The Bear Front is a run defending front that is typically used to combat heavy personnel from the offense on short down and distances or at the goal line. The biggest identifier for the Bear Front is that both of the guards and the center are covered – meaning a defensive player is aligned directly over them or over one of their shoulders.
The Bear front originated with Buddy Ryan in Chicago. He ran the front with the strong safety walked down and Cover 1 behind it to prevent offenses from exploiting the quick game behind the defenders at the line of scrimmage.
How to identify
There are two signature identifiers for the Bear Front:
- Defensive linemen aligned directly over or shaded over both guards and the center
- Defensive ends aligned with outside leverage on the tackles and with an additional player down near the line of scrimmage to the formational strength
Strengths of the Bear Front
With all three interior offensive linemen occupied by defenders, that creates one-on-one matchups across the line. As a result, the offensive tackles are on islands defensive edge rushers. That results in the offensive line needing to win their individual matchups or keep other players in to help protect. Both are huge advantages for the defense. That increases their ability to create pressure and subsequently defend less players in the pass game. Usually, teams play Cover 1 behind the front to prevent quick passes as a result of the pressure generated. If more players are kept in to block, the offense’s ability to create rubs or a numbers advantage is limited.
With the Bear front, almost all gaps are occupied by players that are at the line of scrimmage. The strong safety fills the C-gap inside the tight-end, the ends in 9-techniques are responsible for anything outside, and the interior defenders over the guards control the B-gaps. The nose and the linebacker control the A-gaps. That leaves second-level defenders free to roam and to play slower to the run with less burden on them to be immediate pluggers.
Weaknesses of the Bear Front
Potential for big plays
With so many players at the line of scrimmage, there’s a big potential for huge gains. When the offense is able to win their one-on-ones in the run game, there aren’t many players left to rally for the tackle. This is also true in the passing game if pass protection is able to hold up.
Exploiting the edges
Since there is an emphasis on stopping plays up the middle, that puts a burden on outside defenders to force the play inside.
The Bear front is great for run situations and is especially effective against runs up the middle. That’s why it’s very popular on the goal line where the threat of a big play deep downfield isn’t present and the defense can play more aggressive with less field to defend. If the defense has players that can win their one-on-ones, it can be very difficult look to block against and it is a very situationally effective front.