Cowboys on the Chalkboard: Examining Defensive Techniques

The Cowboys, like all NFL teams, use “techniques” to describe defensive player positioning. We look at those different techniques today…

Before we can confidently assess player performance and offseason needs, we need to first be clear on what some of the positions are and what responsibilities they entail. Because of that, we are going to spend some time this offseason using the trusty chalkboard.

Today we are going to turn our attention back to the big boys on the defensive line and their alignment. We will look at how their positioning is based on gap assignments and discuss the names and purposes of the different “techniques.”

If you’re a Cowboys fan, you’ve no doubt heard of the 3-technique and the 1-technique defensive tackles. You probably also know the difference between the two techniques in positioning as well as responsibilities. But what about the rest of the line?

Today in Cowboys on the Chalkboard, we’ll take a look at what the different defensive techniques are and how they fit into the Cowboys scheme.

First, in order to understand the techniques of the offensive line, you need to understand the offensive line and their gaps. We looked at this earlier (1-Gap vs 2-Gap) and I encourage everyone to give it a quick look if they haven’t already:

The “techniques” are in direct relation to the exact location of the offensive lineman. Easily stated, a technique is an identifier indicating where the defensive linemen lines up in relation to the offensive linemen. See the Chalkboard below:


Cowboys Traditional Defensive Line Techniques

I have seen some variations of this technique chart in the past, but for most part, this is what teams will use when labeling the techniques.

In explaining this I prefer to break it up into three main categories: Heads-up, Outside, and Inside.


Heads-up Technique (even numbers)

The heads-up technique is when a defensive lineman lines up directly over the offensive lineman’s head. The operative word is, “Directly”. If the defender shades a little inside or outside, the technique changes.  As you can see on the chalkboard, all of the heads-up positioning is labeled with even numbers (and zero).

0-Technique would line up directly over center and would be commonly referred to as a nose tackle. 2-technique lines up over the guard, 4-technique lines up over the tackle, and 6-technique is over the tight end.

Outside Technique (odd numbers)

Outside technique is when a defender lines up on the outside shoulder of his corresponding lineman. This can be a slight shade or an exaggerated position, but if it favors the outside in any way, it is labeled as an outside technique.

A 1-technique defensive tackle would line up on the outside shoulder of the center (technically both shoulders of the center are “outside”) and sit in the A gap. The famous 3-technique DT (Tyrone Crawford) would position himself on the outside shoulder of the guard in the B gap. If a defensive end lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle, he’d be considered a 5-technique.

Now, if a player lines up over the outside shoulder of the TE, he’d be called a 7-technique in some systems and a “9” in other systems. At the end of the line is where different coaches will use different terminology, but the same basic patterns and positioning still hold true.

Inside Technique (the letter “I”)

The inside technique is when a defender lines up on the inside shoulder of the offensive lineman in front of him. Since all defenders lining up directly over the top are represented as even numbers, and players lining up on the outside shoulder are even numbers, players that line up on the inside are given a complimentary “I” for their technique name.

A player lining up over the inside shoulder of the guard is a 2i-technique, inside shoulder of the tackle is the 4i technique, and the inside shoulder of the TE is a 6i technique

Keep in mind: Techniques have a little variance system-to-system – especially when moving to the outside and labeling the positioning atop the opposing TE. Some systems will stick to the even/odd/”I” rule and make things easy, while others will deviate when labeling the techniques over the TE.

In those cases, they may call the inside shoulder of the TE the 7-technique, heads up as the 6-technique, and the outside as the 9-technique. But in virtually all coaching circles, the 9-technique is understood as the farthest flanking DE.

In our next Cowboys on the Chalkboard, we’ll look at how the Cowboys techniques translate to gap assignments and coverage.

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