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BSD Film Room: Defensive Front

With a new coaching staff comes a new defensive front, the 43 Under. Let's take a look.

Bob Shoop ran a base defense in the first two snaps of the Blue White game, and then blitzed on 10 of the next 20 plays.  Nice, right?  Bringing heat on half of your first quarter snaps isn't typical spring game material.  But it worked - Coach Franklin's offense scored just 3 points out of its six possessions.

What struck me - beyond the blitz percentage - were the defensive fronts Shoop deployed.  And though he used a good bit of the 43 Over, as advertised, Shoop also frequently went with its sister, the 43 Under.  Actually, the split between Over and Under was nearly 50% in the first quarter.  With kickoff in Ireland still 94 tortuous days away, let's take a look at both the 43 Over and 43 Under.

Kill The Lights

The 43 Over

Let's start with the Over.  This is the front you know and love from watching Tom Bradley's defenses for 12 consecutive seasons.  In the Over, the nose tackle plays a 1-technique, shading the center's shoulder, to the weakside of the offense's formation.  The second defensive tackle plays a 3-technique, shading the strongside guard's outside shoulder.  The weakside defensive end will align in a 7-technique, shading the weakside tackle's outside shoulder.  The strongside defensive end is in a 9-technique, just outside the tight end's shoulder.

Below is all of that spaghetti in two pictures.  The top picture is Michigan at Penn State, circa 2010.  RichRod put a tight end on the left side, to the field, along with a tailback and two more wide receivers.   Penn State has true sophomore Jordan Hill filling in at weakside defensive end (top of the screen).  Ollie Ogbu is the 1-technique nose tackle.  Devon Still is your 3-technique DT to the strongside, with Pete Massaro as the wide 9-technique defensive end.  Our linebackers, from top to bottom (will, mike, sam), are Bani, Josh Hull, and Mike Mauti.


Everyone has a gap responsibility, as illustrated in the diagram below.  Of course, there are a ton of games a defensive coordinator can play that will change up the gap responsibilities we've drawn below (slants, twists, exchanges) - and, in fact, I probably should have swapped the DE/OLB responsibilities to both sides.  But whatever - the takeaway here is that the 43 Over is a "one-gap" front: each of the seven defenders is responsible for one gap.


Who uses the 43 Over?  In addition to Tom Bradley circa 2000 - 2011, the greater portion of 43 defenses you see today are the Over variety.  Sparty's Pat Narduzzi is an Over disciple.  The Jimmy Johnson/Dennis Erickson Hurricanes ran the Over front in the 1980's.

The Under

Below is the 1st team (Blue) defense's first snap from the recent spring game.  They're in the 43 Under front.  How can you tell?  It actually has nothing to do with the strongside linebacker, #26 Brandon Bell, standing up on the end of the line of scrimmage.  The quick-and-easy "tell" to recognizing an Under vs. Over front is the positioning of the nose tackle.  In the Over, the nose is on the weakside of the formation (and, of course, the 3-tech DT is opposite).  In the Under, he's on the strongside.  Your Blue d-linemen in the shot below, from top to bottom (weakside to strongside) are: 7-tech DE Olaniyan; 3-tech DT Zettel; 1-tech NT Johnson; and 7-tech DE Barnes.


And below is what that defense looks like on the whiteboard.  Once again, you'll notice that the 43 Under is also a 1-gap defense: each of the front seven defenders is responsible for a gap, pre-snap.


Who runs the 43 Under?  Monte Kiffen and Peter Carroll are famous for their Under defenses.

43 Over vs 43 Under

So what's the difference, other than the positioning of the two defensive tackles?  Not a ton, actually.  But there are a few key aspects that might make a coach tend to favor one over the other, depending upon the personnel he has at his disposal.

