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GGN Chalkboard: The 4-6 Defense

This is the first part of running feature throughout the offseason and the season which will dive into play-calling, defensive schemes and/or formations. Our goal with these posts is to expand your football knowledge by delving into the X's and O's beyond madden play-calling or what the announcers can say in ten seconds. This week I will be breaking down the 4-6 bear defense.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

JB's NOTE: This is the start of a new series on GGN. Sp0rtsfan86 is going to take you inside certain concepts you hear the announcers talk about but you might not be familiar with. If the first article in the series is any indication, it's going to be the best innovation GGN has had since Flight Connections. With that, I turn things over to sp0rts.


For those who don't understand how defenses are named, usually they are named by the amount of lineman and linebackers. For example 4-3 is a 4 man line with 3 linebackers and 3-4 defense is 3 lineman and 4 linebackers. Almost all defenses follow this pattern including the 5-2, the 5-3, and 4-4 schemes. You might think a 4-6 defense has 6 linebackers from it's name, but in fact it doesn't have to do with the number of linebackers! Actually the 4-6 defense is different. A lot different than most defenses you see on TV.

The 4-6 defense was created by Buddy Ryan to stop the ground game in the 1980's as well as provide a pass rush that couldn't be stopped. Unlike the 4-3 and the 3-4, which get their names from the number of linemen and linebackers, the 4-6 got its name after a player, Doug Plank, who work number 46 for the Chicago Bears. It was an innovative defense that led to one of the most dominant defenses of all time, the 1985 Bears. By the late 1980's, though, it was being exploited by the the west coast offense.

So let's break it down.


Things to note:

There are 4 lineman, 3 "Fat Cats" or interior D lineman plus one "DE". There are 3 LB's, 2 CB and 2 safeties.

Notice this defense and how many men are near the line of scrimmage. There are 10 guys all within 5 yards of the line including 8 inside the box (near the line of scrimmage within a yard or two of the tackles.)

As you may guess, this is a predominately blitzing style of defense with emphasis on forcing the QB to make quick decisions. Also it is stout against the run, as there are 8 guys against 6 or 7 blockers.

Let's break into the advanced concepts and strategy seen when using the 4-6. Specifically, let's break down the personnel, the responsibilities and the style of play more in depth.

First off, this is a predominantly man-gap defense. What I mean by that is at the core of the defense against the run is each man is responsible for a gap:


To run this effectively you need a specific type of player for each position on the line:

The NT is a true grunter. He must be big enough to take on a center one on one or fend off a double team. Think Sione Pouha or Kris Jenkins in his prime. Usually they will apply a bull rush technique or can shoot either A gap depending on the exact play. Basically the job is to make life miserable right in front of the QB and take on multiple men if needed.

The DT's have the B gaps. They should be almost a hybrid between a true DT and a bigger DE. Probably the best comparison would be a 3-4 defensive end. Or think Mo Wilkerson. They have to be good enough to bring pressure should it be a pass but also be able to beat a lineman in a one on one situation.

The middle LB on the line is also needed to be athletic but bigger than a OLB in a 3-4 or a OLB in a 4-3. Generally a MLB in any defense style can handle this role as long as they can protect the C gap. This is probably the place where you don't have the hardest job finding a player in this scheme.

The DE and outside LB (highlighted in pink) are the hybrid guys who probably got the toughest task. Basically a 3-4 OLB but a little bigger or a really quick 4-3 DE is needed to play this position well. They have the toughest task. They have to maintain outside integrity and prioritize staying outside to prevent a sweep play. However, they must be able to also push the pocket also. The biggest thing is they cannot get beat outside or risk a big play if the SS is caught or in man coverage.

The two corners are basically man to man specialists. Without two good man-to-man CB's playing you are almost doomed from the start. They have to be on an island with the WR and shut them down. In the 1980's when the scheme was developed, these we're not as important, but with today's emphasis on the pass you must have two good corners. Look no further than the Jets with Revis and Cro.

