What is a 5-4 Defense in Football?
In football, a 5-4 defense is a type of alignment in which there are five down linemen, four linebackers behind them and two cornerbacks positioned towards each sideline. Although rarely used, the 5-4 can be incredibly effective at stopping the offense in certain situations.
Positional Alignments Responsibilities
There are five defensive linemen (3 defensive tackles, 2 defensive ends) aligned directly across from each of the five offensive linemen. These players are often referred to as "down" lineman because they are positioned in a forward-leaning squat with one hand on the ground. While the main goal of the defensive linemen is to get past the blockers and tackle the quarterback or running back, they have successfully fulfilled their duties if they manage to occupy the offensive linemen long enough for another member of the defense to make a play on the ball carrier.
The second layer of the 5-4 defense is the four linebackers (two middle linebackers, two outside linebackers) positioned behind the down linemen. The middle linebackers are responsible for stopping running and passing plays over the middle of the field, while the outside linebackers are responsible for stuffing outside runs and short passes towards the outer portion of the field.
The remaining two players are the cornerbacks, positioned across from the two wide receivers. In a 5-4 defense, the cornerbacks take on additional responsible, as there are no safeties to provide help if either of the receivers break free.
When is a 5-4 Defense Used?
Since the 5-4 defense removes the two safeties that are present in a more traditional defensive formation, it is best utilized when a running play is anticipated. The additional linebacker and defensive lineman helps to overwhelm blockers and get to the ball carrier quickly. This is particularly useful for goal-line situations, in which the offense needs only a few yards to score a touchdown and often elects to hand the ball off to the running back.