clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Defensive line techniques, gaps explained

We begin developing a Big Blue View glossary of terms with this explanation of defensive line alignments

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

It’s the slow season for the New York Giants, so we at Big Blue View wanted to allocate some of our attention toward football terminology. Throughout the years, we received many mailbag questions asking us to expound on the Xs & Os, techniques employed, concepts, situational football, etc.

One of the foundations of defensive football is gap identification and understanding technique alignments. I specify defensive because offensive rushing attacks use a numerical system to identify holes (even on the right side of the line, odd on the left), but that may be a post for another day.

The defensive numbering of the holes is simple, and here’s a chart that frames it well:

The ‘nose’ tackle is the 0 technique directly over the top of the center. Anything that is shaded to the outside shoulder of the center is called a ‘1 technique.’ Some people refer to a 1 technique as a shade on the center, and that is applied to any inside alignment (more on that later).

Any defender aligned directly in front of an offensive player receives an even number. Players aligned directly in front of guards are called ‘2 techniques.’ Players directly in front of a tackle are ‘4 techniques.’ Players in front of the tight ends are ‘6 techniques.’

Any defender - within the tackle box - who is aligned on the inside shoulder of a guard or tackle is referred to as the corresponding number with an “i” next to it.

For instance, on this first-and-10 sack against Baltimore, Dexter Lawrence is aligned on the inside shoulder of Kevin Zeitler (70); therefore, Lawrence is a ‘2i-technique’ or a ‘2i-shade.’ Lawrence was also a 2i-technique on his second-and-8 sack against Indianapolis, where he put three-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson on skates:

On the second-and-8 sack against the Chicago Bears, Lawrence is directly over Teven Jenkins (76), which makes him a 2-technique on the play.

Jihad Ward (55) - aligned on the inside shoulder of Braxton Jones (70) - is a ‘4i technique’ above. If he shifted inside a smidge, he would be a ‘3 technique’ on the outside shoulder of the guard. If he shifted outside just a bit, he would be a 4 technique directly over the top of Jones, and if he kicked to Jones’ outside shoulder, he would be a ‘5 technique.’

There’s only one anomaly that breaks the sequential pattern of the alignments, and that’s the ‘7 technique,’ who aligns on the inside shoulder of the tight end (if present). Directly over the top of the tight end would be the even-numbered ‘6 technique.’ Anything outside of the offensive end man is a “9 technique.’

You may have heard of a ‘Wide 9’ front, which is generally an even front employed by many defensive coordinators, but is typically associated with Browns’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Wide 9 is also used to describe defenders aligned well outside the offensive end-man.

An ‘8 technique’ can come into play if the offense creates more gaps by employing a double-Y set with two tight ends on one side.


Here’s another picture detailing the gaps that defenders must protect. This picture is courtesy of Buffalo Fanatics Network.

A Gap: The space between the center and offensive guard
B Gap: The space between the offensive guard and offensive tackle
C Gap: The space between the offensive tackle and - if present - the tight end
D Gap: The space outside of the tight end

If the offense is in a double-Y set with two tight ends on the same side, then the ‘E’ Gap is created.

An advantage of using 12 personnel double-Y sets is it creates extra gaps that the defense must account for in the run game. Defenses like to be ‘gapped out,’ meaning every gap is accounted for by a player. Some defenses employ two-gapping principles or, more recently, defenders play a gap-and-a-half, but not every defense has the personnel to employ that strategy, nor does it pertain to every defensive situation.

However, offenses that do employ 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs) can find an advantage in their play-action passing attack by using double-Y sets to force defenders closer to the line of scrimmage. With the right protection, explosive plays can be had when defenses focus on the run and accounting for the extra gaps; this can be made easier with explosive tight ends who can threaten defenses vertically and horizontally - looks over at Darren Waller.

New York found success using 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) late in the season and developed an exciting 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs) package with Saquon Barkley and Matt Breida. I expect Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll to keep defenses on their toes with their personnel groupings while maximizing the talent they have on the roster. That will certainly include 12 personnel play action passing with Waller and second-year tight end Daniel Bellinger.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first explanation/definition is what will become an evergreen Big Blue View glossary of terms. Click here to find all the terms as we compile them.]