The SS and other LB's are the second level of support. They are charged with covering the short routes as well as plugging any runs that get passed the lineman. Generally you want athletes in this role but with bigger size than a OLB. The Jets have these two guys in David Harris (if he can recover a lost step or two) and Landry. They are also used for blitzing out of this package and can play man to man against the FB or TE depending on the individual play call.

Lastly the FS. This guy lines up anywhere between 25-35 yards behind the line of scrimmage. A center fielder of the defense, nothing can get past him. An Ed Reed type is perfect for the role. Generally speaking, this guy should be fast, quick to the ball and can lay a big hit. The reason he stands so far back is to see everything in front of him and be able to always be moving forward. This person can be used in man-schemes but is predominately a centerfielder tasked with keeping everything in front of him and always moving forward.

If you wonder why the DE/OLB position is the toughest to play in the 4-6, there's a reason.

This is what happens if you get caught inside.

Eric Smith blew the outside responsibility and gave up the big score there because everyone else was blitzing or covering a WR. The photo below shows this.



Remember something in the Jets 4-6 package, often the person to the outside is Eric Smith. The most important guy here gets caught and ends up costing the Jets the game. This is why it's so important to have a guy there whose not a knucklehead at that position.

This formation used is a way of forming two levels of pass protection where the usual is 3. In a cover two base package, the corners take the short route on the edges. Their depth (or zone area) is 0-5 yards from the line of scrimmage. while the LB's are charged with the intermediate routes around 5-10 yards. The safeties are taxed with any route deeper than 10 yards. This defense only has two by design.


From the crudely drawn boxes you can see all 10 players close to the line with the safety. They will almost be within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage (besides the corners play off coverage). The only guy whose deep is the FS who plays very deep. From this formation, it's almost impossible to play a traditional cover 2. Mostly this defense relies on man to man coverage, with the FS taking the deep zone. This is known as a cover 1 scheme, which is the bread and butter of the scheme. The Jets usually though play the deep man closer in man coverage against the slot guy.

From the game against Denver, you can see how many men are stacked close, and the one centerfielder. However, the Jets like to run an all man scheme.


via CBSsports

(Side note Eric Smith really sucks. The end.)

Once again pictured here is the deep man playing a little shorter due to man coverage, but still the same concept as I stated. Most of everyone plays well within a few yards of the line of scrimmage and the one guy can still play the cover one from this position while the LB can play man or a short zone.



The biggest strength is the ability to get after the QB with anyone. The blitz packages from this formation could easily take another post or two alone. However, if you look at how many guys are within the box, you can see that just about anyone can come at any time in any combination. That's what makes this defense so hard to play against. You never quite know which man is coming and which one is going to lay back or pick up a man. This is undoubtable the strength of the defense. You cannot know exactly which combination of players is coming or dropping back until they snap the ball.

The biggest weakness is of course the man coverage, which can be exploited the best way by spreading your formation out. Bill Walsh's 49er's were the first team to be able to beat it, using a short quick passing game that allowed the QB to throw the ball before the rush got to him. The West Coast offense was around before the 4-6, but as the Walsh coaching tree began to spread, the 4-6 went out of style because of the quick passing game. The spread offense in college and pros also hurts the chances of the 4-6 being effective by once again spreading out the defense, and requiring good man to man techniques while also limiting the amount of possible blitz packages.

Brief summation of notables:

Who came up with it: Buddy Ryan is said to be the innovator of the 4-6 defense

Strengths: Brings tons of pressure to the QB, lots of potential blitz packages, solid against the run.

Weaknesses: Reliance on man defenses, reliance on man-gaps. Need the right kind of players to run effectively.

Coaches who use it: Rex uses it extensively. However variations on it can be seen in NE and some other teams who bring the safety up as an extra linebacker.

Uses: to bring pressure or to stop the run

Beaten by: spread offenses or quick passes. Also backside running plays can cause issues.

Useless trivia to impress your date with: The 4-6 defense was named after a player's number and not the amount of lineman contrary to what most defenses are known by. That player was Doug Plank who was the SS.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the 4-6 defense. The next post will be about the single wing offense. It goes by a different name now, but still is based on the concept developed in the early days of pro football