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Summer School 2020: Glossary of defensive football terms

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Your guide to defensive terminology

NFL: NOV 25 Patriots at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The marvelous game of football is always evolving. The foundational ideals that paved the path for modern football are cemented in the past, yet are contemporary with the growth of the latest schematics that either become a trend or fall by the wayside. Every Sunday, fans hear announcers like Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, or Cris Collinsworth narrate offensive and defensive plays; sometimes they mention terms that are unknown to some fans, and we at Big Blue View pride ourselves on trying to edify the best sports fanbase in the world. As part of our annual Summer School series, we have put together a glossary of terms to help fans understand the art of football. This addition will be defensive terminology, I hope you enjoy it!

Above are the gaps with the yellow numbers representing the “Techniques” a defensive lineman would line up in. If a defender lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard, then he’s in the 3-Technique position.

Even Front - A front where the defense lines up with an even amount of players on the line of scrimmage.

Odd Front - A front where the defense lines up with an odd amount of players on the line of scrimmage.

Over Front - any defensive alignment where the strong side defensive tackle is in a 3-Technique position, which would theoretically mean the 1-Technique is to the weak side of the formation. (The strength of an offensive formation is dictated by the presence of a tight end)

Under Front - any defensive alignment where the weak side defensive tackle is in a 3-Technique position, which would theoretically mean the 1-Technique is to the strong side of the formation.

NASCAR Front - A defensive front comprised of speed rushers like defensive ends and linebackers. Steve Spagnuolo used this often in pass situations with Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and the rest of the talented rushers from that era.

Eagle Front - A 3-down defensive front where the defensive linemen are all inside the tackles (a 0-Technique and 2 4i-Techniques). This is a hard front to run up the middle against.

Bear Front - A bear front is a common goal line play; it’s also a tighter version of the Eagle front. Bear’s aren’t limited to a goal line formation. There’s 3-3-5 Bear, too. What constitutes a Bear Front is a 0-Technique and two 3-Techniques.

Okie Front - A 3-down defensive front with a nose technique (Also known as a 0-Technique, lined up directly on the center) and 2 5-Technique ends. (lined up on the outside shoulder of the tackles).

Stack Front - A 3-down defensive box where the linebackers are directly behind the down lineman. This makes it hard for blockers to locate them at the second level, and it causes an unknown for the offensive lineman, who now don’t know the actual gap intentions of the defense.

Pro Front - An Over Front where the middle linebacker is lined up directly over the center. There’s seven defenders in the box and this makes it hard on offensive linemen trying to block the MIKE. It’s not overly common.

46 Defense - A Buddy Ryan creation ... eight men in the box with six men on the line of scrimmage. It was named after the jersey number of Doug Plank, who was the strong safety for the Bears.

Nickel Defense - A defensive sub-package where a linebacker is replaced by a defensive back. It is now more common in the NFL than the typical 3-4/4-3 Base defenses (five defensive back, hence nickel).

Dime Defense - A defensive sub-package where two linebackers are replaced by two defensive backs (six defensive backs).

Quarter Defense - A defensive sub-package with seven defensive backs.

Dollar Defense - All the linebackers are substituted for defensive backs (eight defensive backs).

Tackle Box - A part of the field from the line of scrimmage to 7 yards into the defense, just outside of the tackles.

Front 7 - Typically referred to as the defensive line and the linebackers.

Zone Coverage - A defense where the coverage players are assigned an area rather than a man.

Man Coverage - A defense where the coverage players are assigned a man rather than a zone.

Wide 9 - A defensive player who is lined up as a 9-T that is wide off the tackle. These players are typically speed rushers.

Elephant End - A defender on the line of scrimmage who is tasked with disrupting the release of a Y-Tight end (The Y-Tight end is the traditional, on the line of scrimmage, tight end).

MIKE - The middle linebacker who is typically the play caller of the defense.

WILL - The weak side linebacker who is typically faster than the other linebackers.

SAM - The strong side linebacker.

JACK - A versatile outside linebacker.

MONEY - A hybrid second-level defender who is more linebacker than safety.

STAR - A hybrid second-level defender that is more of a safety than a linebacker.

2-Point Stance - A stance where the defender has two points of contact with the ground (Standing up).

3-Point Stance - A stance where the defender has three points of contact with the ground.

4-Point Stance - A stance where the defender has four points of contact with the ground.

Radar Defense - Used when all 11 defenders are standing before the snap; it’s a way to hide their intentions and Patrick Graham used iterations of this often in Miami.

Fitting Gaps - When defenders execute their assignments and fill their respective gaps (May also hear it referred to as run fits).

