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The MODERN 46!

New MODERN 46 Video Series Coming Soon!

The 46 Defense was derived from the old Double Eagle Defense of the 1940’s and early-to mid 1950’s.  As Paul Brown innovated the passing game, the evolution of defense moved to a 6-1 alignment by Steve Owens, to the 4-3 Flex by Tom Landry, to the Miami 4-3.  Buddy Ryan took the old Double Eagle, and introduced the 46, a version of the Double Eagle, that took its one-on-one principles, and added an extra player to the box, to help stop the run, and put the “pressure” on the offense.  The innovation of the “Strong” Safety now lining up to the weak side allowed for the defense to be more flexible, and adjust to different formations.  The “weak” LB now aligned to the strong side, inside the Tight End with the Sam Backer aligning outside the Tight End.  While this was a great alignment to stop the run and pressure the QB, it was tough to keep all the coverage rules in tact as now the Will and SS were in un-natural spots on the field in reference to strong and weak sides, and had to learn more. 

One of the great things about Buddy’s 46 is that he found a way to implement it into his base 4-3 Defense, and keep things simple.  A few years later, the 46 Alignment changed by keeping the SS to the TE side, putting him in the 9-tech, moving the Sam Backer to the 7-Tech, and keeping the Will backer to the weak side in the 40-tech.  This allowed the defense to keep all of the coverages in tact, without changing a lot of rules for the players.   The rules and reads stayed the same from front to front, and it was easy to jump into the 46 from the normal “Over” alignment. 

The integrity and overall view of the defense did not change.  One-on-one match ups in pass rush, pressure defense, and making offenses adjust schemes to block the 46 front were still the main principles. 

Too many defensive coaches these days move into a front where they cover both guards and center, and say “we are in the 46”, but they are not.  They usually get to this front by moving a LB up over the center, or bring both OLB’s to outside rushers.  They have hand-cuffed themselves by putting normal cover guys into un-natural positions, and either drastically reduced what they can do in the back end, or have to do more coaching and teaching to keep the integrity of the defense. 

This is another reason Buddy was an innovator.  He found a way to keep things simple from a coaching and teaching standpoint, but could be very multiple in his fronts and stunts to confuse offenses. 

The times, they are a changing.

With the innovations on Offense, not to mention every rule that is passed helps offensive players, there is a need for defenses to catch-up to the ever-evolving world of the spread offense.  Offenses are going no-huddle, hurry-up, and trying to keep the opposing team in a base defense, with base personnel. 

As any good Coordinator will tell you, getting lined up correctly is half the battle.  When the offenses were huddling, you could find the TE, or Strong Guard, or 2 WR side, and make a front call to the offenses strong side, and get lined up.  Most defenses were based on strong and weak sides of the offensive formations.  As the no-huddle has become more and more popular, Field and Boundary based defenses are becoming the norm, allowing the defense to make a pre-determined strength call, and get lined up quicker, to be ready at the snap. 

There has also been a fundamental change in personnel.  No longer is the game played from Tackle to Tackle.  A “basketball on grass” mentality is taking over, and the defense has to cover from sideline to sideline.   Offenses are putting more athletes on the field, and the defense has to adapt and match-up. 

Everything Old, is New again!

Lets go back to the beginning: the Double Eagle look of Earle “Greasy” Neale.  While the 7-man box and umbrella look in the back end was morphed into Buddy’s 46, 8-man front run-stopping, pressure defense, we may be ready to go back in time.  With offenses taking a player out of the run game and putting him into passing concepts, the defense has to adjust, so we need to take a run-defender out of the box to help in pass, yet still maintain the principles of the 46 to play great defense.  We do this with our Hawk (Jayhawk) and Cub (Ace) fronts. 

We also are going to change our thought process on Defensive Personnel.  We must start putting more athletes on the field who are versatile as far as run-stoppers, and cover-guys.  We now want to match-up personnel wise with the offenses, and move to a 3-down, 2-LB, 6-DB personnel group.    

