Defensive Prototypes: 4-Technique
It's an alignment that's falling off the map, but Sam Monson looks at the head-up 3-4 ends.
Defensive Prototypes: 4-Technique
Next up in our series of D-line technique prototypes we get to one of the most confused techniques around: the 4-technique.
When the defensive line numbering system was first invented by legendary coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, the even numbers designated players lined up directly over a blocker. 0-tech we have already covered, 2-tech would be over a guard and 4-tech would be over an offensive tackle. A traditional 3-4 defensive end lines up over an offensive tackle while the nose tackle aligns over the center.
“But hold on, that’s a 5-technique” I hear you cry. Well, over the years 4 and 5 have often been thrown together and labeled as 5-techniques by people, but in reality the true head-up position over the tackle is a 4-technique in the most widely used system.
Part of the reason that 5-tech has become the more widely accepted designation is because the number of true 4-technique players has been disappearing over the years. The last team to truly use them on almost every down was the Patriots back in the days of Ty Warren in the early part of the 2000s.
Now there are a couple of teams that still ask their linemen to play directly over a blocker, but they are few and far between, and even they change things up when they move to sub-packages.
Today’s 3-4 defensive ends will play a mixture of alignments based on several factors that can dictate exactly where they line up around the offensive tackle. If the nose tackle shades to one side of the center then the end to that side will often slide out to the 5-technique while the one on the other side will move inside to the 4i-technique to maintain the distance between the three.
Some teams that play a one-gap defense prefer their linebackers to spill to the outside rather than crash down inside, so they will always ask their ends to align to the inside of the offensive tackle and leave the C-gap (the gap between the OT and the TE) to the linebackers. Others tend to do things the other way, expecting the ends to line up shading into that C-gap and leaving the B-gap to the linebackers behind them to fill.
All of this means that when we look at the chart of the players to spend the biggest percentage of their snaps lined up as a 4-technique we don’t get the same clean, universal line we saw with some of the other graphs. The 4-technique graph is far more cluttered and random because of the different way each team treats those interior players depending on their own particular wrinkles within the defense.
As we can see, the Eagles’ duo of Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox spent the highest percentage of their snaps head up over the tackle in a true 4-tech alignment, with Thornton in particular some way clear of any other player. In reality, Thornton is probably the only player to see significant snaps who plays the position in the same way Ty Warren and many others used to when two-gap defenses were in vogue. That isn’t to say that other teams don’t employ two-gap principles, but they do so without aligning consistently head up over tackles at the defensive end spot.
Indeed, all of the players on this list also show significant spikes at 3-tech, which as we have already discussed is the traditional pass-rushing alignment for interior players. Cox, Jurrell Casey, Jared Crick and Ray McDonald all have larger spikes at 3-tech than they do at 4 (click graph to enlarge), meaning they spent a higher percentage of their snaps there, and all except McDonald had a higher spike at 4i than they did head up over tackles.
The traditional position of the two-gapping 3-4 end may not quite be dead, but it is clinging by just a thread, with very few teams employing it with any kind of regularity in today’s NFL. The 4-tech is dying, long live the 4i (and very few people are playing the 5 at all).
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