Inside Monte Kiffin's Playbook: 4-3 Over, Under, And Over Stem Fronts

Stephen Dunn

Take a peek at the alignment and responsibilities of the players in Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense through pages from his 1998 Tampa Bay defensive playbook.

We have now had weeks to speculate regarding what the Cowboys' iteration of Monte Kiffin's defense might look like. The general answer has been simply that it's "the Tampa-2," or "a 4-3 with a linebacker in a deep zone." While these descriptions are accurate, they're certainly not descriptive.

There are quite a number of ways to organize a 7-man defensive front. Ranging from the Wide-9 of recent failing teams to the beloved Flex of Tom Landry's day, 4-3s come in a number of flavors. Kiffin typically serves three of those - the Under, the Over, and the Over Stem (which is so closely related to the Over that it shares the same set of stunts). While the Over might seem to be the preferred variation due to its dual presence, in fact it's the Under that receives the most attention in the playbook, with three pages of line stunts to the Over fronts' shared two.

Rather than waste any more of your time, I present to you Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Under front:


If you have trouble reading the formation, think of it this way: the 'S' (Sam) lines up next to 'S'pencer while the 'W' (Will) lines up next to 'W'are. For now, we can consider Ratliff to be the nose, and Hatcher to be the Under Tackle.

At first glance, my thought is 'Hey, isn't that our 3-4 look?' It basically is. The difference, of course, is that rather than Spencer and Coleman filling in the rightmost two positions, it will be Albright (potentially) and Spencer. There's a noticeable decrease in size with the move, but also a notable increase in coverage vs tight ends and team speed in general.

Some notes on the table information: First, 'Align Tech.' refers to the line technique played by the 4 down linemen. This information is mostly useless for the linebackers, who basically determine whether or not to put their hands in the dirt ('Backer' vs "Base"). Key indicates simply which offensive player the defender will use in order to calculate his starting position. Run responsibility includes instructions for plays 'to' and 'away' from your position. Pass rush lanes are fairly self-explanatory, as are coaching points.

This formation, I believe, shows promise, because Anthony Spencer is being asked to do no more than DeMarcus Ware, which should allow both to cut loose and get after the quarterback.


The Over front is much more like what we imagine when thinking '4-3.' Ironically, this is also where Spencer regains his 'contain' responsibility (and this time he gets the Will to back him up, rather than the Sam). Note that the line in the image over the tight end means that Spencer will line up directly across from him.

Stack B, which is where the Sam is lining up, refers to an alignment directly across from the B gap (between guard and tackle).

Again, this lineup appears much more traditional, and I believe that it is from here that we will see most of the Tampa-2 trademark moves. Especially early in the learning process, we may see less of the Over formations, due simply to the fact that our players are very accustomed to lining up in the Under look.


Finally, we get to the odd one of the bunch, the Over Stem. I know I wasn't alone in being clueless once Birddog mentioned the Over Stem as one of Kiffin's fronts. Without this playbook, it's likely I still wouldn't know. Now I do.

The only difference, aside from some very slight wording changes, is the alignment of the 'closed end' in the 9-technique. This is a position Spencer is quite accustomed to, having played outside of big bodies his entire career so far (still of the belief that he'll re-sign here).

So, BTB, I ask of you: What do you think of our new scheme's fronts? And, perhaps more importantly, what else would you like to see from Kiffin's playbook (glossary, stunts, philosophies, etc.)?

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