MQ’s 3rd Down Calls from a 3-4

Stop calls for 3rd down from a 3-4. Don’t just “drop 8.”

There are two main trains of thought on 3rd Down when defending from a 3-4: 1) drop eight, sit back, play it conservative and tackle the ball in front of the sticks; or 2) blitz the QB, put pressure on him right now and force a quick errant throw. Either philosophy can work, but it is important to know what the offense is trying to do.

Obviously, the opponent breakdown is a huge key to how a team attacks 3rd Down. When a defense gets a team into passing situations it can attack by blitzing or attack the passing concepts an offense uses. 3rd Down is when most offensive coordinators get conservative and predictable. They want to move the chains, that is obvious, so instead of attacking a defense, they get conservative and just, “Try and get a first down.” Tempo is also seen less frequently which gives the defense time to adjust.

On obvious passing downs, it is important to have a plan. What is the offense trying to do in 3rd and Medium situations? Is the offense an “all stops” team, a “clear out/HBO” team, or do they run a “levels” scheme and sprint out? The big question on 3rd and Medium is if the offense is attacking down the field, or attacking the “sticks.” Many times in 3rd and Medium situations, the offense is trying to attack the marker by running quick hitting routes that can turn into first downs.

The question that needs to be answered for 3rd and Long is, do they attack vertically, throw screens, or use the draw? Once a defensive coordinator has an idea of what an offense likes, he can attack the tendency. Every defensive coach knows, win 1st Down consistently and win the game, but a defense needs to have a plan for 3rd.

Three 3rd Down Stop Calls

Question 1: The team I’m playing runs a heavy percentage of plays near the “sticks” on 3rd and Medium, especially to the boundary (short throw). Is there a way I can be aggressive to the boundary without blitzing?

Answer – The weak roll is nothing new. In fact, it is referred to as “Trap-2” (and can be coupled with a zone blitz). Many teams like to attack the boundary in 3rd and Medium situations because it is a short easy throw for the QB, and the receivers can run their routes directly at the sticks.

A way to combat this is to “go hard” to the boundary, or press the short throw. Even if a team flips the back and sprints out to the boundary (creating an even shorter field – advantage defense), the Will can insert himself in the containment and the Mike can overtake him in the pass distribution. The boundary CB presses the #1 receiver and plays just like he would in a “hard” Cover 2 scheme (eyes on #2, waiting for the out route). The Jack can hang in the curl and fold into the run fit if needed. A defense can also choose to insert the Will or Jack to add extra pressure and give the illusion of open space.

The Cover 2 scheme to the boundary allows the Jack to hang and be patient. This is a good coverage even though it is a “drop 8,” because most teams on 3rd and Medium are not going to throw vertical, they are going to try and get the first. The weak roll also protects the defense form Sprint Draws to the boundary (or runs in general because the CB can cut in and insert himself).


Question 2: I’m having trouble covering the RPO to the #3 receiver. Is there any way I can get the best of both worlds, blitz the run and cover down my Mike?

Answer – In a prior article I highlighted how you can use interior line movement to gain a cover down for the Mike. The Spot Draw (Snag) and its variations are difficult to handle because it puts the Mike in a run/pass conflict. In order to alleviate that conflict, and gain an extra defender to the three-receiver side, all a DC has to do is change the front.

The “Jaws” blitz is a great example of a five-man pressure that allows the DC to be aggressive while covering all his bases to the three-receiver side. The blitz is also a quick hitting blitz that allows the gaps to be plugged instantly with little line movement. The DS to the boundary fills the open “B” gap and cuts underneath #1 if pass. By not blitzing the safety, the DC can gain help against the backside choice RPO. Like the question states, it is giving the offense some quick hitting pressure without selling out and leaving the defense open to the pass.


Question 3: It’s 3rd and long. What is a great, quick-hitting (no criss-crossing linemen) blitz from a two-high look?

Answer – The blitz diagramed below is designed to overwhelm the offense. Like my offensive line coach told me a couple weeks ago when talking about max blitzes, “It’s not fair sending two guys in one gap.” The blitz plays on two principles, line movement, and gap blitzing. The line movement creates open gaps that are filled by gap blitzing linebackers. The DS has a delayed blitz behind the Jack. If the back is to the Jack and DS, then the Jack will hit the outside shoulder, and the DS the inside. This is a quick-hitting blitz, meaning that everyone should be downhill and not blitzing from depth. Behind the blitz is man coverage. The technique used is a loose “catch technique“. This means no one is pressing to give the offense a quick fade. It also holds the two-high shell as long as it can giving the illusion of a “bluff.” I have never been a proponent for blitzing from depth. At the end of the day, if the offense knows it is coming it allows me to bluff later on, maybe even getting the offense to check out of a play. The edge player to the back is responsible for any flare and will peel off.



© 2016, 2018 | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy. MQ’s books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

As always, support the site by following me on Twitter (@The_Coach_A) and spreading the word to your coaching friends by liking and retweeting the articles you read (even sharing them via Facebook and LinkedIn).

Do not hesitate to contact me with questions through the site’s CONTACT page or through my DM on Twitter. I enjoy speaking with you guys (iron sharpens iron).

– Coach A. | #ArtofX

Author: MatchQuarters


5 thoughts on “MQ’s 3rd Down Calls from a 3-4”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: