4-3 vs. 4-2: A Defensive Comparison

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Bud Foster has been able to adapt his defenses throughout the years. (Photo by Jon Fleming)

Coach Bud Foster runs a 4-2 scheme, which means in his base defense there are four linemen and two linebackers defending the box. But sometimes VT lines up in a 4-4—four linemen and four linebackers in the box—which happened to be the base defense not too long ago. And these days, you’ll see 3-3 and 3-2 looks pretty often, too. And that’s just talking about alignments. What does a 4-2 front mean if there’s a whip on the field who’s more of a linebacker than a safety? Or that 4-4 if it’s a rover walked down? If you’ve read my series on the origins of today’s Hokie defense you’ll know Tech’s scheme evolved from an attacking 4-4 defense created by Don James and his staff at the University of Washington. How does a defense change structures without changing schemes?

In a similar vein, the 4-3 defense (particularly the 4-3 Over) is what a lot of people think of when they think of defensive schemes. Tom Landry was the guy behind the alignment, but the ins and outs of the scheme* have changed a bit since he was DC with the New York Giants back in the 50s. In today’s game, what does “4-3 defense” mean when most 4-3 front teams are basing out of a defense that subs a nickelback in for one of