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The Cowboy Way

Wyoming's 4-3/3-4 Combo Scheme
by: Vic Koenning
Defensive Coordinator, University of Wyoming
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At the University of Wyoming great offenses have been the norm. The Cowboy defense has taken a "bend but don't break" mentality. That scheme and mentality gave up a lot of yards and points in 1996, but the Cowboys were strong enough offensively to earn a 10-2 record and a Pacific Division Championship.

With the arrival of Coach Dana Dimel as the Cowboys' new head coach, the philosophy and focus went towards establishing the Wyoming defense as an "attack" style defense.

As defensive coordinator for the Cowboys' new scheme, I was entrusted to establish our defense as one to be respected, in a conference known for offensive fire power.

As our defensive staff began to develop our package, we first evaluated our players and their abilities. We had two returning defensive ends from 1996's 4-3 scheme and several really young but talented outside linebacker/defensive end types who were in the 215-220 lb. range. A solid secondary returned from a predominantly read, two-deep system. They had very little man-to-man experience.

It became apparent we needed to "move," be very multiple and use our linebackers much the same as the NFL's 3-4 defenses do. But, along with that, we needed to carry over what had been successful before from the 4-3 system, and incorporate the front and cover schemes made popular by K-State and Florida. In essence we "married" the 3-4 and the 4-3.

The Marriage of Schemes

Essentially, all defensive packages have roots as either a 3-4 (3 DL-4LB) 43 (4 DL-3LB) or 50 (5DL-2LB). Each has great properties, strengths and weaknesses. We divide coaching responsibilities like a 3-4 defense, and call our positions similar to a 4-3.

Our base front alignments are derived from the "50" Angle/Slant philosophy.

Diagram 1Diagram 2

With the movement we are effectively changing to an Eagle Weak (tight) or "45" (open) defense. These tight and open calls are essential fundamentals in incorporating our blitz package (see Diagrams 1 &2).

Diagram 3Diagram 4

Diagram 5Diagram 6

Sometimes movement is counter-productive, in which case we will play Gaps (upfield charge) or Shades (read). To do this we simply declare the direction we kick the DL (see Diagrams 3-6).

We are effectively just sliding our front to an Eagle weak or "40" defense respectively. This involves several different techniques but a shade is a shade and a gap charge is a gap charge. Playing an outside linebacker over an offensive tackle creates a mismatch with the OLB's speed, as putting a 275 lb. defensive end over the tackle gives us a strength advantage. Being multiple creates different looks for the offense.

To "marry" the coverage calls, all are categorized by which direction the line is kicked. For example, Tight, Gap Tight and Raven will have the same coverages as will Open, Gap Open and Eagle.

Diagram 7Diagram 8

Diagram 9Diagram 10

We will run a Split (two 2's) concept defensive package in which we attempt to get two mismatches (see Diagrams 7-10). We put our defensive end to the tight end side in a 7-technique, and our best pass rushing OLB (Bandit) over the OT to the open side. We keep our same concepts of movements, Gaps, and Shades.

Again coverages tie in based on the front called.

Diagram 11Diagram 12

Our 3-4 concept again uses our base alignment and allows us to use the angle/slant techniques our defensive linemen already know. These schemes allow us to blitz linebackers while still playing base zone defenses. Again, all we do is create an Eagle Weak or "45" front, but we add a little twist. Our ILBs and NG must know either the "X" (Openside) or "Y" (TE side). The ILB to the call rushes, and the NG goes away from call. Spread refers to the 4-techniques running their "Loop" technique (see Diagrams 11-12).

These are many more combinations using one of the four LBs to create our basic fronts - thus allowing us to keep the coverages simple.

Pressure Without Selling the Farm

Diagram 13Diagram 14

Diagram 15Diagram 16

To us, "blitzing" means rushing five men. We do not believe in bringing six. Bringing only five allows us to keep a free safety in the middle to help our corners. Only Florida State had more sacks than us this year, so we are convinced it is effective. Our goal is to create one-on-one rushing situations or positive rushing angles. By tying in our fronts with key buzz words, we can create what looks we wish (see Diagrams 13-16).

We can do so many things once our LBs learn the key words, but not all combinations work versus all offenses. When two LBs rush side-by-side, a LB must play the TE. Otherwise the strong safety has the TE, so the coverage is very simple.

The Zone Blitz

Since we play predominantly an eight-man front, we will fall back into a three-deep shell on our zone blitzes. Like in our traditional blitz package, we have buzz words to alert players of their assignments. We have found that DL aligned in Gaps or Shades are more effective in drawing blocks by the OL. Our zone blitz droppers have rules telling them where to drop, based on how many receivers are outside of them (see Diagrams 17 and 18).

Diagram 17

• Raven - Front
• Pinch - End Under Movement
• Will - WLB rushes B-Gap
• Drop - Refers to Bandit faking rush then dropping

Diagram 18

• Split - Front
• Wham - Will B-Gap - Mike A-Gap
• Drop - Bandit Drop
• Dog - DT drop

Not unlike a lot of people, we believe you cannot let the QB have time to throw, but will not blitz just to say we're blitzing. We'd rather be creative and find ways to pressure without the risk.

Cowboy Comparisons 19971996
Total Defense23rd 96th
Scoring Defense 17th50th Pass Defense7th 87th

Other 1997 plaudits-first nationally in turnovers caused (44); second nationally in sacks (54).


We have bettered ourselves statistically by becoming an attack defense and allowing our players to pin their ears back, but we won't put guys in positions they won't be successful. (see chart)

Wyoming players have a great tradition of playing hard and being physical. We did not reach our team goals in 1997. But as we recruit players to fit this scheme and continue to build on what the seniors established defensively, we will increase our goals and shoot to be the best in the nation in a conference known for offense.


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