The D-Line can be defined as a Defensive End, a 3-Tech and a Nose. When we move into our 46 Concepts, the DE can be the Field 3-Tech, and the normal Tackle can be the Away 3-Tech.  The Linebacker system will be defined as a Mike Backer, who is a basic 4-3 Mike LB type player, and a Jack Backer, who will be primarily used as an edge rusher, but can be used in coverage on occasion, and needs to be heavy enough to defend run game vs. an Offensive Tackle.

In the back end, we will have two CB’s, a Free Safety, and three “invert” type players.  The Strong Safety, and the Will Safety will need to be able to force the run, and cover man-to-man when called upon.   The Sam Safety needs to be a bigger Safety type, that can drop down in the box, and play a #3 WR man-to-man.  We can also Nickel package a CB for the Will Backer.

Hurry Up!

One of the biggest factors in playing sound defense is getting lined up correctly.  The Offenses have gone to no-huddle hurry up, not only to get more snaps, but also to try and catch the defense off-balance, and confused.  The best way for the defense to combat this is to have a pre-determined strength call, and get to their spots as quick as possible.  Buddy’s defenses in the past relied on strength calls to get the defense lined up.  As the defense needs to change with the times, we are now using “field” calls to help the defenders get into position faster. 

Field Hawk:

Field Hawk tells the defense we will call the strength to the field, and be in our “Hawk” front, which means the SS will drop off, and the Sam will now become the 9-Tech to a TE, or the 5-Tech to a no-TE set.   The Jack becomes the rush end on the boundary side.  The Mike will be in the 40-Tech to the field, and the Will now aligns in the 40-Tech to the boundary.  With the pre-determined 3-0-3 down linemen, getting lined up should not be a problem. 

In most 2 x 2 sets, we will play “Exchange”, which is a 1-High Safety look, playing “exchange” concept on the boundary side with the Will and CB underneath, and the F$over the top ½.   To the field we will play “Swipe”, with the Mike and Strong underneath, and the CB over the top ½. Sam and Jack now play a “Jesse” technique on the RB, being responsible for the back if he releases to their side.  This is a Blitz concept, as it will give the illusion of rushing 5.  In the case of 3 x 1, the secondary will roll to a “Load” concept.  Instead of the normal 3Z, where there are 7 droppers, we will now just drop 6, with the Jack and Sam “Spying” the back.  Instead of calling 3Z, we make a “Tracy” call, which tells the Strong Safety to now drop inside of #2.

The Jack and Sam will have responsibility of pulling the OT’s to them in pass protection.  If the back is aligned to their side, they will take 3 hard steps, then determine what the back is doing.  If he stays in to block, they will continue their rush.  If he releases, they will go hug him.   The key is to get the one-on-one pass protection on the 3 inside guys, trying to get the QB.

The Defense can also disguise pass coverage concepts.  The one-high look to 2 x 2 can also be played as straight man, with the F$dropping to #2 weak, freeing up the Mike and Will to become pass rushers, and take advantage of one-on-one match-ups in pass protection.  This is also a great front to run vs. the Zone Read teams, as the stack backer can sit for cut-back on flow away.  The dual 3-techs will cause a problem for zone blocking schemes, and the outside rushers should cause the QB to give.  With 7 defenders in the box, and only 5 blockers, this play should become invalid. 

Field Hawk vs. 2 x 2



Field HAWK vs 3 x 1 (Tracy Check)
Field CUB:

Field Ace is similar to Field Hawk, except the Will (nickel) will now walk-out over #2 weak, the Mike, the only LB in the box, will have the RB, and the SS now lines up over #2 strong.  This is a great time to substitute a Nickel CB for the Will.  The Free Safety is now in a 1-High look.  This gives the illusion of Single Coverage. 

This is a great alignment, as it allows for so many possibilities from the Defense.  If you play Single Coverage, you get a 5-man rush, again with the one-on-one match-ups up front.  You can also “Jesse” the back again with the Jack and Sam, and allow the Mike to be a Low-Hole dropper in Single Coverage.  The Spying also allows you to play man-free, and bring the Mike on a blitz.  Vs. a 3 x 1 set, the Nickel Back will now go over and play over #3 strong. 