  • 3-tech DT: in the Over, your 3-tech can be doubled almost as easily as your 1-tech nose tackle.  They're close to interchangeable.  As a result, your 3-tech better be a stud, capable of anchoring as well as penetrating.  Conversely, in the Under, you're affording your 3-tech a good bit of protection against double teams.  This, in theory, would allow you to field a quick, explosive dude at this position - say, a converted defensive end who's trying to lift and eat his way to 275lbs, for example.  Obviously, your hope would be that he'll bring a bit more pass rush to your front while he's at it.  Over prototype: Jared Odrick.  Under prototype: Bruce Clark
  • 1-tech NT: in the Over, as mentioned, your 1-tech isn't vastly different than the 3-tech.  Sure, he'll face some doubles.  But he's on the weakside of the formation, too, and we're expecting him to provide some push in a pass rush.  It's not the same gig, at all, as being a 1-tech in the Under.  The 1-tech Under's alignment is just begging to get doubled all game long.  And, as a result, your Under 1-techs tend to be former wrestlers, and/or monstrous beer keg built dudes who plant themselves at the line of scrimmage and eat up blocks, but don't offer a ton in the pass rush department.  Over prototype: Jordan Hill.  Under prototype: Spice Adams.
  • Strongside DE: in the Over front, the strongside defensive end shades the outside shoulder of the tight end (assuming there is one - no safe bet these days), mostly clear of the trash pile that is the middle of a line of scrimmage.  Like the DTs, the DEs in the Over are more or less interchangeable.  But in the Under, the strongside DE is a no-choice 7-technique, on the outside shoulder of the tackle but inside of that tight end.  This sounds like a minor difference (and, admittedly, we're talking some fine point details here), but against good tackles, this can present a matchup problem.  The strongside DE in the Under can not, under any circumstances, suffering penalty of death, get hooked by the tackle.  This requires a bit more discipline, and a bit more lead in your ass than you might need as the strongside DE in the Over.  Over prototype: Tamba Hali.  Under prototype: Courtney Brown
  • Weakside DE: hooray, you're both 7-techs, on the outside shoulder of the tackle, away from the strength of the formation.  One thing to note about this position, though - Penn State has not flipped its defensive ends much in recent years.  Olaniyan has camped out on the right side for the last three years, and Barnes has manned the left side for two.  Before them, Jack Crawford could (almost) always be found at LDE, and Eric Lattimore at RDE.  Peter Carroll, though, gained some coaching fame by using a 240 - 250 lb stud at this weakside position, while running out a 270 lb hog at the other DE position, and flipping them based on formation.  He dubbed this weakside DE the "elephant", or "rhino", or some other safari-style animal, afforded him a bit of alignment flexibility (as a 7- or 9-tech, from 3- or 2-point stance), and turned him loose on the QB.    I don't think that's unique to the Under - you could, I propose, do the same thing from the Over.  But whatever - the general consensus is that the weakside DE is your best athlete of these 4, in terms of run fast, jump high, quickness off the snap, and bend around the edge.  Over prototype: Tamba.  Peter Carroll's dream for the Under: LaVar Arrington.
  • Linebackers: the SAM and WILL both get a bit more protection from offensive linemen in the Over front than they do in the Under.  The opposite is true for the MIKE; in the Over, he tends to be a heavier plugger, because he needs to shed guards, while in the Under, he can be a smaller, faster dude (relatively speaking, of course).  If I could pick one position to play, it'd be the SAM in the Under, because you're going to get a ton of chances to make tackles for loss.  Conversely, WILL in the Under would be my least favorite to play, because you're asked to do a crap ton of things that aren't necessarily complimentary: you're given little protection and need to be a plugger in the run game, but, depending upon the coverage, you might also have to track a slot receiver.  No thanks.
  • Random Things: because of the linebacker alignments, you'll tend to see more quarters coverage with the Over defense (particuarly from Sparty, where Narduzzi is a 43Over Quarters nazi), while you'll see more single high and 3-deep looks out of the Under front.  I write that in full knowledge that Scrap ran the Over with Cover 3, and Monte Kiffen's "Tampa 2" - and Under front - did, in fact, trot out 2-deep coverage from time to time.  Also, the Over is typically viewed as a more "balanced" scheme than the Under, and thus affords coaches more flexibility in designing zone blitzes.  The Under proponents, though, will argue that their front four, based on alignment and responsibilities, allow them a better pass rush (than the Over), which means they should have to blitz less.

Quick programming note on those "prototype" names: all of those guys can line up wherever they want.

Hit The Lights

For a guy who came advertised as a predominantly Over front dude, Bob Shoop didn't waste any time adapting to his personnel.  He'll be heading to Ireland with the lightest 3-tech and smallest MIKE LB in the Big Ten, and, based on the Blue-White scrimmage, he's chosen to run some Under front to maximize what those two do well, while minimizing what they (presumably) don't do as well.  You've gotta like that, right?

Next film room - let's talk the mysterious Quarters coverage, because (contrary to what I wrote about Over/Under tendencies above), I think we should prepare to see a healthy dose of it.