Multiplicity But Simplicity: The 4-2-5 Defense

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By Gary Patterson • Head Coach • Texas Christian University (TCU)

EDITOR’S NOTE: When Gary Patterson was defensive coordinator at New Mexico, his team ran a 4-2-5 defense. In the following article, Patterson describes why they ran this defense at New Mexico. To hear more from Patterson, attend the General Session on Tuesday at 4:10 pm in KICC Exhibit Halls 1AB.

In this day and age of college football, offenses have become very explosive and complex in the number of formations and plays used in a game. To combat this problem, defenses must have enough flexibility in their scheme to limit offenses in their play selection, but be simple enough to be good at what they do. During a game we must look like we do a lot, but only do enough to take away what offenses do best. This leads me to our philosophy of, “Multiplicity but simplicity.

With every good idea, there has to be a sense of purpose to stand behind it. The purpose behind the 4-2 front, 5-spoke secondary is to give less-talented defensive units the flexibility to compete. There is no more helpless feeling than to play “bend but don’t break” defense, have the opposition turn up the level of play and have no answer to it.

The other thought process is that the better the athletes we have, the more an offense must contend with our individual ability, plus the multiplicity of the scheme. We want offenses to guess what they should spend most of their time working on. Our job is to find out what their answer is and then use other phases of our package to cause new problems.

At the University of New Mexico, we had five goals to playing great defense:

  1. Out-hit the opponent.
  2. Stop the run.
  3. Create takeaways.
  4. Eliminate big plays.
  5. Don’t flinch.

To accomplish these five goals, we use five basic principles within the 4-2-5 to give our players a chance to succeed:

  1. Create offensive confusion at the line of scrimmage.
  2. Play with great leverage.
  3. Establish the eight-man front.
  4. Establish a pressure package.
  5. The five-spoke secondary.

Create Offensive Confusion At The Line of Scrimmage

To create confusion at the line of scrimmage, we must direct our energy at the pre-snap read. Offenses, as we all know, do a great job of exploiting weaknesses. As a defensive unit, we do not want to allow offenses this advantage, if possible.

For New Mexico, the 4-2 front, five spoke secondary gave us great disguise capabilities, plus movement from all 11 players independently. This movement all happens because the front and coverage before the snap can work separately from each other. The three-safety system is the main reason all this can happen, because of the natural alignments in leverage positions, this allows the other eight players to move freely.

The first answer offenses use to combat our movement disguise is to use the quick count. This gave us an advantage because we played the offensive coordinator, not the quarterback. This limited the size of their game plan because we took away the audible possibilities at the line of scrimmage. The main coaching point needed to make movement possible is having the ability to carry out our assignments from where we ended up. If not, you must first do your job!

Play With Great Leverage

Every good defensive team that I have ever watched play had one distinct characteristic about them: They played with great leverage. We had one key phrase which sums up what leverage meant to our players at the University of New Mexico. That phrase is: “inside and in front.”

In basic terms, this tells all 11 players that no matter where they are on the field, if they keep the ball inside and in front of them, good things happen.

Another way to present the theory behind playing great leverage is telling your players once the ball declares inside or outside of you, never allow it to cross back across your face. What this does is cause a net effect to surround ball carriers. When I first became interested in the 4-2-5 defense, the first obvious characteristic was the natural leverage alignments. These alignments are made possible by the three-safety system.

To make the system work properly, coaches must teach it properly. We decided to divide the defensive secondary differently than other teams do, with a corner coach and a safety coach teaching all three safeties. This split allows the safety coach to work on leverage as a priority along with coverage. The corners can just work on playing coverage.

The natural leverage of the 4-2-5 allows five points to give teams a better chance to play great defense.


  1. Great alignments to run to the football.
  2. Great leverage tackling angles.
  3. Great angles to help eliminate the big play.
  4. Establishing the eight-man front.
  5. Natural alignments to play assignment option football.

Establish The Eight-Man Front

The reason for using the eight-man front is a belief that you must stop the run first. If you can’t do that, nothing else matters. The 4-2-5 front allows multiplicity to always try to have one more player at the point of attack than the offense.

