ZAN January 11, 2012 0

Forward Progress #6 – 4-3 “Over” vs. “Under” Fronts
(and why the 4-3 Under is my favorite formation in football)

Hey all, and welcome back.

I wanted to get back to my favorite side of the football; the defense. Madden 12 is definitely an “offensive” game; at times, it seems like everything gets open, and the run seems more difficult to stop than ever. When I see people playing certain fronts vs. run heavy formations, it makes me wonder what exactly is their rhyme and reason for calling said play. So this week, we are going to get back to the defensive side of the ball and explain the difference between an “Over” front and an “Under” front. For the sake of Madden, I’m going to focus on the 4-3 Over and Under defensive fronts.

The primary difference in the two fronts lies in the number of weak spots in the defense; these are commonly referred to as “bubbles”. The bubbles are created by the “Over-sliding” and “Under-sliding” of your front 4. The Over front has 3 bubbles vs. the run, and the Under has 2 bubbles. The diagram below illustrates this:

The diagram above is a more accurate representation of an Over front that you’d see on Sundays. Madden 12’s representation of the 4-3 Over is below. The difference lies in the placement of the weak side (Will) linebacker. Notice the defensive line is shifted to the strong side of the offensive formation, with left defensive end (“9”) in his 9-technique.

In 4-3 Over sets, it’s easy to see the “bubbles” in the defense vs. the run game. The Sam linebacker (“S”) is responsible for the strong-side C-gap bubble, the Mike (“M”) backer is responsible for the strong-side A-gap bubble, and the Will (“W”) backer actually has a lot of responsibility to cover his weak-side B-gap bubble (in the first diagram), but in the Madden set, is lined up in a 7-technique, playing outside of the right defensive end. Versus run oriented offensive sets (In competitive Madden, “Strong Close” is a commonly used running set.), an Over front will tend to struggle. The Madden representation of the 4-3 Over, in my opinion, is Over-dramatized in the LB corps; that set will struggle so much vs. the run game, that no one should ever pass the ball when facing this set (in the video game).

Look below at the 4-3 Under …

Shown in the diagram above is your real-life representation of the 4-3 Under front, and you’ll notice that EA did an excellent job representing the set in the diagram below. Notice the defensive line is shifted to the weak side of the offensive formation, and the Sam (“S”) linebacker slides to play in the 9-technique that the left defensive end played in the Over front; this prevents the tight end from getting an edge-sealing block on the second level. IMPORTANT: You will ALWAYS want your Sam linebacker covering the tight end. This particular defense looks like a 5-2 front of sorts.

In the 4-3 Under set, it’s also very easy to see the “bubbles” in the defense vs. the run game; there are only 2 in this set. The Mike (“M”) linebacker is responsible for the strong-side B-gap bubble, and the Will (“W”) backer is responsible for the weak-side A-gap bubble. This is evident in both 4-3 Under diagrams above.

The 4-3 Under is my favorite defense in football. Coincidentally, the resurgence of the 4-3 defense allows me to utilize this front against pro personnel packages in Madden/NCAA. Obviously, it’s better to have less “bubbles” in your defense when lining up against typical pro personnel packages in the NFL/College game. The Under front presents less points of attack for your typical 2-back sets, while the Over gives one more point of attack to the offense. Take a quick look at the video below to watch how the University of Michigan played the pass against pro personnel packages while being loaded up against the run from a pre-snap standpoint. Also take a look at the still photograph below of USC’s 4-3 Under alignment vs. Ohio State when they visited the Coliseum back in 2009.

As shown in the picture above, pre-snap, this is your traditional 4-3 Under Cover 1 look vs. OSU’s Singleback Twin TE. The Sam linebacker (#10) is playing a 9 technique on the strong side to prevent the tight end/extra tackle from sealing the edge, while the Mike (#58) plays his respective strong-side B-gap bubble. The Will (#43) is playing the weak-side A-gap bubble. The Free safety (#4) has walked down for extra run support on the weak side; which gives us the 1-high safety, Taylor Mays (#2).

As shown in the video above, pre-snap, this is your traditional 4-3 Under Cover 2 look vs. OSU’s I-Form Pro. You see two high safeties, and the Sam linebacker is down on the line of scrimmage in a 9-technique (again, preventing the TE from getting an edge-sealing block). Post-snap, Michigan reads pass, the linebackers drop into their hook zones, the safeties roll to the weak side two-thirds of the field, the strong-side corner plays a deep third, the Sam linebacker drops into a buzz zone, and Terrell Pryor has trouble putting enough touch on the ball to complete the pass. Excellent playcall by the Wolverines.

Now, let me stress this… the 4-3 Under is NOT the best against a 1 back set, which typically signals spread personnel. When you see a slot WR, you are left with the choice of shifting your weak side linebacker to cover the slot, or walking down the safety on the slot side and leaving the Will linebacker in the box. I advise bringing down the safety and trying to generate a decent pass rush, while maintaining the 2 “bubbles” before breaking the integrity of the Under front.

I hope this breakdown helps you to not just randomly choose defensive formations and hope they work. -We’ve all been there before!

If you have any questions feel free to drop a line in the comment box, or contact me at any of the places listed below.

Thanks, and until next week …

Zac Neal (ZAN)
AIM: ZAN71789
Twitter: @PeytonZANning

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