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Lacrosse Basics: Defense

Following up on my previous two posts which covered a Glossary and Offensive Basics, I'm going to flip over to the defensive side. Using this post, I'll cover a defense's primary objectives along with some basic slide packages. Generally, lacrosse defense mimics basketball defense pretty closely, but there are a few situations where lacrosse differs and it will heavily dictate how a team will play one-on-one defense.
Shot Angle Impacts Shot Quality
The biggest detraction from basketball to lacrosse defense is the concept that the best shots in lacrosse are not determined by proximity alone. In basketball, a 10-foot shot from the baseline is roughly the same quality shot as a 10-foot shot from the elbow - so the rule of, "stay between your man and the basket" holds true. In lacrosse, the angle of the shot significantly impacts its quality and defenses should use that to their advantage.
Maintain "Top-Side" Position
One of the primary objectives of lacrosse defense is to force low angle shots. This reduces the necessity to force a player to their weak-hand and places an emphasis on forcing the attacker behind the goal. Depending on where a defender is on the field, there are slightly different rules of thumb on how to maintain top-side, but both involve splitting the field in half, through the goal (See diagram below). After splitting the field in half, a defender will try to keep their attacker in the pattern shown below.
As the defender follows this pattern, there are two primary paths that they will follow in order to reduce the attacker's shot angle and put the attacker in the least threatening goal scoring position, 'X.'
  • Down the Alley
  • Trail to 'X'
In order to maintain these positions, the defenseman needs to be disciplined and not allow the offensive player to dance - keep the attacker in the position that the defense wants them.
Applying to Team Defense
The concept of top-side now gets passed on to every angle that a defenseman will take on their help-side defense. To continue applying this model, we'll defend the 2-3-1. Everyone remember the 2-3-1? If not, here's a refresher.
As we drop in the defense, notice that the orange defenders are maintaining top-side leverage on the guy that they are guarding, while shading toward the ball or "folding in".
Folding In:
In addition to maintaining top-side positioning, as a team, you must protect the middle of the offensive-zone. If you are guarding the guy furthest from the ball, the likelihood that the ball carrier can make a good pass to your man is very low. Therefore, everyone else on the team is responsible for helping the crease defenseman protect the middle of the field.

You'll also notice that most of the orange guys have an indicator on them:
B = On-Ball
R = Right - this player will help on the on-ball man's right side.
L = Left - this player will help on the on-ball man's left side.
Flame = Hot - this player is responsible for stopping ball should the on-ball man get beat.
2 = 2-Slide - this player is responsible for replacing the hot man after he slides to stop ball.
If you are watching a college lacrosse game whether on TV or live, you will be able to clearly hear the defense communicating. You will hear a mess of all of these terms thrown around constantly by the defending team. These terms call out the responsibility of each defender should the attacker get by his one-on-one match-up. Here are each player's assignments:
Finally, a diagram to show the slides and their recovery. First diagram show's the slides
The second diagram shows the recovery. At this point, the 2-man that replaced the hot-man is redirecting the original on-ball player to find a new man. Either the adjacent-right man will go back to his original match-up and pass the recovering man to the back-side or vice versa.
After this frame, the defense will be able to reset and redefine their responsibilities according to the offense's set. Altogether now:

While this example covers a 2-3-1 slide and recover, the same calls and concepts will apply to a 1-4-1 or 2-2-2 ("Dueces") look.
Thanks for checking in. Defenses are most successful when they are able to take something away from the offense and force their opponents into low angle shots. Always stay organized by maintaining top-side positioning, protecting the middle of the field, and communicate.

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