34 Defense




While most high school teams use a 50 defensive scheme, most college and professional programs use the 43. So what is all the intrigue about the 34 defense? It seems that every few years in the NFL, the “in” defensive scheme changes. Nowadays, it looks like the 34 is the in defensive strategy with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and San Diego Chargers showing how it can be used to confuse and fluster teh best QBs, like they did to Peyton Manning.

The 34 defense is one of the most used defensive schemes and is named for the configuration of defensive linemen and linebackers. You have three (3) defensive linemen and four (4) linebackers, hence the name 34. If you had four (4) defensive linemen and three (3) linebackers, you would have the 43 defense, which you can read about elsewhere.

It’s simple to understand and easy to implement. Take a look at the diagram below.
34

With this you try to generate as much pressure as you can with the front three defensive linemen. These three have to be big, strong, and fast. Their job is to pressure the QB and stop the run. The four LBs behind them help with run stopping and can bring in blitzes. On any down, any one of the LBs may blitz.

Coverage assignments:
CBs:
The CBs play a short zone in the purple zone as above. They do not follow the receivers if they go too deep or too far to the middle. They stay put in their zones.

Ss:
The safeties cover any WRs that go deep and downfield past the zone that is covered by the CBs.

LBs:
The LBs are crucial. They cover the RBs, the TE and anyone else that comes at them. If it is a running play, they go up and make the tackles. If the TE goes out on a pattern, they cover him as long as he is in their zone. Once he goes too deep or too far to the sidelines, they can leave him. Some defenses will chose to cover the TE man with a LB. Find out what your coach wants to do.

Xs:
The defensive line attacks the QB. There responsibility is to go after the QB and tackle the RBs on run plays. Very simple.

Modifications:
What if instead of a TE, they decide to use three WRs as below? How would you adjust?
34-2

Basically, you don’t want to change anything. The CB on that side still covers his zone. That may mean that he is covering two WRs, and that is ok. Once the ball is snapped, one WR may go deep, while the other goes outside. If one of the WR takes an inside route or goes over the middle, then the LB picks him up. If he takes a short outside route, the CB takes him. This means that the S on that side has to be more aware and more intelligent.

Instead of putting in a 3rd WR, they may motion the 4 RB or the 2 RB to a side in order to get the defense to react or confuse the defense. Just treat the motioned RB as if he were a third WR as explained above.

What if they bring in 4 WRs? Then what can you do?
34-3

You still don’t change anythng. A lot of backyard players and playground players who are used to covering all WRs man to man may not understand this concept, but it is simple. Only one CB covers the short zone area on that side (in the purple oval). In this scenario, the LBs can play further away from the ball and closer to the WRs. With only one RB to worry about, they don’t have to play as close to the middle of the field.

Blitzes:
Blitzing from this type of defense can be done from many different positions. You can blitz a S, you can blitz one of the CBs, and you can always blitz an LB. Adjustments can be made for the player that is blitzing. If a CB is blitzing, the S on that side can cheat up a little. If the S is blitzing the other S can cheat to the center more.

Of course, there are tons of adjustments and some very complicated schemes in the 34 defense. This is a basic overview and hopefully will get you started in your defensive football knowledge. Feel free to discuss this and make suggestions in our forums.

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We've been coaching and playing football since the 1980s. Many of our staff are highly specialized sports trainers, athletes, sports medicine physicians, parents, and coaches. We love playing football and love writing about football.

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