What is the difference between a 4-3 defense and 3-4 defense in football?
Before we dive in and explain the difference, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the following football terms and concepts:
- Line of scrimmage
- Defensive Backfield
- Defensive Line
- Defensive Linemen
- 4-3 Defense
- 3-4 Defense
In a 4-3 defense, there are four linemen and three linebackers.
In a 3-4 defense, there are three linemen and four linebackers.
The difference between a 4-3 defense and a 3-4 defense is based on the number of defensive linemen and linebackers positioned on the field. The first number always refers to the number of defensive linemen positioned on the line of scrimmage. The second number refers to the number of linebackers, usually positioned in the defensive backfield.
In theory, the 3-4 is more flexible for defending the pass and plays on the edge. This is because it's easier to drop a linebacker into coverage than a defensive end. However, the 4-3 is generally better at stopping common inside run plays because there are more defensive linemen in the game at once.
A defensive coordinator will likely build their strategy, though, around their personnel and opposing schemes. If there are defensive players on the roster whose best attributes will be accentuated by using a 4-3 or 3-4, the coordinator will be more inclined to run either scheme.
Additionally, if a team often faces a specific offensive scheme, such as the spread option in college football, they may employ a defensive strategy specifically designed to stop that scheme, such as the Stack or 404.