New England Patriots Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 Defense Essentials

It was a fun, and hopefully insightful, 3-4 Defense Extravaganza Week and we wanted to close it out with just some select nuggets from all the posts that best illustrate what you need to know about the base defense the Patriots run.

Below is a mashup of everything from this past week, so if you missed any of them, read what follows for the essentials, which I tried to meld into one coherent post.

Happy Weekend/Rapture!

When people think of the 3-4, they associate it with Pittsburgh’s Zone Blitzing scheme. Pittsburgh’s Zone Blitz 3-4 is just one of three versions of this defense. The other two versions of this defense that are used much more than the Zone Blitz are the Phillips 3-4 and the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 [which the Patriots run]. Not all 3-4 defenses are created equal, nor are the players that play in these systems.

Despite the fact that the Bullough can be confusing, the system relies on a lot on "bend; don’t break” thinking.  The system will often give up short yards in the run, and blitzes are not common.  The idea is that the longer the offense is on the clock, the longer it takes them to score, and the more plays the offense risks an interception, fumble, or a fourth down.

The key to the success of Belichick’s style is flexibility of personnel. To be able to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to a dime defense and all points in between requires versatility at nearly every position. Players have to be able to run and cover and hit. Linemen have to be strong enough to hold the point in the 3-4, but get upfield in a 4-3. Defensive backs have to be very good in zone coverage but competent in man coverage when needed. It requires special skills, but also an above-average football IQ. Compared with the base Dungy-Kiffin scheme, which probably started with as little as three or four fronts and a couple of zone coverages, Belichick’s hybrid is a maze meant to confuse and confound.

Nick Saban: Our philosophy on first and second down is to stop the run and play good zone pass defense. We will occasionally play man-to-man and blitz in this situation. On third down, we will primarily play man-to-man and mix-in some zone and blitzes. We will rush four or more players versus the pass about ninety-percent of the time.

“In all situations, we will defend the inside or middle of the field first – defend inside to outside. Against the run, we will not allow the ball to be run inside. We want to force the ball outside. Against the pass, we will not allow the ball to be thrown deep down the middle or inside. We want to force the ball to be thrown short and/or outside.

“… Finally, our job is to take the ball away from the opponents’ offense and score or set up good field position for our offense. We must knock the ball loose, force mistakes, and cause turnovers. Turnovers and making big plays win games. We will be alert and aggressive and take advantage of every opportunity to come up with the ball … . The trademark of our defense will be effort, toughness, and no mental mistakes regarding score or situation in any game.”

Pass Rush

  • Must collapse the pocket to get at depth of QB.
  • Must have push up the middle – don’t let QB step up in pocket.
  • Pass Rusher behind QB – worst position in football.
  • Pass rush helps the coverage more than having four Champ Baileys will do.

Run Defense – set the edge – turn the ball back inside toward pursuit.

  • Don’t just run upfield, attack at correct angle. 
  • Don’t let the ball outside for uncontested yardage.
  • Force Inside, shed block and get in on tackle. Push back the  LOS.
  • Must teach players how to defeat blocks.
  • Wildcat - Offense will always out-gap you.  Somebody must two-gap.
  • Backside of D – still want to set edge for Reverse, Cutback, and Misdirection.
  • Emphasis is on setting the edge every week
  • Tackling – don’t leave your feet – run thru the RB.
  • Defense must fit together to build a wall to force indecision in the running backs mind.
  • Everybody pushes east and west, not north and south.

Pass Defense – must jam WRs so they don’t just run down field uncontested. 

  • Get on WRs quickly – don’t give them any space.
  • Don’t let them inside – keep good inside leverage.
  • Pass Defense - DBs – job #1 – defend the deep ball.
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