Box Technique - When the defender reacts in a way to force a ball carrier inside towards his teammates.

Spill Technique - When the defender reacts in a way to force a ball carrier outside towards space or a secondary force defender.

Hammer Technique - When a defender attacks the lead blocker with his inside shoulder, in an effort to “Box” or “Spill” the ball carrier in one direction.

Force Defender - A defensive player whose job is to force a ball carrier back inside and not allow anyone outside of him (Also known as a contain defender).

Alley Defender - The unblocked defender who fits the run between the spill defenders and the force defender (Think 2019 Jabrill Peppers).

Setting The Edge - A term used for Force Defenders; it’s a way for a defensive player to not allow anything outside of him by staying strong at the point of attack and not getting bullied off the line of scrimmage.

Backside Pursuit - When a defender chases a ball carrier from the backside of the play.

2-Gapping Player - A player who is in charge of two gaps; typically a strong stout defensive lineman who can hold blockers at the point of attack. (Think Justin Smith of the 49ers)

Cover 0 - A heavy blitz with no help over the top and man coverage across the board. High-risk, high-reward type of play.

Cover 1 - One single-high safety playing center field with man coverage across the board. There are plenty of variations of cover 1.

2 Man Under - Two-high safety look with man coverage underneath (Also known as Cover 2 Man)

Cover 2 - Two-high safety look with five defenders in zone underneath. There are many variations of Cover 2.

Cover 3 - Three-high look with four defenders in zone underneath. There are many variations of Cover 3.

Cover 4 - Also known as quarters coverage; Four high look with three defenders underneath. There are many variations of Cover 4.

Cover 6 - Essentially half Cover 2 and half Cover 4 (Also known as Quarter, Quarter, Half Coverage).

Cover 7 - Man-to-man match, where the safeties are put into positions to trap inside breaking routes. Cover 7 features a lot of different calls against varying offensive looks.

Roll Coverage - When a safety alters his coverage from pre- to post-snap, in an effort to confuse the quarterback. (Coverage is typically rolled by safeties).

Cloud Coverage - When safeties roll in a specific direction to team up with an underneath coverage defender to eliminate a dangerous wide receiver.

Tampa 2 - Cover 2 with the middle linebacker dropping to a deeper depth. Made famous by Monte Kiffen and Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay.

Honey Hole - A soft spot in a Cover 2 defense between the cornerback and the safety.

Robber - A player, typically a safety, who sits near the hash mark, eliminating inside breaking routes from the backside receiver or the No. 2 receiver (the second receiver from the boundary). The job of the robber is to be inconspicuous and hope that the QB throws a gimme on a post or dig.

Spy - A defensive technique used to follow mobile quarterbacks to prevent them from running.

Wall Technique - A technique used by underneath defenders to assist the deep coverage; a linebacker taking the inside away and forcing a receiver to go in a specific direction deep; a direction that would require the quarterback to put more touch on a pass, which would give more time to a safety over top.

Overhang - Typically force players who are out of the box (Usually a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, an OLB, or a nickel corner).

Stack and Shed - A defender’s ability to engage a blocker, with low leverage, and quickly shed the blocking attempt to become free.

Speed Rush - A pass rush technique where a defender attempts to use his quickness/explosiveness to beat the tackle to his set-point. This rush is maximized from a wider angle on the line of scrimmage.

Bull Rush - A pressure move that defenders use to get underneath a blocker and back him up into the pocket with lower leg drive and overall strength. It’s about gaining control, pushing the OLinemen backwards, and finding the football or disrupting the pocket.

Spin Move - A pass rushing move where the defender uses speed to open a tackle up, getting his momentum going one way, but then spins in the opposite direction. The defender must have good footwork, an ability to drop his weight, and he must maintain balance.

Swim Move - A pass rushing move where the defender brings his arm over the top of a blocker in a swimming motion.

Club Move - A pass rushing move where the defender uses his arm, specifically his forearm, in either a downward or lateral striking motion to create space or stun a blocker.

Chop Move - A pass rushing move where a defender uses his hand to chop a blocker’s arms downward. Typically the aiming point for the defender would be the elbow pocket.

Double Swipe - A pass rushing move where a defender uses both his hands to thwart the blocker’s attempt. Typically, the rusher would start from high to low with this move.

Push-Pull Technique - A pass rushing technique where a defender acts as if he’s bull rushing, but then pulls the blocker forward to throw off his momentum.

Long Arm Technique - A pass rushing technique where a defender uses every inch of his arm to create space between himself and the blocker. This can be a stand alone power rush move (in a bull rushing manner) or a set up move.

