What Does Contain Mean In Football?

What Does Contain Mean In Football?

Picture this: a relentless quarterback leaking from the pocket in search of an open receiver. Imagine that any defensive coordinator’s heart skips a beat because of such a scene. But don’t worry; there is one thing that will stop it from happening: containment.

One can only comprehend the beauty and intricacy of football if one learns how to appreciate its defensive strategies. Containment, for example, keeps quarterbacks in their pockets and discourages them from becoming runaway trains. Therefore, let us go deep into containment—its purpose, execution, and strategies that make it work.

What Does Contain Mean In Football?

Defining Containment: Caging the Chaos

In simple terms, containment refers to any defensive technique that restricts the movement of a quarterback outside the pocket. Instead, the idea is to have him fixed in some area where he has to throw his passes. By limiting his mobility, defenders can pressurize him better, thus interfering with his passing rhythm.

Here’s how containment looks in action:

  • Primary Objective: Keep the quarterback in the pocket by not letting him turn out or spearhead upfield.
  • Execution on the Field: The responsibility for containing belongs mainly to defensive ends (DEs) and outside linebackers (OLBs). They employ a variety of techniques, including:
    • Head-up positioning: To prevent escape, line up directly across from an offensive tackle while maintaining a gap.
    • Angle rushing: Rushing towards the quarterback at an angle forces him back into the pocket;
    • Contain spill: If a QB defender breaks contain, he chases him outside the pocket to prevent a big play.

Strategies for a Successful Contain

The entire team must work together rather than individual players to ensure effective containment throughout this process, which typically requires an organized defense strategy. Following are some key factors that help improve containment:

Defensive Formations

  • 4-3 Defense: This traditional arrangement includes strongside and weakside outside linebackers, with strongside OLB putting pressure on QB while weakside OLB performs containment duty.
  • 3-4 Defense: Here, outside linebackers have a bigger role, especially since there are only three down linemen. Typically, they start in coverage but can instantly shift to containment mode in select cases.

Pressing and Marking Techniques

  • Press coverage: They do this by playing tight defense on offensive linemen so that the latter cannot interfere with their blocking, which could open escape lanes for the quarterback.
  • Spy technique: To do this, one player is designated to “spy” on the QB, observing every action and making moves accordingly should he try to escape from tackles.

Communication and Teamwork

  • Clear communication: Pre-snap and post-snap defensive players’ discussions enable all participants to know what they should do with regard to their containment responsibilities.
  • Teamwork in action: If one defender gets beat in a rush, another defender must be there to fill the gap and maintain containment.

Remember that successful containment does not only imply stopping a running quarterback but also disrupting his rhythm and putting him in a difficult situation where he cannot throw accurately.

A Historical Look at Containment: From Static Lines to Fluid Defenses

For instance, early football defenses were like fortified walls; linemen would stand with locked knees just waiting for running plays. During this era, containment was simply an outcome of immovable tactics. The task of keeping quarterbacks in pocket fell to defensive ends stationed out wide edges.

Still, the rise of mobile quarterbacks like Fran Tarkenton and later Michael Vick served to expose the limitations of this approach. These athletic quarterbacks used their scrambling ability to exploit gaps in the defensive line, causing chaos and extending plays.

The Modern Influence: Adapting Containment for a Mobile Era

Changes in the quarterback position brought about a change in defensive philosophy. Containment was no longer a passive concept but rather turned into a dynamic strategy. Defensive ends became more versatile, adept at both setting the edge against the run and containing the quarterback on passing plays as well. Techniques such as “contain rush” began to arise, where the defensive end rushes outside, forcing the quarterback inside, where he will be chased by linebackers.

Commercialization of Tactics:

  • Blitzes: Designed to confuse and overwhelm the quarterback, blitzes often rely on a designated player maintaining containment to prevent a free escape route.
  • Zone Coverage: In zone coverage, defenders are responsible for specific areas of the field. Containment is critical to ensuring that your quarterback does not scramble outside his zone and find an open receiver.
  • Defensive Schemes: Whether it is an aggressive 3-4 scheme or simply a nickel package with additional defensive backscontainment remains a cardinal principle that ensures play does not turn into scramble drills by quarterbacks.

The modern game is one big chess match between offense and defense. As offenses become more sophisticated, utilizing play-action fakes and designed rollouts, defenses need to adapt their containment strategies. Defenses must discipline defensive ends to maintain outside leverage and prepare for potential play fakes. Linebackers have an important role, dropping back in coverage but ready to step up if he’s out of pocket.

Debunking the Myths: Understanding Containment’s True Value

Containment is fundamental, yet it is often misunderstood. Here are some common misconceptions:

Myth: Containment is only about preventing your QB from running.

Reality: Although it limits scrambling, containment also requires the QB to step up into the pocket, where he can be pressured and potentially sacked.

Myth: Only defensive ends are responsible for containment

Reality: Some linebackers and even safeties in certain defensive schemes have contain responsibilities.

Myth: Containment is an outdated strategy in the modern game. 

Reality: Containment has remained an effective defense since the evolution of offensive tactics.

Remember, a successful containment strategy is not about one player shutting down your quarterback, but rather about coordinated teamwork forcing him into a predictable pocket and limiting his options.


Containment is always there, like an invisible thread running through the dynamic interplay between offense and defense. With changes in the game, there will be continual changes to containment strategies over time. By having insight into the history, modern applications, and misunderstandings concerning containment, fans of football can begin to appreciate more deeply what each play is all about. Surely football’s beauty lies not just in explosive plays and highlight reel touchdowns but also in those subtle strategies that anchor every great stand on defense.

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