Football 101: Gaps And Techniques

Football is a complicated sport. There’s an absolute ton of terminology that is thrown around every day on sites like this one that, quite frankly, can be very intimidating if you’ve never had someone explain it to you. Fortunately, once you learn a few of basics, the rest can be picked up from context when watching games or other shown on ESPN or NFLN.

This is something that I’ve wanted to do since I first took over this site. The problem is that I just didn’t know where to start. How basic is too basic? And if I don’t start basic enough, then I won’t be helping the people I’m writing this for. It was all very intimidating to be honest, and why it’s taken me 2 years finally start this.

What I’ve decided to do is to assume that you know the basic positions and rules. If that’s not the case, then leave a comment below and I’ll either write something on that or point you to somewhere where you can find the information.

Gap Designations

“Both middle linebackers blitzed right through the A-Gaps.” “Wagner was standing right in the B-Gap waiting for the ball carrier.”

“Gaps” are the spaces between the offensive linemen. The are labeled starting from A for the one’s next to the center, B for the next gap, etc. There is no designation for right and left, so there are 2 A-gaps, 2 B-gaps, etc.

This can continue outward beyond D in rare occasions. If both TEs are on the same side of the line, the gap to the outside of the 2nd TE would be the E-gap, though this is rarely used.

Defensive Linemen “Techniques”

“Brandon Mebane is a prototypical 1-technique Nose Tackle.” “Offensive tackles aren’t used to having to deal with a 5-tech DE as massive as Red Bryant.”

This is a bit more complicated that the gap names above. It’s simple at first, but it can get a little confusing once the players take the field. Basically, a position is defined based on where the team wants the player to line up most of the time.

Like the gaps above, the techniques are labelled from the inside-out. A zero-technique NT (like Vince Wilfork with the Patriots) lines up directly over the center. A 1-tech, like Brandon Mebane, lines up more in the A gap, than over the center, but still slightly over the center.

2 and 3 are the same, but over the guard and B gaps. Same goes for 4 and 5 over the tackles and C-gaps, and 6 and 7 over the TEs and D-gaps.

There is also a 9-technique, which is often referred to as being in a “wide-9 position.” This means that the defensive end’s inside most shoulder is at least a half yard outside of the TE’s outside shoulder. This is there you find Chris Clemons most of the time, and is one of the characteristics of what the Seahawks call the “Leo.”

Here’s the endzone angle of a play from the Seahawks game vs the Packers this past season. I’ve labelled the players, so you can see who this translates on the field. Be sure to note where they are in relation to offensive linemen.

Now, before anyone bites my head off, I need to say something here. There are many different versions of this. Some use the letter i in places to help designate where the player lines up more precisely. What I’ve included is the most common (by far) system, and the one that the Seahawks use.

Theory vs Practice

The biggest problems with the position designations is that they’re more of a suggestion than a requirement on game days. Red Bryant is the team’s 5-technique DE, but he doesn’t always line up just in the 5-tech position. He can also be found in the 4 and 6 positions, depending on the offensive alignment and the defensive play that’s been called.

The reason for the confusion is that we name the position based on where they usually line up. The Seahawks have 2 defensive tackles, a 1-tech and a 3-tech, even though they will occasionally not line up in those exact locations.

The same goes for the 5-tech and “Leo” 9-tech DEs. Those are names, and where the players line up most of the time, but not always. Clemons can be found in the 7-tech position at time, especially in obvious running situations.

The end result is unneeded confusion for those who are learning the game. If a player isn’t lined up right where’d you expect them to be based on their position’s name, don’t fret. You understand just fine, the team is just moving people around to lay some smack down on the offense. It’s all good.

Tags: Seattle Seahawks

  • BobYourHead

    Great post. I absolutely love football but I’ve never played the game before and if not for posts like this, I would never fully appreciate the tactical parts of the game. Keep it up!

  • Gartorhawk

    Gawds, I *love* articles like this. Thanks so much.

  • bobk333

    Your diagram shows a 4-3-Under, which the Seahawks used more in 2011 (when their run defense was more successful.) In 2012, they went to a 4-3-Over much more, probably in an attempt to strengthen their pass rush.

    To me, the way the Seahawks used the 4-3-Under was almost like a 3-4 with three big guys on the line all playing two gaps (Mebane, Bryant and Branch,) and the Leo playing somewhat like a 3-4 outside linebacker. The diagram doesn’t show the strong-side linebacker, who is probably playing outside the 5-tech (who plays more like a 4-tech in this version of the 4-3-U) as the other 3-4-like outside linebacker.

    It’s not clear what the Seahawks are going to do this year. I don’t think Quinn and Carroll know yet. They will figure it out at training camp. I think they will have a *lot* of different looks, maybe more than we have ever seen from an NFL team. I’m thinking/dreaming of a planned and controlled version of the Amoeba with aspects of the 4-3-Under, 4-3-Over, 3-4, 5-2, 6-5, everything…maybe creating the kind of chaos and surprise that Buddy Ryan’s 46 and Dick Lebeau’s 3-4 had when they were first introduced, where you didn’t know where players were coming from.

    I think we are pretty sure that Cliff Avril will play the Leo on all downs, essentially the Chris Clemons role until Chris Clemons is completely healthy. Mebane will surely be the nose tackle, at least in the base, and Red Bryant, who had a down year last season but is normally a freaking wall, will be the 5-tech in running situations. Most people think Jesse Williams will be the Adrian Branch replacement at 3-tech (because he is the only player with Branch’s size), but I would guess Michael Bennett will take that spot in the base defense with the overall defense morphing to something that will allow him to shoot a single gap. I think Jordan Hill will play a lot, more than Williams, at nose and 3-tech.

    The Seahawk defense had very significant weaknesses last year: the run defense was terrible and nickel defense was bad (and the pass rush was still just okay.) These deficiencies were hidden by two things: a great base secondary and misleading aggregate defensive stats. The defense was top or near the top at total points and yards allowed, but those are phony stats that are good only because the offense held the ball for so long. The yards/carry allowed was awful (4.6 if I recall), but even more telling was the yards/carry allowed on first down (5.6?). Most fans and media members don’t realize it and looked only at the phony total points and yards allowed, but the run defense had deteriorated significantly from 2011.

    Pete Carroll could not have been happy with the defense after the season, especially after what Atlanta did to them with their running and long-yardage situations. I am not surprised that Marcus Trufant is gone because he was horrible in the nickel. I am not surprised Branch and Jones are gone, because they were horrible against the run and their overall production was not good last year. This last one is controversial, but I am not totally surprised that Tom Wash and Gus Bradley (whose expertise is with the secondary) are gone, because they did not do well coaching the defensive front last season. The Seahawks did not do much to keep all the people I mentioned above. There was never any mention or indication that the Hawks even made offers to Trufant, Branch and Jones, and they did much more to keep Bevel than Bradley.


    • 12thMan_Rising

      I’ll get to all of this stuff eventually, but this is football 101. I’m starting with the basics. We have a ways to do go before I can talk about this level of detail in this series.

      As for what to expect this year, look for more under than in 2012. The team will be playing Avril and Irvin at SAM. by using 4-3 under, the SAM is placed in 7-tech on the line (though in a 2 point stance) and asked to set the edge against the TE vs the run. This is the best use use of their skills and experience.

      4-3 over would push them back off the line and ask them to read and react like a LB, which isn’t what those 2 players do.

      Of course, that’s just the base. once Chem and Irvin are back, almost anything becomes a possibility. NASCAR looks, Amoeba sets, etc. There’s a lot of depth and talent on the D-line this year.