The first people on your defensive staff that must buy into stopping the run first are your defensive back coaches. They have been taught to not get beat deep and be safe. Both thoughts are still important rules to go by, but as a staff, you must free up as many secondary players as are needed to secure leverage and give run support.

As a staff, you must do a smart job of using the multiplicity part of the eight-man front to your advantage. If needed, play with nine players up, but you must know what you are possibly giving up. If fewer players are needed to stop the run, this will help achieve the goal of eliminating the big play.

Remember, the reason you use the eight-man front is a belief that you will play with the same level of personnel as others do, year-in and year-out.

The philosophy behind being able to play the run with only six in the box is that you want the ball to get pushed to the outside safeties. The safeties’ leverage allows you to stunt or slant any way you need to control the line of scrimmage. With the addition of the three safeties, it gives you the possibility of nine players playing the run against a two-back set.

Establish A Pressure Package

Establishing a pressure package may be the most important principle to accomplish within the philosophy. This principle alone sets up the disguise movement thought process that you need for multiplicity. The threat of the blitz to an offense is oftentimes worse than the blitz itself. The possibility must exist that you can bring five to eight defensive players on any given down.

This thought process makes an offense account for all eight players on all run and pass plays. This part of the package is designed to frustrate offenses and make them use their audible game plan. If possible, you want to cause offenses to change from what they like to do best on game day.

Many staffs do a great job with pressure within their schemes. Usually, the better the athlete, the more pressure that can be applied. As a defense, don’t assume that you will line up with better athletes. Find ways to bring more players to create mismatches. This is the only way, year-in and year-out, to be consistent and successful. The blitz package must be simple enough to handle all the different formations used in a game. Yet, it must be multiple enough to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness.

There are many reasons to use the 4-2-5 scheme to blitz. Below are a few of the major reasons:

  1.  The simplicity of naming personnel (mirrored players).
  2. Natural alignment positions. The easy alignment against two-back or no-back sets (seven off-the-line coverage players).
  3. Coverage simplicity.
  4. Mirror alignment. Simple count system for the free safety versus the variety of formations you play against.

The Five-Spoke Secondary

Who, and how, we recruited was the first big reason we changed to the five-defensive-back system. This philosophy allowed us to recruit a certain body type athlete, which gave us a chance to pinpoint speed as a priority.

We believed that you recruit corners who might be safeties and better athletic safeties who grow into linebackers. By following this philosophy we ended up with an overall faster, athletic defensive unit.

The second reason we liked this system was for disguise purposes. All coverage packages have their positives, but there are always certain personnel groups that caused four-man secondaries disguise problems. Because of the fifth secondary player in our scheme, the disguise factor was already built into the system. Each player can basically work independently from the other four players. This allowed our disguise movement to be totally independent from four-man coverage alignments, because once one of their secondary players moves, they all must move together.

With the five-spoke secondary, we could show blitz to one side and zone to the other side without losing continuity.

The third reason is the natural leverage and blitz alignments that the three safety system gave us. Because of the leverage positions of the safeties, we were able to move our front six around without risking leverage problems. This allowed our linebackers to show in their gaps without worrying about being an overlap player.

The outside blitz position by the safeties made offenses account for them on all run and pass plays. Again, we wanted to limit how much game plan they were putting in.

The fourth and final reason for using the five-defensive-back system is the mirrored teaching in practice. We broke down teaching pass coverage like we always taught run progression. We started out with individual, then went to half zone and followed this up with full pass skeleton.

The reason there is better overlap teaching is the mirrored look of the safeties and linebackers. Again, the reason this is able to happen is the fifth safety. The free safety allowed us to teach half-field coverage in a ball game, just like we do in practice. This gave our coverage players a higher confidence level because they were only in charge of their half of the field!

Comments 3

  1. I like the three safeties philosophy I have used the 425 in the past and never quite got coverage part down pat. Now I know where my mistake was thank you , is there any more information on your use of the safeties I go to for more of an understanding

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