Strategy Guide
NCAA Football Defensive Playcalling: 4-3

As an assistant football coach, one of the biggest perks to playing NCAA (and Madden) is coming up with ideas based on plays I see in the game. I take pride in the fact that my team hasn't given up a touchdown over the course of four games largely because of some contain assignments I've been teaching the squad. While my parks and recreation team sticks to a base contain defense, NCAA Football 09 sometimes requires a bit more variety to be successful.

I’ll start by looking at my favorite defense to run in the game: the 4-3 Normal. There are two more variations of this defense called "over" and "under" that I will touch on in a bit, but for right now we’ll focus on the base 4-3. Now, I’ll give you a couple reasons why this is my favorite defensive set to play out of. Eighty percent of the time, this set puts my best players on the field. The 4-3 set features two safeties over the top, two defensive backs out wide, three linebackers, and four down linemen. Most teams in the game have more than capable starters at these positions.

I usually will control the MLB in most sets and this one is no exception. The first play I like to call is the 4-3 "Cover 3 Zone" initially to get a feel for what my opponent is going to attempt to do. This gives you good coverage over the top with both DBs dropping deep and the SS covering the deep middle. The FS is someone that better players can get away with controlling as he drops into a shallow zone with the MLB. The FS can be effectively used to attack a running game here as well as cover the pass. The two OLBs swing wide to their respective sides of the field. However, there are several weaknesses, especially in the flats, on deep outs, and corner routes.


The real question is, who are you going to cover?

If the other team begins to exploit the flats, then you can move to this next play: 4-3 "Cover 2 Buc." This play will protect somewhat against the HB flat passes but won’t shut it down entirely and has several of its own weaknesses. I use several of the Cover 2 variations in my playcalling as well. The 4-3 "Double QB Spy" is one of those variations and is effective against mobile QBs. With it, I usually end up controlling one of the spies utilizing my own blitz or zone scheme.

The "2 Man Press" is another of the Cover 2 variations that leaves both safeties over the top with man-to-man coverage underneath. Man to man in this game is extremely dangerous especially when you start talking about LBs locking up with wideouts. I suggest using it sparingly -- as a change of pace -- or at least utilizing the combo coverages where there are both man and zones schemes within the same play.

The last play out of the 4-3 Normal set I want to go over is 4-3 "OLB Fire 3." This is an effective blitz with zone coverage when you are 90 percent certain you know which side of the field your opponent is coming to. The key is getting the pressure with the blitzing OLB and forcing one of those off-the-back-foot passes. I understand that in this game those passes are completed with regularity, but believe it or not, a sack or interception is not out of the question here. The reason I suggest knowing which side of the field you believe your opponent is going to is because you may want to rotate the LBs to that side to give a little bit better protection against a slant or flat pass.

My last bit of strategy regarding the 4-3 is the use of the "over" and "under" plays. I usually will stick to the standard 4-3 but both the "over" and "under" provide some advantages particularly against the run. Both formations essentially stack the line with an extra linebacker on either side of the field. One of the plays I like to run in the 4-3 Over is "Strong Slant 3." This blitzes the MLB and OLB while dropping a DE into zone coverage. Controlling the FS here will be a big help in protecting against any pass plays to the blitzing side. Another advantage of the "over" and "under" formations deals with their capability to attack the flats more aggressively, since the LB is in a better position to get out on the flat pass.

So what are some of your favorite plays out of the 4-3 formations and why?

Next week I’ll take a look at the 4-4 and the 46 Stack defenses in the game.

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