If you do not want to play man coverage, the rotation coverages come into play.  You can rotate the F$strong, “Red” coverage, and swipe the backside, or you can rotate the F$weak “Yellow”, and swipe the strong side.  There are many things that can be done from this look, and putting the pressure back on the offense is what we are trying to do. 

The Modern 46 still allows for the Defense to play the way the Defense was designed by Buddy Ryan.  Stop the Run, and Hit the QB!  The modern personnel seems to match-up better with Offensive Personnel, and the Field Calls allow the Defense to get lined up correctly, and get the proper calls to be ready for the Hurry Up Offenses.

Field CUB vs 2 x 2


Field CUB vs 3 x1 (Nickel)

The Penetrating 46!

This attack package to 1-Back sets allows the Defensive Coordinator certain advantages, as outlined in Coach Ryans book. 

  • Outnumber the tackle-to-tackle blocking schemes at the point of attack.
  • Pressure the QB relentlessly on every pass play.
  • Force major adjustments in run and pass-blocking schemes.
  • Blitz at will without substitutional changes.
  • Cover all possible pass patterns while continuing to pressure the QB.
  • Free the second level to run to the football.

While the 46 front concept, and the Hawk and Cub concept are great against the run as they force changes to normal blocking schemes, they also cause problems for pass-protection.  There are really only 2 ways to pass block vs. a 46 front concept.  The offense is either going to have to go “Big on Big” man protection, or some sort of full-slide protection, using the back to one side. 

This concept allows the Defensive Coordinator to put pass-rushers in a position to be successful in one-on-one pass situations.  Even when the Defense is playing coverage, they are going to be able to get one-on-one situations.  No other Defensive alignment can do that.

Jesse Coverage:

The Spy Coverage Concept allows the defense a variety of advantages to a one back formation.  Different than a Zone Blitz where the Defense is dropping six and playing a zone concept, Spy Concept allows the Defense to play 2-Man, and still bring 5 Pass Rushers.  The defense will spy the back with its two outside rushers (Jack and Sam).  The advantages spy coverage give you are two fold.  One: the defense can get a two for one advantage on the offense by having an Offensive Tackle turn out to block the outside rusher, with the outside rusher being responsible for the back in coverage.  Two: it allows the defense to keep seven defenders in the box vs. a one back set, if the defense needs to defend the run, or bluff a blitz. 

The basic Spy Coverage would be using the Sam and Jack (weak side rush backer) to spy the back (Jesse).  The coverage run vs. a 2 x 2 set would be White, Exchange or Yellow.  Weak side, the F$, Will and CB would have a 3-2 Mix over the two offensive WR’s.  Again, you could play Swipe (White), Exchange, or lock the 2 WR’s, with the F$over the top ½ (Yellow).  Strong side, the defense has a 3-2 Mix with the Strong Safety, Mike and CB taking the 2 WR’s.  Again, the defense can play Swipe or Exchange. 

Spy Coverage vs. a 3 x 1 set will tell the defense to check 3Z.  The Free Safety will make a “Tracy” call, telling the SS to now move inside of #2, instead of on top or outside of #2.  The Mike would work off #3, and the Will would thumbs drop to #1 weak.  The Jack and Sam would still be responsible for the back.  The Free Safety and Corners would have the same responsibilities as normal 3Z.

The best drill for working Swipe and Exchange is simple.  Do it!  All you need is your three defenders, and two WR’s.  Go through the route concepts you believe you are going to see that week, and work them.  Have a coach stand behind the DB’s, and signal to the WR’s what routes he wants them to run.  The coach says “Set- Go”, and the WR’s run their routes.  The DB’s work to their spots, making sure to get into proper position, and make sure they match-up correctly to each receiver.  No ball needs to be thrown, only work the drill to where the underneath defenders are in good position, and the deep defender is over the top, in good position. 

During 7 on 7 time, be sure to throw in some speed-option by the offense, to make sure that the underneath run-stop defenders are getting their reads.  The underneath droppers need to understand they can be late to coverage, as that puts them in great underneath trail position. 

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