In my last post, you learned all about a team's offense. It's very exciting, as they're the ones who put points on the board. But there's a saying: Offense brings in the fans; defense wins the games. (Or something like that.)
How is that possible, when they don't score points as often? (And yes, the defense can score.) Read on.
Basics of Defense in Football:
1. The defense is the team who does not start with the ball on any given play. (If they force a turnover, that team becomes offense on the next play after they get possession of the ball.)
2. The primary goal of the defense is to stop the offense of the other team from moving toward the goal line. This can happen in a few ways:
a. The defensive players push back the offensive players so that they gain less than 10 yards in a play (ideally, less than 3).
b. The defensive players get to the quarterback and force him down before he releases the ball. This is called a "sack" and results in a loss of yardage (since the quarterback is several yards behind the line of scrimmage).
c. The defensive players force the offense to make a mistake either from the quarterback's throw, or a receiver's catch/ runner's run causing the ball to go somewhere other than where it was intended. If an offensive player had possession of the ball, and it gets dropped, that's called a fumble, and the defense can pick it up and run it toward their intended goal. If a defensive player catches a pass from the opposing team's quarterback, that is called an interception. One step further - if the defensive player catches the pass and then makes it to the goal line for a touchdown, that is called a "pick 6."
Now, here are the guys who can do all that.
This is literally the first line of defense against the offense. Typically you have big guys up front there, because the idea is they shouldn't have to move really far to stand in the way of, or push against, the offensive linemen (who are trying to keep these guys from reaching the QB and the runners/receivers). The line can contain:
Defensive Tackles (T), and sometimes, a Nose Tackle (NT)
(A nose tackle is the position of the middle tackle, when you have a 3-4 defense, see below.) The main job for a tackle is to clog up the middle to keep any running backs from getting yardage up the middle. If the QB sinks back for pass, your tackles are the guys who will hold back the guys on the offensive line, so that the defensive ends can do their job.
Defensive Ends (DE)
And what is the job of the Ends? Get the quarterback (if it's a passing play), or get the running back (if it's a running play). Basically, they're the first ones to go for the guy with the ball.
There are many formations you will hear for defenses. Most popular among these are 4-3 formations or 3-4 formations. Based on the formation that the coaches prefer, you may see extra Tackles and no Ends. But formations are always changing in defense during a game, based on what they see the offense doing.
A popular defensive play is called a "blitz." Basically, this is when the defense sends more guys after the quarterback than just the DEs. Coaches can choose different formations for this play, but immediately you will see guys pushing in to get the QB.
Corner Back (CB) -
These are the fastest guys on the defense. They have to cover the receivers, who take off right at the start of the play. Since CBs are covering receivers, they are the ones who are most likely to pick up an interception.
Listen carefully, because this one sounds a lot like "quarterback." If the announcer is talking about someone on defense, though, he said, "cornerback."
Middle Linebacker (MLB)
This player, in the center of everything, sets up the defense and the play, much like a QB does on the offense. Once the play starts, he goes after any running backs that make it past the front line.
Outside Linebacker (OLB, also Strong Side Linebacker - SLB, or Weak Side Linebacker - WLB, based on the handedness of the QB)
The OLBs are responsible for covering the tight ends and wayward running backs. If a runner turns into a receiver for a short pass, the OLB will cover for those passes as well. Linebackers do not have to be quick, and typically stay in their zones.
In a 3-4 defense, a team will usually use 4 linebackers. The outer two OLBs typically play up closer to the line of scrimmage in these cases to cover the TEs. In this formation, you now have 2 guys playing Inside Linebacker (ILB). The ILBs take the job of the MLB.
Linebackers are typically big guys who cause a lot of damage and pain to their opponents.
Safety (Strong Safety, Free Safety)
Safeties are the guys furthest back from the line of scrimmage. They are kind of like the "clean up" guys. They take care of what the guys in front of them didn't stop. Safeties often cover any receivers who have broken through the initial coverage. When there are two safeties on the field - the one who has to move faster to run after a receiver is the Free Safety (FS) and the one who is bigger and delivers bigger hits is the Strong Safety (SS).
Now that you have read their jobs, you can look down on them from the sky and see the defense line up in a fashion that looks something like this:
CB OLB MLB OLB CB
DE DT DT DE
Line of Scrimmage
Now you know the basics of offense and defense in American football. Could there be more? Oh, yes. My next post will give you some insight into what "special teams" do as well as some common penalties you might see. After that, stay tuned for the baseball edition of the Position Primmer, which just arrive just in time for the World Series.
T.C. Slonaker, Eagles fan
Sports Made Simple!