the Mike and the Ted. The Mike typically is the more athletic linebacker, who can blitz, drop into coverage, play the run, and "spy" the quarterback. NaVorro Bowman is a prototypical Mike linebacker in a 3–4 defense. The Ted is typically the stronger and larger of the two linebackers, and is used almost like a Fullback on the defense. He takes on and occupies blockers for the Mike, allowing the Mike to flow to the ball and make tackles. Bart "Can't Wait" Scott is a prototypical Ted linebacker in a 3–4 defense.

The 3–4 also has two types of OLBs. The Joker, Jack, or Elephant is usually the primary pass rusher. Depending on the scheme, the Joker can be on either side of the defensive formation. He must be an excellent pass rusher, and has to be able to beat both stronger right tackles and rangier left tackles off of the edge of the formation. Demarcus Ware is a prototypical Jack linebacker. The other 3–4 OLB does not have a specific designation. Like a Sam linebacker in a 4–3, the other 3–4 OLB must be able to cover, blitz, and play the run. Anthony Spencer is a prototypical OLB in a 3–4 defense.

Strengths of the 3–4 include speedy ILBs and OLBs in pursuit of backs in run defense and flexibility to use multiple rushers to confuse the quarterback during passing plays without being forced into man-to-man defense on receivers. 
Most teams try to disrupt the offense's passing attack by rushing four defenders. In a standard 4–3 alignment, these four rushers are usually the four down linemen. But in a 3–4, the fourth rusher is usually a linebacker, though many teams, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, use a talented safety to blitz and confuse the coverage, giving them more defensive options in the same 3–4 look. However, since there are four linebackers and four defensive backs, the fourth potential rusher can come from any of eight defensive positions. This is designed to confuse the quarterback's pre-snap defensive read.

A drawback of the 3–4 is that without a fourth lineman to take on the offensive blockers and close the running lanes, both the defensive linemen and the linebackers can be overwhelmed by blocking schemes in the running game. To be effective, 3–4 linebackers need their defensive line to routinely tie up a minimum of four (preferably all five) offensive linemen, freeing them to make tackles. The 3–4 linebackers must be very athletic and strong enough to shed blocks by fullbacks, tight ends, and offensive linemen to get to the running back. In most cases, 3–4 OLBs lead their teams in quarterback sacks.

Usually, teams that run a 3–4 defense look for college "tweeners"—defensive ends that are too small to play the position in the pros and not quite fluid enough to play outside linebacker in a 4–3 defense—as their 3–4 outside linebacker. The wisdom of this strategy is demonstrated in the career of Harry Carson, who played as a defensive lineman in his college career and then went on to become a Hall of Fame ILB for the New York Giants in the 70s and 80s. According to NFL coach Wade Phillips, 3–4 linebackers "are a little bit cheaper, and you can find more of them," while "it's harder to find defensive linemen to play a 4–3 and pay for all of them."

I'll wrap up my thoughts of the 3-4 defense next week. I'm Gir, Mr. Wonderful, signing off. You are not alone.

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