Hump Move - A pass rushing move where a defender uses torque and leverage to outmuscle a blocker; a rushing defender gets underneath the pads of a blocker by getting to his outside hip and using his own inside arm to assist the momentum of the blocker in a desired direction. This creates an inside alley for the defender to have a free rush.

Rip Move - A pass rushing move where a defender gets hip to hip with a blocker, and the defender bends through contact and uses his inside arm to shield himself from the blocking attempt as he turns the corner.

Stunt - a defensive line technique where two players switch pass rushing areas to confuse blocking assignments (T/E Stunt is when a tackle goes first with an end looping. E/T Stunt is when an end goes first with the tackle looping).

Coffee House Stunt - a sneaky stunt/twist where the looper or penetrator fakes his stunt to draw the blocker away just to be deceptive and follow their original pass rushing path (The other defender in the stunt has to sell their role).

Blitz - When a defense brings additional pressure (More than four rushers).

Zone Blitz - A blitz where the coverage players are in zone. Typically, the end man on the line of scrimmage, opposite the blitz, drops into coverage in the hopes of baiting the QB into a mistake.

Overload Blitz - A blitz where the defense overloads one side of the offense’s protection.

Double A-Gap Blitz - Two second-level defenders blitzing through the A-Gap to create interior pressure.

Sugar the A-Gap - When linebackers act as if they’re going to blitz the A-Gap, but back off at the snap.

Fire Zone Blitz - A five-man pressure package with zone coverage behind it. There are many variations of the fire zone.

Green Dog Blitz - When a defender’s coverage assignment stays in to block and the defender then rushes the QB on the blitz.

MOFO - Middle of the field open, which means there’s no deep safety in the middle of the field: Cover 2, 2 Man Under, Cover 0, Cover 6, etc.

MOFC - Middle of the field closed, which means there is a deep safety in the middle of the field: Cover 1, Cover 3, etc.

“Boundary” Corner - A corner who lines up to the short side of the field (Can also be used as a way to describe outside non-slot corners in general, especially in the NFL)

“Field” Corner - A corner who lines up to the wide side of the field (especially important in college football, due to the width of the hashes).

Catch Man - A technique coverage players use to jam receivers in open space. It’s deceptive because it happens in what appears to be a softer alignment. It can also be called PI if the quarterback sees it coming and throws the football in that direction at the contact point.

Jam Technique - When a corner disrupts a receivers release at the line of scrimmage with his hands.

Bail Technique - When a corner lines up at the line of scrimmage but doesn’t jam or press the receiver. Instead, he bails to his coverage (Common in Cover 3).

Banjo Coverage - Used as a switch technique from defensive backs to avoid traffic from wide receivers stems. Commonly utilized against Bunch and Stack formations. (If receiver two breaks inside I’ll take him, if he goes outside you take him).

Pattern Match - There are many iterations of pattern match coverage. RIP/LIZ was devised by Nick Saban as the defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick in Cleveland. It was an attempt to stop the potent rushing and vertical attack of the ‘90s Steelers. It’s a way to put eight men in the box, but still be safe if the team runs vertical pass routes. Essentially, it’s a Cover 3 defense unless an opposing team ran verticals, then it would become a Cover 1 defense.

Hot Coverage - A coverage technique where the defense sends pressure and the coverage players snap their attention to the quarterback, and adjust their coverage to where the quarterback is looking.

Back Pedal - Techniques used by defensive players to keep their eyes on both the quarterback and their zone or man. The defender will sink his hips, with a slight forward lean and chest up, while setting themselves up to either flip their hips and turn or plant and drive downhill on throws.

Speed Turn - A defender’s ability to flip his hips and go; speed turns are very important in cornerbacks and deep safeties.

Off Man Technique - When a defender is providing a cushion in man coverage (Can be used when a defender is going up against speed receivers).

Trail Technique - A technique where the cornerback plays a step behind the receiver. This gives the corner an advantage with intermediate routes. The technique should only be utilized when there is help over top.

Key and Diagnose - A defender’s ability to read their run/pass keys and diagnose what is happening in front of them.

Click and Close - A defender’s ability to read, react, and attack a pass downhill aggressively.

Plant and Drive - Very similar to click and close, the plant and drive is just a defender’s ability to be either stagnant, moving backwards, or laterally and then just plant a foot in the ground and attack downhill.

Work through Trash - A term for a defender who finds ways to work through a lot of traffic.

Scraping - A term for when a linebacker works over the top of blocks to find the rushing hole.

Stunt - a defensive line technique where two players switch pass rushing areas to confuse blocking assignments (T/E Stunt is when a tackle goes first with an end looping. E/T Stunt is when an end goes first with the tackle looping).